NFC East: Detroit Lions

This is the midway point between free agency and the draft, so while things slow down -- the one question that never goes away is can the Detroit Lions finally win now.

That question and more are answered in this week's Lions Mailbag, featuring your questions. For inclusion in the Mailbag, either tweet the hashtag #LionsMailbag or email

Now on to your questions.
Justin Tuck and Matthew StaffordGetty ImagesJustin Tuck, left, and the Giants will be trying to end the playoff hopes of Matthew Stafford's Lions.
It is a battle of disappointments on Sunday at Ford Field: the New York Giants, who have been disappointing all season, against the Detroit Lions, who have been one of the more surprising teams over the second half of the season -- in a bad way.

The Giants have no playoff hopes. The Lions need to win their final two games and then hope for help (i.e., losses) from Green Bay and Chicago.

Taking you through Sunday’s matchup are NFL reporters Michael Rothstein (Lions) and Dan Graziano (Giants).

Rothstein: The Giants have struggled all season, and Eli Manning has been at the forefront of that. What has changed there?

Graziano: It's basically just a complete bottoming-out on all fronts, starting with the protection. A line that wasn't great to begin with is down two starters and has been playing a rookie at right tackle all season. The blocking help the line used to get from running backs and tight ends disappeared when the Giants let Ahmad Bradshaw and Martellus Bennett leave in the offseason. Hakeem Nicks has had a terrible year at receiver, playing like he is more worried about staying healthy in advance of free agency than trying his best to win. There has been no run game at all for long stretches. And Manning has failed to elevate above his miserable circumstances, missing too many throws and too often looking as though it has all been too much for him. It's been a total whitewash of a season for the Giants' offense. They are the only team in the league that has been shut out even once this season, and they've been shut out twice.

What is the deal out there in Detroit? To my eyes, the Lions should have put this division away by now with Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler having been out for so long. What is the main reason they seem to have squandered such a great opportunity?

Rothstein: I don't know whether there are enough words to describe all that has gone on, although the simplest way to put it would be consistent end-game meltdowns, either from turnovers, coaching decisions or a defense that suddenly faltered.

A lot of it has to do with Matthew Stafford, who has had accuracy issues in the second half of the season. Really, there have been issues everywhere but the lines, from turnovers to coverage breakdowns on defense.

This is a team that should be safely in the playoffs right now instead of needing to win out and get help.

That obviously leads to job-security questions for Jim Schwartz. Although that doesn't seem to be the case for Tom Coughlin, has this season given any indication as to how much longer he plans to be on the sideline?

Graziano: No, Coughlin is really a what-you-see-is-what-you-get sort of guy. He's completely believable when he insists he's focused on only this week's game and doesn't want to address anything beyond this season. People close to Coughlin insist he won't quit as long as he feels he can still do the job, and there is no indication he feels otherwise. He has as much passion and energy as anyone else in the building (and right now, more than most!). I don't think Giants ownership would fire him, and I'd be stunned if he got into the offseason and decided he was done. As one person close to him told me, "He has no hobbies. There's nothing for him to retire TO." At 67 years old, he understands why the questions get asked, but he doesn't view himself as near the end of a career, I don't think. As of now, he plans to be part of the solution here, and it would be a major upset if he wasn't back in 2014.

One of Coughlin's biggest immediate problems is keeping his quarterback from getting killed. How is that Detroit pass rush looking these days?

Rothstein: Eli, meet Ndamukong. He will be the guy tossing you to the ground today. In all seriousness, though, the Lions' pass rush has been interesting. The Lions have been great at applying pressure (other than against Pittsburgh) but don't have the actual numbers to show for it, which can be confusing.

What teams have done is bottle the middle on Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, and have either a tight end or running back help on either Willie Young or Ziggy Ansah on the ends.

So to answer your question, it has been OK, but not the consistently dominant force some were expecting.

That leads into my last question. The Lions' run defense, headed by that front, has been one of the best in the league this season. Have the Giants figured any way to solve their run woes?

Graziano: Andre Brown was hot for a while when he came back from his injury, and the offensive line was starting to block better for the run. But the past two weeks have seen a step backward, and the way the line is configured now, with starting left guard Kevin Boothe playing center and backups rotating in and out at left guard, has left it very vulnerable and one-dimensional. The Giants were able to take advantage of some good matchups with Brown running well, but against tougher fronts like the one they saw against Seattle last week, they struggle. I imagine they will struggle against the Lions' front in the run game as well.

