Follow Kurt On Twitter @MrEasyStreet, Real Questions From Real Fans.
Welcome to the first ever Kurt’s Mailbag. I love interacting with fellow Lions fans on social media. Being able to have constructive debates without the typical internet trolls is something I truly appreciate. I’m lucky to be able to say that my Twitter feed is full of smart people with a lot of different opinions about the team, and that’s a great thing. I can’t think of a better way to stay involved than to start an interactive column where I can include some of the questions that come straight from the readers.
Disclaimer: I couldn’t get to everyone. There were several great questions and I had to keep the length reasonable. Let’s dive in.
How do you think Killebrew will play stepping up for Tavon Wilson?
— toby sass (@tobias_sass) November 28, 2017
I think Killebrew is a solid young player with plenty of potential. He’s been used sparingly up to this point in his career and in ways that set him up to succeed. I question how he’ll look in a full-time role. He has shown deficiencies in both pass coverage and tackling.
I think his ability to lay the big hit has many fans on his good side despite the flaws mentioned. The good news is Tavon Wilson was having a deceptively poor season anyway. Pro Football Focus graded Wilson at a paltry 45.4 making him safety #78 in the league. Killebrew grades at 72.8 in comparison. Hopefully, we see the upgrade that PFF is suggesting, but again, playing full-time is a different ask of Killebrew compared to his less complicated role in past weeks.
Based on performance to date, what's the biggest need to address in the offseason?
— Jeff Germann (@TBBoltsDoctor) November 28, 2017
They need a consistent pass rush more than anything. The defensive line will be a top priority for Bob Quinn in the off-season. After that, the interior offensive line could use help. Linebacker, running back, and safety are other positions I expect to see addressed.
Where is the cut off for Caldwell potentially being fired? 10-6 and no playoffs seems a genuine possibilty but could you really sack him after a 10-6 season?
— Dan Sellwood (@teddysellwood) November 28, 2017
This question was asked several times in different ways and appears to be among the hottest debated topics in the #OnePride Twitter-verse. To be up front, I’m not Caldwell’s biggest fan. I do see the different sides of the coin and accept that there are things to like about him. Hypothetically, 10-6 is a good record in the NFL. After a 9-7 season last year and a first-round exit, this was supposed to be a season where the Lions showed progress. It’s hard to argue that winning an extra game with no playoff success is the progress anyone was looking for. Caldwell seems like a good coach. The issue is that “good” doesn’t get this team where it wants to go.
I understand the fear of a bad hire dragging the team back to where it’s been in the past. Nobody wants that. At the end of the day if results don’t come in the playoffs something will have to give. At this point, it’s all about getting over the hump. I believe they’ve plateaued under Caldwell. His decision making on Sundays is infuriating at times, and the team has come out flat consistently during his tenure.
The question is who will replace him and do better? That’s the ultimate factor. If Bob Quinn has a candidate in mind that he believes in then he should go get him. What he won’t do is fire Caldwell with the hope of stumbling onto a candidate he happens to like after the fact.
— Dann_E (@el_dboy) November 28, 2017
What's the biggest problem with the run game?
— Wayne (@wayne_6211) November 28, 2017
The entire thing is a mess, to be honest. Blame has been passed around and (fairly) shared between the offensive line, running backs, and coaching staff. But the absolute biggest problem is the scheme they’re using and when they choose to run the ball. The timing of run calls has been predictable for as long as Jim Bob Cooter has been the offensive coordinator. When the entire stadium knows a run is coming it’s a safe bet that the defense does too. Pair the predictability with the type of runs Cooter likes to use (stretches, delays) and it’s a complete waste of a down nearly every time.
The old saying is ‘run to set up the pass’. With this team, it would make more sense to do the opposite. The team is built to pass first with a great QB, talented WRs, and a line that pass blocks better than they run block. Cooter refuses to recognize that. The line hasn’t played great. Don’t get me wrong.
However, continuing to ask the offensive line to win on blocks they continue to lose falls on the coach. I can’t count how many missed chop blocks I’ve seen on stretch runs. If it still isn’t working in week 13 what is he waiting for to pull the plug and do something else?
Last year it would have been easy to shout Taylor Decker. This year I’m shouting A’Shawn Robinson. Decker has been hurt for most of the season so my change isn’t about him as much as it’s about improvement from Robinson. He’s been a disruptive force in the middle. He’s never going to be a guy that racks up crazy stats but his presence is noticeable. I expect to see more growth from him next season and feel confident that the Lions have a stud in the making.
Anthony Zettel deserves an honorable mention here as well. He has shown huge strides and should continue to get better as a guy with a motor that doesn’t stop. If both can continue to progress it’s a nice young core for the D-Line moving forward.
These guys spend an insane amount of time preparing for these games so I would never accuse them of lacking heart or spirit. Slow starts have been damning lately, but I trace that back to coaching more than individuals. I do think it’s natural that some players get up more for games than others. I’d also venture to say some are willing to call it quits sooner than others when things get tough. As a team, the Lions have shown tremendous resiliency though.
I like to give them the benefit of the doubt on this one.
If Austin leaves it’ll be because he found a head coaching job elsewhere or he’ll be let go with Caldwell as an entire staff. I don’t see a situation where he’s fired individually. The lack of run defense since defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was put in IR has been undeniable. The Lions rank near the bottom of the league in most defensive rushing stats and it doesn’t seem to be getting better. I don’t give him a pass for missing Ngata. Good coaches should be able to work around at least a few injuries at a time. That’s life in the NFL.
The bigger issue I have with Austin is the conservative style he jumps into with even the smallest leads. Think about how many times the offense has scored to take a lead or tie a game only to sit and watch the opposition answer immediately. I’m afraid Austin is still living off his 2014 season. One great season with a talented unit just doesn’t impress me. He’s been mediocre at best ever since.
It’s baffling. This is something they did last season with limited success before Abdullah’s injury. Getting both on the field could cause matchups the defense doesn’t want to see. They’re both capable receivers and the misdirection potential opens up several different types of plays. I’d love to see it more. It’s frustrating. I don’t have a good answer to “why” it’s not happening more. I’m not entirely sure there is a great answer other than stubborn tendencies from the staff.
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Thanks to everyone who sent in questions! I apologize if I didn’t use a specific one. I plan on doing this as a regular feature so please keep the great questions coming! I’m always open to a healthy discussion of these topics and any others that pop up. Look for me on Twitter @MrEasyStreet or on the Detroit Lions subreddit.