It may be a crash-course-oh-god-help short week, but that doesn't mean we're interview-less this Thanksgiving! Jeremy Reisman kindly consented to answer some questions about his beloved Detroit Lions on very short notice (hat tip: Sean Yuille). To read more of Jeremy's writing, check out Detroit OnLion or Pride of Detroit.
Andy Tisdel: The biggest question for Lions fans: After so many years of mediocre-to-terrible Lions teams, how does it feel to finally have a major contender to root for?
Jeremy Reisman: It's amazing and terrifying and awesome. It's been over a decade since we've had a team this competitive, and I think the entire fanbase has forgotten how intense that makes every game. I stuck with this team through the bad times, watching every game of the winless season, but when there's something on the line, football is an entirely different game.
I also love the extra perks of having a good team: national attention, primetime games and scouring over playoff scenarios. Finally, it's a great time to be a Lions fan in November and December (and hopefully January!)
AT: Three times this season, the Lions have come back from a deficit of 17 points or more, which is just crazy. What is it about the Lions that makes them so prone to huge comebacks?
JR: Man, I love the feeling of a 17-point comeback, but hate what it's doing to my psyche. I think there are a couple of things that make the Lions more prone to making a comeback. First is their potentially explosive offense. The Lions have as many weapons on offense as the top tier attacks in the league. Unfortunately, they've played inconsistently so far this year. But when they are on their game, they can score quickly and often.
Secondly, the defense has created turnovers at key times in games this year. In the Cowboys game, the Lions had two second half pick-sixes and against Carolina they had three interceptions in the second half.
What I'm worried about most is why the Lions are falling behind so early and often. They've fallen behind by 17 or more points in four of ten games this season. And while they've come back in three of those, I doubt that trend is sustainable. The offense needs to start coming out of games strong and the defense needs to stop spotting opponents early leads.
AT: Calvin Johnson has at least 88 yards in every game this season but Kansas City (where he scored twice), and at least one TD in every game except San Francisco. Is there any way to slow this guy down? Where is he most dangerous?
JR: If I had the answer to that, I'd be the best defensive coordinator in the NFL. In truth, there is no way to stop Calvin Johnson. He has the strength to counter a physical corner, the speed to outrun a speedy defender and the hops to out-jump anyone in the league.
The best way to stop him is to stop Matthew Stafford. Stafford has a tendency to force throws his way (with good reason, really). In fact, of his last six interceptions, half were intended for Johnson. Try to confuse Stafford with coverage, always bring safety help over the top, and you have a chance.
I know it's a cop-out answer, but Johnson is dangerous all over the field. He can take a slant 80 yards for a TD or snatch a fade route in the red zone.
AT: The NFC North media had been buzzing for a couple weeks about the Lions' lack of a running game, but that was before Kevin Smith's 200-total-yard outburst against Carolina. Have the Lions found their running back in the absence of Jahvid Best?
JR: Well, they definitely have found who will replace Jahvid Best for the remainder of his time missed due to injury. But, I don't really expect Kevin Smith to put up a performance like last week's any time soon. Last week was special. Smith was playing with a chip on his shoulder, and he had a perfect opportunity going against one of the worst run defenses in the league. I liked what I saw out of Smith. He was decisive and intelligent with his vision and he broke a lot of tackles. However, Smith isn't the reason I'm not optimistic about his future; it is the offensive line. The line has struggled all season with run blocking and I don't think their success will continue against better defensive lines than Carolina's.
AT: We all know what the national media focuses on with regard to the Lions: penalties and alleged dirty play. Ndamukong Suh taking Jay Cutler's helmet, Matthew Stafford dragging D.J. Moore down by his helmet, et cetera. What's your take on the issue?
JR: I understand how someone just watching highlights of Detroit games would think so. Ever since Suh had one or two dirty-looking plays, the broadcast of games have focused on that storyline. Anytime a defender makes a hard hit, or commits a personal foul, you can guarantee that there will be at least three slo-mo replays of the play.
My take is that the Lions are a very physical team. They're trying to create a defense similar to the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens get the same reputation as the Lions are starting to get. And while sometimes that physicality can get your team in trouble with penalties and fines, I think most teams would want their defense as feisty and fierce as the Baltimore Ravens. I'll gladly take a personal foul penalty or two if it means having one of the most feared defenses in the league.
AT: For the past few years, the Lions' biggest weakness has generally been their secondary. This year, the D-line and the linebackers have gotten plenty of attention, but the secondary has quietly helped Detroit rank fifth overall in pass defense. What would you attribute that turnaround to?
JR: Firstly, GM Martin Mayhew deserves a lot of credit. He brought in Chris Houston for essentially just a sixth round pick. Houston has developed into an above-average top corner. He also signed their other starting corner, Eric Wright, after the Cleveland Browns had given up on him.
But most of the credit should go to the Lions defensive line. Their ability to create pressure without needing extra blitzers has allowed the defense to commit all other defenders to play coverage. The linebackers and cornerbacks have stepped their game up and forced the second most interceptions in the league.
AT: It looks to me like we could be in for an epic shootout this Thursday. Would you care to make a prediction for the final score?
JR: Oh man, I really don't want to make a prediction, but it's basically in my job description. Indeed, it should be an entertaining shoot-out. The Lions pass defense will have their biggest test of the season. Aaron Rodgers has yet to have a passer rating below 100 this season and the Lions defense has not given up a passer rating of above 100. Something has got to give.
The game will basically come down to who has the better passing game. And while I think the Packers easily have a better passing attack, the Lions have the advantage on pass defense. This is going to be a great game between two very similar teams. I have no choice but to let the homer in me come out and predict the Packers losing their first game of the season: Lions 38, Packers 35.