Two straight disappointing games for Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Do you expect Megatron to blow up this week and victimize the Giants' secondary?

Rothstein: Kind of. As cornerback Rashean Mathis told me this week, if the Lions don’t find their urgency now, they’ll never find it this season. So I’d imagine you would see Johnson -- who is Detroit's best player -- at the forefront of that if the Lions have any shot over the next two weeks. Plus, those two drops he had against Baltimore will gnaw at him all week long. I expect he’ll have a big game.

Stafford, on the other hand, I’m not as sure about because he seems genuinely rattled this second half of the season. Detroit needs to find what was working for him at the start of the season and bring that back, otherwise its season is over.


Live blog: Lions at Eagles

December, 8, 2013
Join our NFL experts as they break down the Detroit Lions' visit to the Philadelphia Eagles. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.
DETROIT -- Detroit Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah is questionable to return to Sunday’s game after suffering an ankle injury and heading to the locker room early in the second quarter.

He left the game in the first quarter, but briefly returned before leaving the game again.

Detroit will use more of rookie Devin Taylor for as long as Ansah is out.
Tony Romo and Matthew StaffordGetty ImagesBoth Dallas quarterback Tony Romo and Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford have seen needed improvements in certain aspects of their games this season.

It is a matchup between two potential playoff teams and two of the best wide receivers in the game, Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant.

But the Dallas-Detroit game on Sunday has other twists, too. For the Lions, Sunday is a chance to grab back some momentum from a strong start to the season. For the Cowboys, it could be a chance to widen their lead on their NFC East opponents.

Dallas NFL Nation reporter Todd Archer and Detroit NFL Nation reporter Michael Rothstein break down what you might see Sunday afternoon.

Rothstein: Let's start here -- last week in Detroit there was a lot of discussion of A.J. Green and Johnson as two of the best receivers in the league. Now it is Bryant and Johnson this week. What is it that Bryant does that should really concern Detroit's cornerbacks, who let Green go for 155 yards Sunday?

Archer: Bryant can go get the ball. He is virtually impossible to defend in the red zone (and sometimes he'll push off too), but cornerbacks just don't have a chance on him. He's a better route runner now than he was last year and the Cowboys are using him on more varied routes. When he came into the league he would make the spectacular play but couldn't make the boring play consistently. Now he's doing both. But his No. 1 attribute is his physical style. He will fight for the ball and fight for yardage. He's special in that regard.

The Cowboys have had Brandon Carr follow Demaryius Thomas, Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson the past three games. I'm sure they'll do the same with Calvin Johnson. When teams have matched up with Johnson like that, how has or hasn't it worked?

Rothstein: There haven't been too many teams that have single-covered Johnson -- at least not for extended periods of the game. The closest would have been against Arizona in Week 2, but the Cardinals have Patrick Peterson and Johnson had six catches for 116 yards and a touchdown against him. Really, the only thing that has slowed Johnson this season was a knee issue that kept him out of the loss to Green Bay and limited him against Cleveland a week later. Not surprisingly, Johnson still draws a ton of attention with a safety rolling to him over the top.

What that has done is opened up the offense underneath for Reggie Bush and, to an extent, Joique Bell. When both are healthy and playing well, the Lions have had a pretty strong offensive threat from deep threats to short bursts. How does Dallas plan on dealing with that, especially considering DeMarcus Ware's questionable status?

Archer: Running backs and tight ends have hurt the Cowboys in the passing game this year. The safeties have been only OK but are coming off a pretty good game at Philadelphia against LeSean McCoy, who's as shifty or more than Bush. The Cowboys had their best tackling game last season against the Eagles. Sean Lee and Bruce Carter have played better here lately and will be largely responsible for the backs, but safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox will be a presence too. Losing Ware would be a big blow to a defense that has to get pressure on Matthew Stafford. The Cowboys have been rolling in new guys pretty much every week across the defensive line, and added Marvin Austin this week to help at tackle.

Speaking about the defensive line allows me to talk about Rod Marinelli. He has been nothing but great here with those no-name guys, but what's the feeling of him up there considering that 0-16 season?

