First off, I love the name “The Wayne Fontes Experience” because it takes me back to the lore of the Detroit Lions and a time when I was first getting really passionate about football. Ah, memories. I caught up with Al Beaton this week who is without question one of our very best bloggers on the Bloguin network. Make sure you check out his Lion blog and please give him some love on twitter and/or facebook as well. Al also asked me some questions about the Saints that I answered on his site – you can check that Q&A out HERE. Thanks to Al for the time and I hope you enjoy the Q&A.
Saints Nation: Ndamukong Suh’s suspension is one of the hottest NFL stories right now. Does it piss you off that this is getting more attention than the Lions’ great season so far?
Waynes Fontes Experience: As a Lions fan, I’m happy the team is being taken seriously again. The team has earned it.
But the media’s overreaction to Suh’s stomp of Evan Dietrich-Smith on Thanksgiving has pissed me off. Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports claimed if Suh wasn’t stopped he was going to kill someone. Peter King of SI wrote Suh needs anger management counseling. Even in Detroit, hack columnist and occasional ESPN talking head Drew Sharp declared 2 games was ridiculously short. My God, Suh lost his temper and kicked Dietrich-Smith, he didn’t stab him with a rusty shank or shoot him in the kneecaps! It’s called perspective…and the media lost it.
But the attention paid to Suh has overshadowed the fact the Lions haven’t been playing well for a few weeks, and what once looked like a sure-fire playoff spot is now anything but.
SN: Do you think the 2 game suspension is fair?
WFE: Though most in the mainstream media believe we should be on high alert with someone they consider a sociopath on the loose for 2 weeks, I refuse to live in fear of Ndamukong Suh. (I hope you realize that comment was dripping with sarcasm).
Lions fans aren’t saying the NFL shouldn’t suspend Suh, just give him a fair punishment. Detroiters were as disturbed as the rest of the nation with the incident, and how it appeared. If there is one fanbase acutely aware of appearances, it’s Detroit’s, considering how often this area is disparaged by outsiders. Lions fans are pissed at Suh, and rightly so. His actions reflect badly on the team, and by association, Detroit (it shouldn’t, but it does, regardless). Let’s not even go into fans’ unhappiness with “The Lions’ best defensive player will be suspended for multiple games thanks to his on field stupidity while a playoff spot hangs in the balance” issue.
Yes, the suspension was deserved, though I think 1 game would have been plenty, considering the backlash Suh has received from media and fans. In the end, Suh’s reputation has taken the hardest hit, definitely harder than the one Dietrich-Smith received. But I can understand his getting popped for 2 games, and don’t have a problem with it.
SN: What’s the mentality like in Detroit? Are fans cautiously optimistic? Waiting for Stafford to get hurt and the season to go down in flames any moment?
WFE: By this point of the season, I think the majority of the fan base has accepted Stafford isn’t made of glass and will play out most, if not all, the season. He’s actually been playing with a fractured finger on his throwing hand, and has played through worse (see the game winning TD pass he threw in OT against the Browns in 2009 after separating his shoulder).
Most fans (at least the ones who don’t comment at places like Yahoo) believe Stafford is well on his way to becoming a franchise QB. If you look at the numbers, he’s on track to shatter every single season team passing record. Not bad for a kid with a little more than one season’s worth of starts under his belt.
Cautiously optimistic is a good way of putting it. But another loss or 2, and the mood will turn ugly. To go from 5-0 to out of the playoffs will start calls of “Same old Lions.” But before the season I thought this team was an 8-8, 9-7 team building toward 2012 as the breakout season. They’re still heading in the right direction.
SN: No one knows more than Saints fans what it’s like to root for a team that is horrible for decades. Does it give you hope/comfort that the Saints have been on this 5 years run that includes a Super Bowl victory?
WFE: Definitely. I’m sure there were many fans in NOLA who thought the Saints would never win a Super Bowl in their lifetime. Now they are a model NFL franchise. So yes, seeing what the Saints have done after decades of futility gives me a great deal of hope the Lions can do the same.
SN: Calvin Johnson – best receiver in the NFL?
WFE: Without a doubt. He’s a FREAK of nature. Next question.
SN: Looks like the Lions struggle to run the ball. Is that about it? Any other weaknesses? I know injuries at the RB position have been tough on you guys.
WFE: There are 2 glaring weaknesses. They lack a capable running game, and surprisingly, teams have run the ball quite effectively against the Lions.
The RB position has been rocked by injuries, with both Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure out for the season (Leshure never made it out of camp). The Lions have gotten little production from their draft picks due to injuries. (Nick Fairley missed the first 6 games of the season, and the aforementioned Leshoure). Stafford is playing hurt. The defensive backfield is threadbare after several DBs went down against the Packers. Let alone the Lions have to replace Suh.
But to go with the struggles with defending the run, the Lions’ secondary is ripe for the picking due to a lack of depth. It got so bad against the Packers, the Lions were forced to play Rashied Davis, a 5th string WR, at corner. I’m sure Drew Brees is licking his chops…
SN: Is Stafford’s recent rash of INTs reason for concern? Is he too injured to play his best?
WFE: Reportedly, the fractured index finger on Stafford’s throwing hand has improved to the point where he no longer needs to wear a glove to help grip the ball.
Before the finger was broken, Stafford’s TD/INT ratio was a sterling 19/4. Since then, it’s a worse than mediocre 7/9. I honestly believe the fractured finger has affected Stafford more than the Lions will admit, and is the biggest reason for the uptick in picks.
But Stafford is the sort of rifle-armed , gun slinging QB who believes he can complete every pass, no matter how small the opening or how risky the throw. Interceptions are going to happen with that attitude.
SN: Going into this game, how do you plan to beat the Saints? What is the gameplan if you are coaching the Lions?
WFE: To have a shot at winning, the Lions are going to need to score, and score lots. As in least 35 points. Stafford must to keep the turnovers to a minimum, and get the ball in the hands of Megatron as often as possible. So I’d go with the vertical passing game, throw deep and often. With the RBs in flux, the short pass becomes the defacto running game. Kevin Smith will be a big part of the offense IF he is healthy enough to be effective. He’s a hard north/south runner who can catch the ball out of the backfield.
Defensively, the game is going to rest on the shoulders of the Lions’ front 4, with the secondary having been decimated by injuries. The Lions’ pass rush must pressure Drew Brees into mistakes, otherwise he’s going to pick the Lions apart.
It’s a tall order, I know…and even taller without Suh.
SN: What is your realistic expectation for the Lions this year? What is their ceiling?
WFE: I wrote before the season the Lions were an 8-8 team who could finish 10-6 with a few breaks…or 6-10 if they didn’t get any. I also said they would be playing meaningful games in December for the first time in a decade, and would be thrilled with a 9-7 year. So far, I’ve been right on the money.
The Lions are 7-4. Looking at their remaining 5 games (@Saints, Vikings, @Raiders, Chargers, @Packers), 10-6 is not out of the question if the Lions can win the middle 3. But I think a 9-7 finish is the most likely scenario.
SN: Score prediction?
WFE: It’ll be entertaining as Hell, and very high scoring. The Saints hang on to beat the Lions, 42 – 35.