Behind Enemy Lines: Questioning the Lions

Detroit is 1-7, so where are the strengths they can build on and where are the most glaring weaknesses? Tim Yotter of VikingUpdate.com questions Nate Caminata of RoarReport.com to find out before the two teams meet on Sunday.

Tim Yotter: There has been a lot of talk surrounding the sideline shot of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Do you believe that Johnson is getting frustrated with Stafford, the offense or the Lions as this point?

Nate Caminata: I think frustration is natural among teammates when they aren't winning, but you can blame the alleged "tension" as pure media speculation. What everyone failed to mention is that during most of the game Johnson and Stafford were seen laughing together or working through some dilemmas. Those two have established a great rapport with each other, they're fantastic competitors. But both were coming off injuries, and they had a difficult time connecting on the field. The tension doesn't go beyond that.

TY: What kind of a leadership qualities/personality do you see in Matthew Stafford? In other words, he must have the physical tools to be the top pick overall, but what has his short time as a starter in the NFL shown you about the intangibles?

NC: Since training camp, Stafford had already been adopted by many Lions veterans as a leader of the ball club. Whereas Joey Harrington never quite felt comfortable in that role, Stafford is a natural leader, and although he's had some rookie struggles which should be expected, his on-field presence isn't questioned, and in some cases, defended. For example, Stafford's harassing by a few fans after a loss to St. Louis prompted Dominic Raiola to state publicly that he wouldn't let anyone do Stafford like they did Harrington.

The players seem to really like him, and there seems to be a locker room-wide understanding that he'll need time and support to succeed in Detroit.

TY: The Lions have had a decent lead in a few games this year, including the first meeting with the Vikings. What's going wrong to cause them to surrender that lead, or do you think teams just start out taking them lightly?

NC: It might be a little of both. I would lean more towards the team still learning to win. Although they've had massive turnover, the remaining Lions didn't win last year, and the new group still has to learn to win collectively. It doesn't happen overnight. I believe it takes team chemistry to play four full quarters and compete effectively within each. The Lions remain a work in progress, and this is part of that process.

TY: The Vikings continue to talk in complimentary terms about Kevin Smith, but he is averaging only 3.3 yards per carry. What gives?

NC: Smith certainly has been a disappointment thus far into 2009, and hasn't wowed anyone since his bye-week pledge to maximize his potential. He showed significant strides during his rookie campaign, and was one of the lone bright spots in the team's 0-16 season, which might lend credence to the perception of him around the league. Yet he is losing some ground to veteran Maurice Morris, who has found openings in his chances carrying the ball that Smith has failed to exploit.

If Smith doesn't demonstrate a major upswing in both yardage and consistency the second half of the season, it isn't beyond this Detroit coaching staff to look to upgrade during the offseason.

TY: Linebacker Julian Peterson leads the Lions with 3½ sacks. It sounds like they have been very aggressive with the blitzes but have only 16 sacks as a team. Is it simply a lack of personnel to pull off the scheme at this point?

NC: Absolutely. There is a quantum gap in quality between Detroit's defensive line personnel and just about every other defensive line in the league. Part of that is because the team's current coaching staff is going in the opposite direction of former coach Rod Marinelli's pedigree, preferring large and strong versus small and fast, requiring an upheaval of the trenches. Again, that isn't accomplished overnight. The Lions cupboard of necessary ingredients for Jim Schwartz and Co. to play with was essentially bare.

Any time a team blitzes as much as the Lions, it usually indicates they're attempting to mask other deficiencies, whether it be in the secondary or the defensive line. In Detroit's case, it's both.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update and Nate Caminata is the publisher of RoarReport.com on the Scout.com network.

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