Rothstein: That was before my time -- I was still covering the Charlie Weis Notre Dame years when Marinelli was in Detroit -- but I can say I have not heard anything about that season in my short time here and most of the current team arrived in 2009 or later.

But the 0-16 season contributes to the typical angst the Lions fan base has over any success the team has -- as in waiting for the bottom to drop out. But most of this team is so new, there isn't much of that feeling. Plus, as injured receiver Nate Burleson said earlier this year, when you go to play in Detroit, you know there are going to be questions about losing streaks to be broken and demons to be exorcised.

Since we're chatting a little bit about defense, Tony Romo is being sacked on 6 percent of his attempts, so is Dallas' line doing a good job protecting him or are these more coverage sacks? What's going on with the protections?

Archer: The line has improved a lot from recent years, especially in pass protection. They revamped their interior line with Travis Frederick, their first-round pick at center, Ronald Leary at left guard and Brian Waters, who did not play last season, at right guard. Tackles Tyron Smith and Doug Free are performing better than they did a year ago. Romo has taken a number of coverage sacks this year, and he's also elusive for a guy who does not appear to be the most athletic. He has terrific vision and a quick release that can bail him out of trouble. As strange as it sounds, I think Romo also has seen the value of taking a sack and not forcing a throw.

Let's stick with the quarterback play. Stafford is a Dallas kid, so we know his background. He likes to throw it around, but like Romo, his interceptions are down. Is he just being more careful with the ball or has the attack changed a little?

Rothstein: Having Reggie Bush in the offense has allowed Stafford to throw the ball shorter more often and as an old coach I used to cover once said, "Short passes are happy passes." They are also more likely to be completed passes. Here's something to consider with Stafford as well. His numbers could be much better, but his receivers have dropped 6.9 percent of his passes. Hold on to even half those and he's completing around 65 percent of his passes this season. He also has gotten much better at throwing the ball away instead of forcing passes. That's been a big change. There is an accuracy component to it as well, but he isn't taking nearly as many downfield chances.

Speaking of semi-homecomings, you mentioned Carr earlier. Does this game mean more to him because he is coming home as he grew up and played his college ball in Michigan? And second thing on that, has Dallas changed a lot from last season or can a guy like Kevin Ogletree help this week?

Archer: I'm sure it does but Carr will attempt to downplay it. He still carries that Grand Valley State/fifth-round pick chip on his shoulder even if the Cowboys gave him a $50 million deal last year as a free agent. He has done a terrific job here the past three weeks as we talked about earlier. Jason Garrett even went out of his way to praise Carr's work on special teams, so you can see the Flint in him hasn't left. As for the Ogletree angle, he had a hard enough time with the offense that I don't think he would help with the defense. The Cowboys have a completely different scheme from Rob Ryan's 3-4 to Monte Kiffin's 4-3. Ogletree will know some personnel, but the corners are playing a little different than they did a year ago so I don't think it will matter much.

I haven't asked about the Lions defense yet. Just by looking at the numbers they seem to be pretty good situationally: third down, red zone. Is that the wrong read here?

Rothstein: The defense is kind of a little bit of everywhere. Great on third down over the first month of the season -- not as much over the past three weeks. Perhaps a corollary here is the defensive line not getting quite as much pressure on opposing quarterbacks the past three weeks as it did during the first month of the season. Red zone defense has been pretty good. Overall, it is a decent Lions defense. DeAndre Levy is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season at linebacker and the defensive line and safeties have been good. Cornerback has been a bit up-and-down, though.

My final question to you sticks with this theme. We touched on the Dallas offensive line earlier, but how do the Cowboys deal with Ndamukong Suh? He is a guy who can change games on his own.

Archer: This is part of the reason why the Cowboys wanted Frederick, Waters and Leary. They're stout players. The Cowboys have not had much power in the middle and it has hurt the running game as well as pass protection. Suh, obviously, offers a different challenge. Waters has the strength necessary but he does not move like he did a few years ago. The Cowboys will give him some help but not all the time. And I think Romo can help out the line as well by getting rid of the ball quickly. The Cowboys only take a handful of downfield shots a game, relying mostly on underneath stuff to work their way down the field.

The Lions are 4-3 like the Cowboys and this is a huge game for both when you start thinking about December and playoff chases. You touched on this earlier, but is the town ready to get behind the Lions, especially because the Tigers aren't in the World Series and it's still early in the Red Wings' season?

