This week's guest in our 5 Questions series is Pride of Detroit editor Sean Yuille. It's an exciting time for Lions fans, and the outstanding community at Pride of Detroit is actively following the team. There's some great content already there heading into the Steelers' Week 11 game, so check it out.
1. There have been multiple accusations of dirty play among the Lions' defense, and not just on often-fined DT Ndamukong Suh. Do you feel those accusations are fair?
I think the whole "Lions are a dirty team" narrative is vastly overblown. It's true that they sometimes take dumb personal foul penalties, and yes, there have been some questionable plays in recent years. However, a big part of their style of play on defense is to be aggressive. That often results in the opposing quarterback taking a lot of hits, and as Jay Cutler and Tony Romo have found out in recent weeks, those hits will sometimes come just after the ball is released. The intent there isn't to injure opposing players or anything like that; that's just how the Lions play in hopes of making life difficult for the opposing offense.
2. Detroit has to be considered a favorite to win the NFC North. Johnson this and Stafford that, what doesn't seem to be mentioned very often is the consistently high level of performance from Detroit's offensive line over the last two seasons. Is this one of the best lines in the NFL?
It is this year. The Lions went into 2013 with three new starters on the offensive line following the retirement of LT Jeff Backus, the release of RG Stephen Peterman and the departure of RT Gosder Cherilus. The Lions replaced Backus with former first-round pick Riley Reiff, and they drafted Larry Warford in the third round this year to take over at right guard. Amazingly, three different guys have started games at right tackle, and undrafted free agent LaAdrian Waddle, who appears to be the permanent starter there going forward, has been the best of the bunch. Shaking up the offensive line has resulted in much better blocking in the run game, and no team has done a better job of avoiding sacks than the Lions (part of that is because Stafford gets rid of the ball so quickly).
3. Right before the Lions were on the clock at 23 in the 2012 NFL Draft, I wrote an entire post with the phrase "Dreams can come true" repeated over and over in the hopes David DeCastro fell to the Steelers at 24. What was the general feeling of Lions fans at that moment? Did people want DeCastro there? What is the feeling on the selection of OT Reilly Reiff right now?
When the Lions went on the clock, there was definitely a group of fans who wanted them to make an upgrade at offensive guard by taking DeCastro. However, taking Reiff made more sense then, and it certainly makes more sense now. Reiff is versatile enough to play both guard and tackle, and had Backus not retired and Cherilus been re-signed, he likely would have found himself at guard this year. Some actually thought Reiff might be better inside anyway. As it turns out, though, Reiff has been a fine replacement for Backus at left tackle, and the Lions were able to find their long-term starter at right guard in the third round this year by drafting Warford. Getting their left tackle of the future worked out for the best for the Lions, and I'm sure it's worked out quite well for the Steelers that they were able to get DeCastro.
4. Many, myself included, felt head coach Jim Schwartz failed to bring the talent on this team to a higher level. Is the success of the Lions this season due to Schwartz's advances in leadership, or was last season an anomaly?
The success of the Lions this year seems like the result of having more talent than anything. The Lions went out and added free agents like Glover Quin and Reggie Bush, and they've gotten a lot of production out of their draft class and even a couple undrafted free agents. Getting some fresh faces on the coaching staff also didn't hurt. I do think Schwartz has done a better job of keeping the team focused after they dealt with so many off-field distractions in 2012, but the biggest improvement in my mind has been in the talent department.
5. Detroit gave Pittsburgh Jerome Bettis. Pittsburgh gave Detroit Matt Millen. This doesn't appear to be a fair trade on paper. Jokes aside, Detroit's front office should be commended over the last few seasons. Where is this team going in the near future? Is this a Super Bowl-contending team?
The NFL has shown us, especially in recent years, that anything can happen if you simply manage to get to the playoffs. If the Lions are able to make the postseason this year, they certainly have the talent on both sides of the ball to get hot and make a run at their first ever Super Bowl. And going forward, with key pieces in place at quarterback and on the offensive and defensive lines and so on, the Lions' window seems wide open. On paper, this should be a team that is in the playoff and even Super Bowl conversation year in and year out.