For this week’s edition of “Behind Enemy Lines,” we reached out to Josh Katzenstein, Lions beat writer for the Detroit News. Here are five questions we posed to Katzenstein in advance of Vikings-Lions and the final game in the Metrodome on Sunday
1. What happened in the final six weeks of the season that led to the Lions’ fall from first place in the NFC North?
JK: It didn’t seem like they were taking any of their opponents lightly. It was more just an in-game focus issue. The offense in the last six games had 21 turnovers averaging 3.5 turnovers and lost five of those games. On defense, they only forced three turnovers in those six games. They were just throwing possessions away and weren’t doing anything to get them back. Eventually those mistakes are going to cost you.
2. How much of this collapse is on head coach Jim Schwartz’s shoulders?
JK: The mood around Detroit is that Schwartz won’t be back next season but of course there’s nothing official to that. I think everything in the Lions’ locker room has been taking the blame. They’re saying that they’re the ones out there playing and the coaches coached them up enough. But at some point, you do have to question some of the decisions Schwartz and the coaching staff has made over the last six weeks just because it seemed there were times where they weren’t always ready for the opponents.
3. Is it time to question quarterback Matthew Stafford’s ability and decision making?
JK: I think those questions have already surfaced. Just watching Stafford even beyond the turnovers (19 interceptions and 12 fumbles), he makes a lot of really questionable decisions. He seems to rush throws at times, he seems to make off balanced throws at times. The Lions have locked him in for the future (three-year extension in the offseason with $41.5 million guaranteed) and certainly he’s going to be there for the next handful of years, but at some point you’re going to have to question exactly what his ceiling is. At times he looks like the sky is the limit but at other times it looks like the guy is throwing away the season. If you want to blame anyone more than Schwartz, it would have to be Stafford for the late season collapse.
4. What’s been the overall issue with the defense?
JK: I think consistency has been the main problem on defense. Even though the Lions’ run defense is good (fourth in the NFL allowing 94.8 yards a game) the front four has not lived up to expectations this year. They’re tied for 29th in the NFL in sacks this season and really had one dominant game and that was against the Packers on Thanksgiving when they had seven sacks. At times they’re not getting enough pressure and even when they are there seems to be a problem in the secondary.
5. What’s the mood around the team as it plays the final game at the Metrodome without playoff implications?
JK: The mood has been kind of down this week compared to the last couple months because I think guys are upset they don’t have a shot at making the playoffs. I think they are looking forward to getting back and regaining some of the pride that’s maybe been lost these last six weeks. I’ve been asking some guys about Metrodome memories, and I think they do know it’s going to be a tough test because the Vikings have been playing for pride these last several weeks and playing really well. All these guys see that on film and they know it’s going to be a crazy crowd. They just got to find a way to tune it out and hopefully finish this thing strong.