Behind Enemy Lines: Part 1

Nate Caminata of Roar Report drops by to give us the scoop on the Lions, who are 2-10. What's the pulse of a team that's arguably the most disappointing in the NFL? Should they be concerned about oft-injured Matthew Stafford? And where will they test the Packers' defense?

Bill Huber: Before the season, the Lions were seen as sort of a darkhorse contender to challenge for a playoff spot. That hasn't happened but I don't think it's changed what people think on a national level: The Lions are an up-and-coming team. What's your perspective, since you're more immersed in things there than the rest of us?

Nate Caminata: I think that's a pretty decent surmise of the franchise at this point. The absence of Matthew Stafford really derailed the team this year (they either won games he started or they were winning games before he left), so it's both difficult to gauge how effective they can be while providing some hope for a fan base that is desperate. The defense has shown drastic improvement, helped in no small part by arguably the best rookie tackle in years — maybe decades. Still, winning games is the only currency in this league, and the team's identity should remain "Doormat" until they show progress in the win column.

Bill: This will be Jim Schwartz's fourth game against the Packers, and he'll be starting a fourth different quarterback, with Drew Stanton getting the call. Matthew Stafford, who the Packers have never seen at anywhere approaching 100 percent health, is on the shelf again. This is the second time this season he's missed time with an injured throwing shoulder. Concerned?


Matthew Stafford
Leon Halip/Getty Images
Nate: Yes and no. It's difficult to assess Stafford's right shoulder difficulties since the Lions have been so apt at concealing its status. One on hand, you have to think that two separations to the same throwing shoulder would raise significant red flags, but Detroit refuses to place easily their most valuable asset on injured reserve, and they've talked of bringing him back for the final game or two of 2010. Either they're playing with fire, or they simple know more than the rest of us do. Given his unlimited potential and importance to the franchise, one would hope that it's the latter.

Bill: The Lions are averaging about 29 points per game at home. If that was their full-time scoring output, they'd have the second-most prolific offense in the league. Why have they been so explosive at home?

Nate: I don't think it hurts that two of their home tilts have involved wins against subpar ball clubs, including St. Louis (44-6) and Washington (37-25). Detroit's offense is capable of being explosive, and some of its speedsters (Jahvid Best, Nate Burleson, etc.) have taken advantage of the quick Ford Field rug. Still, the wane in production is also related to this team's inability to win on the road — something they haven't done since 2007. Whether it's the mind-set or simply bad luck, they haven't collectively learned to produce and win away from home, something that has afflicted every facet of the team, including the offense.

Bill: Perhaps the Achilles' heel of the Packers' defense is matching up against opponent tight ends. Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler are a top-notch tandem, with Pettigrew having a big day in the first outing. Because of their success, is that opening up things for Calvin Johnson, who is unstoppable at 6-foot-5, or is he still the focal point for defenses?


Brandon Pettigrew
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Nate: Johnson might remain a "focal point" in theory for most defenses, but that doesn't mean they're able to roll coverage like they have been in the past. That is evident by Johnson's 62 catches (he had 67 all of last year) and the fact that he's more than doubled the number of touchdowns from a year ago (12). In terms of output, the team's plan to liberate Johnson by providing adequate support has worked, and the tight ends have played no small part — Pettigrew and Scheffler are the most dominant tight end duo in the league today. And if the tight ends aren't giving defenses fits in the middle, the speedy, sure-handed Burleson (43 catches) has been another thorn.

Bill: First-round pick Ndamukong Suh didn't do a whole lot against the Packers in the first game but it seems like he's becoming a dominant player. He's the top player on a really good defensive line. Games are won up front, so you'd think the Lions would have at least a credible defense. But they don't. What are the missing pieces?

Nate: Detroit has done everything defensively but stop opponents from scoring, giving up an average of 25 points per game. But the crux of the problem has remained the second half, where they've been outscored 139-77 in their 10 losses. To put that number into perspective, Green Bay's top-tier defense has given up 182 points the entire season. Penalties and missed tackles have plagued the team, and it seems whenever a big defensive play is made, they shoot themselves in the foot on the very next down.

Obviously, the defense has improved eons since last year, but the youth and chemistry is undergoing development.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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