Interviewing The Enemy: Detroit

I had a few minutes this week to exchange with Zac Snyder of Fansided’s SideLion Report to talk about the Detroit Lions. Here is what he had to say about this matchup:

The Lions look more competitive this year than in years past. It looks like a completely different team. What have been the most important aspects of your draft classes and free agency moves?

The flippant answer is to say that the most important aspect is that they are bringing in talent. While that is true, it is coming as a result of an organizational plan. Matt Millen never seemed to have a personnel plan or vision for what he wanted the team to look like. The Lions changed schemes and coaches like underwear and the product on the field suffered. Numerous reports have come out regarding Millen not listening to scouts or coaches during the draft process. Everything is different with Martin Mayhew at the helm. There is finally some cohesion between management, coaches, and scouts and we’re seeing far fewer wasted draft picks and strategic targeting of free agents that yields results.

It’s unfortunate what happened with Matt Stafford, but Shaun Hill has looked good. What would you say to caution the Giants defense about the Lions passing attack and the weapons Detroit has utilized through the air this year?

My warning would be to not get too wrapped up into a singular focus on Calvin Johnson. CJ is an amazing talent and deserves a lot of attention but Shaun Hill has been able to spread the ball around. Tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler see a number of footballs come their way each week while Nate Burleson’s return from injury provides a legitimate second wide receiver to target on any given down. Jahvid Best has been important as a playmaker catching the ball out of the backfield as well. The biggest difference this year is that the Lions have other options to go to if a defense tries to completely take away Calvin Johnson.

Are the fans nervous about this road game against the Giants having lost 23 straight? Or are they due this week…

They might win, they might lose. I, and probably a lot of Lions fans, have become numb to the stats of futility surrounding this franchise to the point that I don’t think about the streak much. It is a hurdle that they will cross eventually, hopefully sooner rather than later, but it doesn’t cross my mind on a weekly basis.

I realize both have been limited in recent days, but both will likely play Sunday… so who is the more dangerous weapon, RB Jahvid Best or WR Calvin Johnson?

I will pick Jahvid Best because he touches the ball more often. Best has been a revelation to the Lions offense as they have severely lacked a playmaker at the running back position since Barry Sanders retired. He is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Best has proven himself to be a versatile player and has so far shed the fragile label that hurt his draft status last April.

The Giants have had trouble with Special Teams coverage all year, have no real return game either. Meanwhile, Stefan Logan for Detroit was NFC player of the week last week. A marvelous fluke or beginning of a pattern?

The jury is still out on that question. The Lions have struggled in the return game for a number of years now so I sure hope Logan’s return is the beginning of a pattern but it is too soon to say for sure. Danny Crossman is in his first year as special teams coach for the Lions and so far the overall results have been good and Logan’s return was much more than just a speedy guy finding a seam, he flashed some strength in breaking a couple tackles before turning on the jets.

Is Detroit nervous about playing the #1 defense in the league? What are the perceived weaknesses that you look to exploit, and what has the offensive coordinator said about putting his team in position to win this game?

The offense has too much confidence to be nervous or intimidated by a top ranked defense. They already have games against the Bears, Eagles, Vikings, and Packers under their belt so they have seen some good defenses yet they lead the NFC in points scored. I don’t think the Lions will look to exploit a particular weakness, instead they will focus on what has worked for them so far – spreading the ball around. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan doesn’t usually say much during the week. The offense has pretty much stuck to their guns although they are beginning to find as many ways as possible to get the ball to Calvin Johnson. Linehan took some heat for what was perceived to be conservative play calling early on but I can’t complain considering the way the Lions have been able to move the ball with Shaun Hill at quarterback.

C.C. Brown — “Can’t Cover” was him name NY. But the guy hits like a freight train. Will he be a factor in this game and how have the Lions used him differently than the Giants did in 2009?

I am not really familiar with the tactical ways Brown was used in New York but Giants fans should expect to see him on the field at least some of the time this Sunday. He split time with rookie Amari Spievey last week and the same will probably happen against the Giants. The Lions were severely lacking at the safety spot next to Louis Delmas and they took a quantity over quality approach this off-season with a limited talent pool to work with. C.C. Brown was the guy that emerged as the best of those limited options but he is now being pushed by Spievey, a converted corner drafted out of Iowa last April.

What can we expect to see strategy-wise out of the Lions on defense?

The Lions play a base 4-3 defense and generate pressure on the quarterback from their front four rather than extensive blitz packages. The addition of Kyle Vanden Bosch is already paying off as he has been playing like a freak and providing a good example for the younger guys on the line. Third year defensive end Cliff Avril is playing at a high level, Ndamukong Suh is outperforming rookie expectations, Corey Williams has been a beast inside, and Sammie Hill and Turk McBride have been effective in rotational duty. The activity up-front has generated some opportunistic turnovers confirming the notion that a good pass rush makes a secondary better.

What is the X-Factor for the Giants this week?

Stopping the run. Jahvid Best has been very good for the Lions on the whole but his 3.5 yards per carry average is not particularly strong. If the Lions running game finds some success, especially early in the game, then the offense really opens up and becomes dynamic. We saw it when the Lions played Philadelphia, a game they lost in a shootout.

What is the X-Factor for the Lions?

Forcing turnovers. The same Lions defense can look horrible when they aren’t coming up with turnovers and they can look very good when they do force a few. They have rattled Aaron Rodgers and Sam Bradford in consecutive weeks, something we haven’t seen from a Lions defense in a long time.

Final prediction?

I wouldn’t be completely shocked it the Lions won but they aren’t to the point where I can pick them in a game like this. Giants win 27-24.

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