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Lions Talk: Tim Twentyman, Detroit Lions senior writer and insider

Detroit Lions quarterback Mathew Stafford (9) passes over the middle in an NFL game against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday Oct. 4, 2020 in Detroit, Mich. (Adam Pintar via AP)
Detroit Lions quarterback Mathew Stafford (9) passes over the middle in an NFL game against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday Oct. 4, 2020 in Detroit, Mich. (Adam Pintar via AP)

JACKSONVILLE – senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2020 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.

Up this week:

Detroit Lions senior writer and insider Tim Twentyman about the Lions' matchup with the Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday at 1 p.m.

Question: The Lions are 1-3 coming out of last week's bye. They expected better, but where do they feel like they are moving forward?

Answer: They obviously aren't happy with 1-3. You look back to the Week 1 Chicago game (a 27-23 loss to the Bears). They gave up a lead late in the fourth quarter after being up 23-6. They still had an opportunity to win, but obviously [running back] D'Andre Swift drops the ball [on a would-be game-winning touchdown pass] at the end and they lost. If D'Andre hangs onto that ball and they're 2-2 heading into the bye, I think they feel a lot better about themselves. They knew this first quarter of the season was going to be their difficult stretch with Chicago, Arizona, Green Bay and New Orleans. They're not happy with where they're at, but they only play one team with a winning record in the next six games – and that's Indianapolis. They feel like they're not out of it. They're obviously not content. They feel the pressure. They know they can't let many more get away or they will dig themselves a hole probably too big to get out of. This next quarter of the season is going to be crucial for them, certainly.

Q: Beyond the record how are they playing?

A: They're pretty happy with the way they've been running the ball with [running backs] Adrian Peterson, Kerryon Johnson and Smith. They're averaging over 100 yards per game on the ground and averaging over four yards a carry, which are kind of the benchmarks you want from an offense. But certainly defensively, there is a lot of room for improvement. They're allowing 170 yards a game on the ground and you just can't win football games like that – and they know that. They really went into self-evaluation mode over the bye week. They know defensively they have to fix a lot of things that are holding them back. They also have to find a way to hold onto a lead. This is a team that's lost three games this season when it has had double-digit leads. It was a good bye week in terms of self-evaluation mode. Players like to have that more midseason, but it came at a good time for the Lions to try to figure out things that are going wrong and really try to put a finger on how to reverse some of that stuff.

Q: Is it good news that they've had leads or bad news that they've lost them?

A: It's a double-edged sword. You like that the offense has been really good to start games. They've jumped out early. That script that you have on offense has really worked. But once you get off script and some of the adjustments have come, that's where they have maybe stalled a bit. They have to do a better job of in-game adjustments and some of those things where you get off script. They have been good offensively in the first quarter. They've built leads and they've been strong that way, but you have to be able to adjust in games and that's where they self-evaluation part comes in: "What do we have to better once we get these leads to maybe not take our foot off the gas or defensively get a stop here and there to give it back to the offense and extend the lead so we can get a team behind the eight ball?" I think those are the things they've tried to figure out this week.

Q: Where is quarterback Matt Stafford through five games?

A: Solid. If you look the first half of the season last season, he was one of the better quarterbacks in the league. He was No. 2 in yards and No. 3 in touchdowns with a 106 passer rating before he suffered a back injury and was gone for the rest of the season. Those numbers are down, and he has thrown a couple of pretty bad interceptions late in games. One in Chicago late in the fourth quarter allowed the Bears a late touchdown and allowed them to have that comeback. He has been solid, but not great. This is a team and a defense right now that isn't playing well on that side of the ball, so you need your quarterback to be even better to compensate for it. Matthew will be the first to tell you his three interceptions were bad decisions and he has missed on a couple of throws down the field with opportunities to make big plays and they haven't connected on those like last year. He would be the first to tell you he needs to play better, and the offense needs to be better to compensate for some of the deficiencies on defense so far.

Q: You discussed the lost leads on defense. What's the reason for how that unit is playing?

A: It starts up front. Five quarterback sacks through four games is not enough. They're just not affecting the quarterback enough, then when you couple that with opponents' ability to run the football, you're not only stopping the run and then you're not pressuring the quarterback. The defense has to find a way to better affect the quarterback. They're just not doing it.

Q: What does success look like for the Lions the rest of the season? Does it have to be digging out of 1-3 and making the playoffs?

A: Ownership and new owner Sheila Ford Hamp had a meeting with reporters last December. The mandate was kind of set that, "Look, the expectation is to take steps forward from 3-12-1." They need to play meaningful games in December. That's still the mandate here. Yes, you got off to a bad start at 1-3, but there are winnable games in the next six games. There's an opportunity to go on a little bit of a stretch here. The mandate by ownership is that this team be playing meaningful games, which to me means games that could potentially get you into the playoffs in December. I think that's the goal moving forward.

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