Behind Enemy Lines: Questioning the Lions

The Vikings are facing a team that was winless last year, but new Lions head coach Jim Schwartz is focusing on the this year, which brings a rookie quarterback and plenty of other new players. Tim Yotter of and Nate Caminita of discuss the 2009 Lions as the teams prepare for their first divisional meeting of the season.

Tim Yotter: Rookie QB Matthew Stafford was obviously erratic in his first outing. What did you like about his game and what does he need to improve?

Nate Caminata: The Saints stifled the Lions run game, which managed just 33 total yards on 20 carries; there are few, if any quarterbacks, that will be successful with those numbers. So with everything already stacked against him, Stafford was forced into mistakes, rushed his throws, and in general wasn't given much of a chance to succeed. However, according to his teammates, Stafford maintained his composure throughout the contest, and given the circumstances I think that's a moral victory for a rookie quarterback. He was inaccurate on occasion, and that was attributed to chemistry with his receivers. As the season proceeds, the entire offensive unit will become more cohesive, but in the meantime, growing pains are expected.

TY: With Daunte Culpepper being the veteran, why didn't the Lions start with him and allow Stafford more time to develop?

NC: Anyone who was eyewitness to training camp and the preseason recognized that Stafford outplayed Culpepper, although each was impressive in their own right. Culpepper's return to the game has been remarkable, but the Lions felt that they would be delaying Stafford's growth rather than nurturing it by allowing Culpepper to start. Whether or not it was the right decision remains to be seen.

TY: Stafford targeted Calvin Johnson 13 times in the opener but hit on only three passes, although those totaled 90 yards. How is the chemistry between those two, and is this the pair that Detroit's hopes rest on?

NC: Until five days before the season opener, Stafford had shared practice repetitions with the first unit with Daunte Culpepper, so the two are playing catch-up. I think everyone has witnessed the potential the two have (including an impressive touchdown strike against N.O. that was nullified by a bad call), but the potential won't be reached overnight. This doesn't apply to just Johnson, however, as Stafford is still developing that same rapport with capable veterans Bryant Johnson and Dennis Northcutt. It should be noted that the Lions are equally as excited about the potential of its own running back, second-year man Kevin Smith, who has also showed flashes of brilliance.

TY: What happened with Kevin Smith and the running game against the Saints? He had only 20 yards on 15 carries.

NC: Smith blamed himself for being hesitant against New Orleans, which directly contrasts with his personality and running demeanor. But when teams fall behind 14-0, they typically don't attempt to "run" themselves back into the ball game, so Smith's touches during the contest were sporadic at best, and never allowed him to develop any kind of rhythm. If the Lions can prevent the Vikings from building an early lead, you'll get a better idea of the offense's capabilities.

TY: What are the changes that Jim Schwartz is implementing in Detroit that are already showing, whether that is in schemes, philosophies or the behind-the-scenes things that can make a difference with players?

NC: Schwartz doesn't even discuss the past with the players. It isn't on the table. The media will bring it up occasionally, but considering they have 31 new faces in the locker room, it's also appropriate. Schwartz's ability to distance the team from the past might not be relevant to the national media (which clings to Detroit's porous history like a broken record), but it's helped foster an atmosphere in the locker room that hasn't been felt in nearly a decade. And when a team can develop bonds and grow without the common denominator being losing, it's a good start.

Nate Caminita is the publisher of on the network. Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update.

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