Rothstein: I think there is some of that, for sure, and I think there is the hope among the fan base that this year’s Lions team is for real. But as I mentioned earlier, there is going to be that sense of dread -- which is why a win for Detroit on Sunday would really go a long way to bolster that fan base confidence. And probably to maintain the confidence in the locker room as well.


Live blog: Lions at Redskins

September, 22, 2013
Join our NFL experts as they break down the Detroit Lions' visit to the Washington Redskins. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.
Ndamukong Suh and Robert Griffin III Getty ImagesWill Ndamukong Suh and the Lions defensive line cause Redskins Robert Griffin III issues on Sunday?

The Washington Redskins are dangerously close to letting yet another season of big expectations stumble into one of grand disappointment. And the season is only two games old.

If this isn’t a must-win for them, it’s awfully close. The Detroit Lions need a win after a close loss to Arizona -- and to rebound from their disappointing season a year ago. A 1-2 start will not help restore confidence in the Motor City.

Should we mention that Detroit has never won in Washington? The Lions are 0-21 in the nation’s capital (and its suburbs).

ESPN Redskins reporter John Keim and ESPN Lions reporter Michael Rothstein break down the key elements to this matchup.

Keim: Why don’t we start up front defensively because that seems to be the Lions strength. The focus on Suh often centers on his extracurricular activities, but how well has he played and why is this unit strong up front?

Rothstein: John, he's been nothing short of dominant thus far. While he may not have the statistics to back that up, his disruption has been the reason for both of linebacker DeAndre Levy's interceptions and he commands a presence in the middle of the defensive line that must be accounted for. Unfortunately for Suh, even in talking about his dominance, his other transgressions pop up because he negated one of Levy's interceptions going for a touchdown with his block on John Sullivan that resulted in a six-figure fine. But the Redskins will have to double-team Suh or he'll cause major havoc for Washington's offense.

Sticking with that, the biggest question around Washington is with Robert Griffin III. Considering Suh's dominance, how mobile is RG III these days and will a dominant defensive line cause him major issues?

Keim: Everyone says he’s mobile (and healthy), but we haven’t seen it -- the mobility that is. Maybe it’s the brace. Green Bay did a terrific job pressuring him up the middle with blitzes and keeping him contained on the outside. He’s seeing five-man or more rushes on 42 percent of his drop-backs compared to 21 percent a year ago. The interior of the line is not built to handle big, strong defensive tackles, and that’s where Washington could have a problem. This group is better on the move. If the Lions can pressure him with just the front four, the Redskins are in trouble. The question will be whether the Redskins can get their run game going against this group. They’re so much better when they can then use play-action passes.

Speaking of which, it sounds like the Redskins aren’t the only team with defensive backfield issues. Why have the Lions struggled in the back end?

Rothstein: They've struggled back there -- kind of. A lot of the focus has been on rookie Darius Slay, who has been replaced in his first two NFL games by veteran Rashean Mathis. So there are some problems when Slay is in, but with a rookie, that should be expected. The rest of the defensive backfield has been decent. Chris Houston is playing well thus far opposite Slay/Mathis, defending three passes, making 11 tackles and not being beaten much by opposing receivers. Bill Bentley has had some issues at nickel, though, and it wouldn't be shocking to see teams go at him if Mathis plays more to see if they can lull him into a pass interference call or two.

Speaking of defense, what is going on with Washington? More than 1,000 total yards allowed in the first two games? That almost has to be more concerning than anything related to Griffin, right?

Keim: Very much so. The offense will come around and showed legitimate signs of life last week, despite the lopsided score. The same can’t be said of the defense. It misses too many tackles, and it's not sound against the run. Linebacker London Fletcher is not getting off blocks to make tackles, and the defense surrenders too many big plays. Other than that? Things are terrific. The Eagles and Packers forced the Redskins into a lot of nickel looks, and they're struggling to stop the run. Teams are also forcing the Redskins to prove they can tackle in space, and thus far they’ve failed. They start two rookies in the secondary (assuming they open in nickel), and that’s led to breakdowns in communication or technique. Corner David Amerson takes his eyes off his work at times. I like his talent, but he’s still growing as a player. Safety Bacarri Rambo would not have started if they had a legitimate option at free safety. He’s made mistakes too. But at least they can improve. I’m surprised how bad this group has played. I thought with Brian Orakpo returning they would do better (playing fine down the stretch last season). They need to get a lot of pressure from their four-man rushes or else risk exposing a weak secondary.

