Free Press sports writers Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez make their picks for Sunday’s Lions-Saints game. Recorded Friday, Oct. 13, 2017.
Detroit Free Press staff
Every week during the Lions season we’ll do a Twitter mailbag. Use the social media site to send your questions to Lions beat writer Dave Birkett at @davebirkett.
Q. Explain the lack of offensive line improvement after major off-season investment on the right side (sans Decker injury)? – @goldenmaso
A. I hate to pull a Jim Caldwell on you and say it’s not just one thing, but it’s not just one thing that’s gone wrong with the offensive line this year.
First, as Jim Bob Cooter said Thursday, not all of the Lions’ protection problems this year fall on the offensive line. The Lions’ receivers have struggled to get open downfield at times, continuing a trend from last year; the running game hasn’t always been effective; and Matthew Stafford’s decision-making has played a part, too.
By my film review, three of the 18 sacks the Lions have allowed this year have been of the coverage variety, three more have been due to backs or tight ends missing blocks, and one came when Matthew Stafford tried to hold off on a pass and lost control of the football. Of the remaining 11, tackles Greg Robinson and Rick Wagner have been the predominant culprits, with Robinson allowing 4.5 sacks and Wagner allowing 3.5.
More: Lions underperforming RT Rick Wagner: ‘I got to play better’
That doesn’t explain all of the Lions’ struggles up front, or any of their shortcomings in the running game. The line did not play well in the one game that Travis Swanson missed with an ankle injury, but I think the interior of the line has fared well overall.
Taylor Decker should be back in the next few weeks, and that will help immensely. Wagner has been a bit of a disappointment so far, but he was a good player in Baltimore and I believe he’ll come around.
Q. How will lions replace Ngata in the future? – @crazybrad100
A. In case anyone missed the news this week, Haloti Ngata suffered a torn bicep in last week’s loss to the Carolina Panthers and underwent season-ending surgery on Thursday. Ngata was having a good year at defensive tackle. He had two sacks and was the team’s best interior run defender. He’ll be missed.
As for the future, Ngata’s contract is up after the season, and while there’s a chance he’ll return, the odds seem slightly better that opts to retire. If he has played his last game in a Lions uniform, the team absolutely needs to find a replacement in free agency or the draft. A’Shawn Robinson, a second-round pick out of Alabama last year, has a bright future, but isn’t much of a pass rusher, and it’s far too early to know what the team has in sixth-round pick Jeremiah Ledbetter.
Related: With Ngata out, Lions need more splash plays from A’Shawn Robinson
A’Shawn Robinson rushes against the Cardinals in the fourth quarter of the Lions’ 35-23 win in the season opener Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017 at Ford Field. (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)
Looking ahead, Carolina’s Star Lotulelei might be the best interior lineman in a free-agent class that (for now) also includes Sheldon Richardson, Bennie Logan and Dontari Poe. In the draft, some of the top DTs are Clemson’s Christian Wilkins, Michigan’s Maurice Hurst and Washington’s Vita Vea. It’s far too early to have a read on what the Lions will do.
Q. I already mention Hanson, so any chance Herman Moore makes it into The Hall? – @bren3669
A. Brenden asked me on Twitter if I thought former Lions kicker Jason Hanson had a chance to make the Hall of Fame, and I said not to hold his breath. The same holds true for ex-Lions wide receiver Herman Moore.
Both Hanson and Moore were wonderful players in their prime, but making the Hall of Fame isn’t easy. Morten Andersen became the first true kicker enshrined last year, and he holds the league record for scoring. Hanson, unfortunately, didn’t have enough Adam Vinatieri-like moments playing in Detroit, and given the position he played, I don’t see him getting in.
Former Detroit Lions kicker Jason Hanson, right, waves as he was introduced during the Lions Fan Forum at the Comerica Gridiron Club in Ford Field in Detroit, Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017. Former Lions receiver Herman Moore is at left. (Photo: Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press)
Moore played 12 seasons, but didn’t see the field much the final few years of his career because of injuries. He did have three straight 100-catch seasons in the middle of his career, and anyone who watched him in Detroit knows what sort of player he was. But with just 670 career catches – 50th on the all-time list entering the weekend – and the long line of receivers waiting to get in (Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Torry Holt) plus more on the way (Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson), he’s in a similar boat to Hanson.
The next Lions player that will be enshrined in Canton, in all likelihood, is Johnson. I think he’s worthy of being a first-ballot selection, but he’ll have to contend with a deep class of first-year candidates that includes Peyton Manning and Charles Woodson once he’s eligible.
Q. Do any Lions players or coaches have a NOLA connection in their personal lives? Alt: Do the players have any favorite restaurants in NOLA? – @PatBerWA
A. Two Lions’ practice-squad players, cornerback Adairius Barnes and defensive tackle Christian Ringo, played college football in the state of Louisiana (at Louisiana Tech and Louisiana-Lafayette, respectively), and left tackle Greg Robinson is from Thibodaux, La., about 45 minutes west of the city.
I asked Robinson and Don Carey, who got married in New Orleans – his wife is from Louisiana – and returns there every year, for some of their favorite dining spots.
“Either Mother’s or Drago’s,” Robinson said. “I really love the oysters at Drago’’s and other than that, Mothers just got a great selection of food. But there’s pretty much good food anywhere.”
Robinson said he would “rather eat at my mom’s or my grandmother’s, but (the food in New Orleans is) amazing, though. You always got something good to eat. There’s not really much searching you have to do. You can just get it pretty much any corner you can pick up.”
Carey said he doesn’t leave the hotel on most road trips, but he does have an off-the-beaten-path he likes to hit on his trips back to the city.
“There’s a spot right off the water, nothing healthy for you at all, but it’s called New Orleans (Food) and Spirits. Oh, they got some voodoo rolls down there, man, good eating. Good to you, not good for you. Not even close to being good for you. But there’s some fricking good food there.”
Contact Dave Birkett: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Download our Lions Xtra app for free on Apple and Android!