I’m guessing the Lions offense is excited to face this group. How dangerous can this group become, and what has Reggie Bush added?

Rothstein: If the Lions can hold on to the ball -- currently the league leaders in drops with eight -- they are extremely effective. Adding Bush to the team gives Detroit two players who can score any time they touch the ball along with Calvin Johnson. The question for this week is whether Bush will play. If he is able to come back from a helmet to the knee against Arizona on Sunday, Washington will have some major problems. If not, the Skins will likely do well to focus on Johnson and make Joique Bell and the other Lions options beat them. It will be interesting to see how Washington handles Detroit if Bush is healthy. Thus far, opponents have dropped deep against Johnson and given Bush space, but I'd imagine as he continues to be effective, that'll change.

I'll close with this question: What's the vibe around the Washington locker room? I'd imagine there is a bit of surprise of the predicament the team is in. To put it succinctly, is this team just struggling or does it have a dominant performance in it?

Keim: Michael, the vibe is that they’ve been here before, having gone 3-6 a year ago only to win seven straight. But if they’re honest with themselves, they would admit this is a lot uglier because they haven’t been in either game and the defense could have given up 50 last week. Last year, there was only one game in their first nine that they didn’t have a chance to win (Pittsburgh). They are surprised, but I think they understand how to handle this situation. It was a resilient group a year ago, and it needs to prove it again now. I think the offense has a dominant performance in it. I’m not sure what the defense has, other than a desire to not face a high-powered offense. As long as Griffin keeps getting his game back, the offense will be fine. There’s no simple solution for the defense. It needs to create turnovers and get lots of help from the offense. So one side of the ball is struggling mightily, the other side is working through some rust.


Wrap-up: Lions 26, Eagles 23

October, 14, 2012

A few thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' stunning 26-23 overtime loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.

What it means: Those who keep saying the Eagles have been winning games they should have lost got it flipped around for a day. This was clearly a game they should have won. In spite of holding a 10-point lead with five minutes left in the fourth quarter, they allowed the Lions to come back and tie the game, then lost it in overtime. It was an uncomfortable flashback to the 2011 Eagles, who couldn’t hold fourth-quarter leads and gave too many games away last September and October.

Neither side can put it away: It was one thing for the defense to allow Matthew Stafford to drive the Lions 80 yards in less than two minutes for a touchdown that cut the lead to three points. It was quite another for the offense to go three-and-out when it got the ball back after that touchdown and give the Lions the ball back with enough time to get into field goal range. The coaching staff is taking heat for calling two pass plays and only one run play in that sequence, but it’s worth noting that only one of the three plays that gained yardage was a pass.

Protection issues: The patchwork offensive line is catching up with the Eagles. The Lions’ interior defensive line is very tough, and it made life difficult for backup center Dallas Reynolds and the Eagles’ guards. Quarterback Michael Vick was under pressure all day, and while he generally did a good job of avoiding the rush, he took two sacks in overtime that cost the Eagles field position and a chance to win the game after blowing the lead.

What’s next: The Eagles have to sit on this for two weeks, as they have their bye next week. Two Sundays from now, they will host the Atlanta Falcons, who are 6-0 and will also be coming off their bye week.

How you feeling? Eagles-Lions

October, 14, 2012
As the Philadelphia Eagles prepare to take on the Detroit Lions at 1 p.m. ET at Lincoln Financial Field, here's one reason for Eagles fans to feel good and one reason for concern.

Feeling good: This could be the week the Eagles' defensive line breaks its sack-free game streak. The Lions are a pass-first offense for whom the running game is practically an afterthought, and so the Eagles' defensive ends should be able to get after quarterback Matthew Stafford pretty much any time they want. Jason Babin and Trent Cole are dying to get on track after the Eagles have gone two games in a row without a sack, and Stafford offers a relatively stationary target they can be fairly confident is going to be in the pocket with the ball when they get there.

Cause for concern: Calvin Johnson. The Lions' top wide receiver is a matchup nightmare for any defensive back in the league, and there's no obvious plan for the Eagles in terms of covering him. Nnamdi Asomugha is no longer the type of corner who can just pin himself to Johnson and take him out of the game one-on-one. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has the speed but maybe not the size to handle Johnson. If they leave Brandon Boykin alone with him over the middle, that's asking for trouble. The Eagles will need to come up with a way of covering Johnson, and likely will have to adjust and alter the plan as the game goes along.

Let's go around the league a little bit, shall we? This week's NFC 411 video features Mike Sando on the 49ers' offensive struggles in the red zone, Kevin Seifert on the Lions' favorable matchup against the Raiders, Pat Yasinskas on the value of the Saints' multifaceted run game and yours truly on Eli Manning's value to the New York Giants, which is also something about which I'll be writing later today as we look ahead to the Giants-Redskins game. Not only does this weekly video feature broaden your horizons beyond the division about which we always obsess — it allows you to see what the various NFC division bloggers have hanging on the walls of their home offices.

Video: NFC 411 for Week 7

October, 20, 2011
Each week my NFC blog colleagues and I engage in a little something we like to call the "NFC 411" -- a video project where we go around the conference and each pick one thing we're looking for in this weekend's games. I think they do it in the AFC, too, but who pays attention to that, right?

Anyway, this week's NFC 411 video is here, and if you click on it you can see and hear Kevin Seifert previewing Packers-Vikings, Mike Sando discussing Kevin Kolb's chances for a breakout against the Steelers and Pat Yasinskas talking about why coaches are calling Detroit "the Seattle of the Midwest." (Personally, I always thought Seattle had much better restaurants.)

Me? Oh you know what I talked about. I talked about John Beck. What else is there?

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Cowboys blew a 24-point lead, the second time this season a double-digit second-half lead was blown resulting in a loss. Detroit 34, Dallas 30.

What it means: The Cowboys head into the bye at 2-2 and missed a chance to take momentum into the game against New England in two weeks. It was a bad loss, possibly worse than the Week 1 loss to the New York Jets. The Cowboys were booed when they walked off the field. This was terrible.

Romo's screwups: Tony Romo's three second-half interceptions led to three touchdowns for the Detroit Lions. The last turnover was on a pass to Jason Witten that came with 4:13 to play in regulation, and the Lions took the lead on the ensuing drive. In Dallas' Week 1 loss to the New York Jets, Romo committed two turnovers in the fourth quarter. You can't have that if you're trying to be an elite quarterback.

Johnson's day: He didn't have a catch in the first quarter, but as the game picked up, Calvin Johnson turned into Megatron. Johnson finished with eight catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score with 1:49 to play. The Cowboys' secondary struggled to cover him in man and zone coverage. The last score was a jump ball over Terence Newman. Rob Ryan said Dez Bryant and Miles Austin were better, and Jason Garrett said Johnson was the best player in the NFL. Looks like Garrett may have been right.

Where'd Dez go? After catching three passes -- including two for touchdowns -- in the first half, Dez Bryant was shut out in the second half. Bryant played with a bruised thigh but still was effective, catching touchdown passes of 25 and 6 yards. But with the Cowboys turning the ball over and running the ball, it made Bryant ineffective on the day.

What's next? A bye. The Cowboys take four days off and will get ready for a trip to New England in two weeks.

How you feeling? Cowboys vs. Lions

October, 2, 2011
As you get ready for today's game against the Detroit Lions at Cowboys Stadium, here's one reason for Dallas Cowboys fans to feel good and one reason for concern:

Feeling good: Making the Lions' offense one-dimensional

The Lions haven't run the ball well this season, but they've made up for it by using top running back Jahvid Best as a receiver out of the backfield and, in last week's case, running screens to the tight end as well. But the way Cowboys inside linebacker Sean Lee has been playing, Dallas should be able to handle the Detroit screen game and force quarterback Matthew Stafford into longer drop-backs and looks down the field. And that plays right into what the Cowboys really want to do on defense, which is get after the passer with DeMarcus Ware and deliver hits that rattle Stafford into mistakes. The Lions are still dangerous downfield with star receiver Calvin Johnson, but if the downfield passing game is all that's available to Stafford, that could benefit Dallas as the game moves along.

Cause for concern: Ndamukong Suh and the Detroit defensive front

Suh is the Lions' second-year monster at defensive tackle, and the centerpiece of what's quickly become a fearsome Detroit defensive line. That line will be keyed on getting to gimpy Dallas quarterback Tony Romo and shaking him up. The Lions can be run on -- they're allowing 113 rush yards per game and 5.0 yards per rush -- but Felix Jones is banged-up too, and if the Cowboys can't attack the middle of that defensive line with the run, they could find Romo in trouble early. Protecting Romo is a big key to success for Dallas right now, as riddled with injuries as they are on offense, and there are some strength mismatches up front with the Cowboys' offensive linemen against Suh and Co.

Can the Cowboys stop Matthew Stafford?

September, 29, 2011
I like reading the Dallas Cowboys blog on We have so many people covering that team for that site that it's a constant cacophony of voices and insight and information. I'm on there 12 times a day if I'm on there once.

One thing they do every week that I enjoy is their "Five Star Question," where they pose a question about the upcoming game and five different writers post their answer to it. It's on there now, though you may have to scroll down a bit to find the posts. This week's question is, "Will the Cowboys hold Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford under his average of 325.6 yards passing per game?"

Four of the five panelists said no. Only one -- Todd Archer -- said yes:
If we learned anything from 2010, it is that pressure makes a secondary better. The Cowboys will pressure Stafford, who has been sacked five times this season, into quicker throws. Left tackle Jeff Backus struggled last week vs. Minnesota’s Jared Allen, and the Lions have not seen such a diverse pass rush yet.

Stafford might throw for big yards with Calvin Johnson having an advantage on the Cowboys’ cornerbacks, but he will not reach his average.

I think it's fair to make both points Todd makes in his post -- that the Cowboys will be the best defense the Lions have faced thus far and that the Lions' offense will be the stiffest test yet for the Cowboys' surprisingly strong starting defense. But it's the latter point on which I'd like to focus, since this is the NFC East blog and Kevin Seifert is better qualified to evaluate whether the Lions are for real.

Pressure is one thing, and it's something at which the Cowboys are very good. But the Lions' offense isn't just about Stafford-to-Johnson. They use the screen game well. They like to get running back Jahvid Best out on the edge and throw it to him. Stafford has games where he throws like crazy to tight end Brandon Pettigrew. They throw and throw and throw in a million different ways, and their goal is to find the one that works. If the pressure is too intense to give Johnson time to get open downfield, Stafford has other, closer options and the wherewithal to find them.

That means Cowboys outside linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, so outstanding at getting into the backfield, are going to have to showcase their underrated run-stopping abilities Sunday. It means more reliance on NFC Defensive Player of the Month Sean Lee and his ballhawking ability. If the Cowboys' defense stops the Lions Sunday, it will have been because of those one-on-one battles at the second level, where Stafford's safety valves operate. Those are the matchups I'm watching in this game. I know they can't stop Calvin Johnson, because no one can. And I know they can get pressure on Stafford, because other teams have. What I don't know is what will happen once Stafford sees the pressure and reacts to it. That's where the Cowboys need to be focused Sunday, if they want to stop the 3-0 Lions.

Reviewing the '09 draft

June, 9, 2011
Mike Sando and Matt Williamson took a look back at the first round of the 2009 draft and ranked the picks, division by division. Mike's focus is on the NFC West, since that's his blog, but it was nice of him to make this an all-encompassing post from which the rest of us could steal liberally. Thanks, Mike. Your check is in the mail.

The NFC East did pretty well in this survey, ranking second among the eight divisions for return (so far) on its investment in 2009 first-round picks. The Cowboys didn't have a first-rounder that year, but the Redskins took Brian Orakpo 13th overall, the Eagles took Jeremy Maclin 19th and the Giants took Hakeem Nicks 29th. All three have been strong contributors at least and outright stars at times, and all three look poised to get even better in the short term and the long.

The only division that fared better in these rankings was the NFC North. The Packers had two picks in the '09 first round and spent them on B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews, whom you may have enjoyed watching win the Super Bowl a couple of months back. The Lions picked Matthew Stafford and Brandon Pettigrew, two key cogs in their offense when Stafford is healthy. And the Vikings got Percy Harvin. The Bears didn't have a first-rounder that year, but I think it's safe to say that the North's haul beats the East's in terms of volume and because of the aforementioned Packers Super Bowl title.

The reviews on this could change over the next few years, of course, but for now you have to believe the Giants, Redskins and Eagles are happy with the way that 2009 first round went.