Dave Choate: Matthews Stafford has had a relatively quiet season thus far. How much of that is due to Calvin Johnson, the offensive line and Stafford himself, and how much might be due to play calling?
Sean Yuille: I tend to think all of those things are equally contributing to the Lions' struggles on offense. Stafford hasn't played very well this season, but a lot things have gone wrong around him. Case in point: Calvin Johnson has either been limited or out because of an ankle injury for the last month, and several other players have missed time due to injuries (Reggie Bush, Joique Bell, Theo Riddick, Eric Ebron, Joseph Fauria, LaAdrian Waddle, etc.). This has made it tough to get everybody on the same page with the Lions still getting used to their new offensive scheme. The offensive line is proof of that, as nobody seems to be on the same page despite the Lions having all five of their starters back from last season. To sum up Stafford and the offense, it's all still a work in progress.
Dave Choate: The defense has been insanely good for this Lions team, which has Falcons fans worried. Who and what is responsible for the excellent showing, and how will this team attack the Lions?
Sean Yuille: Teryl Austin is the man behind the NFL's No. 1 defense. The Lions hired him from Baltimore to serve as their defensive coordinator, and that was probably their best addition of the 2014 offseason. He has taken the Lions' talent on defense to another level by installing a scheme that gets constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks and creates confusion for offenses. The Lions are solid against the run, and they have been shockingly good against the pass as well. Against Atlanta, I'd expect plenty of blitzes from the Lions in an attempt to exploit the Falcons' offensive line issues.
Dave Choate: The ground game looks pretty anemic thus far, which is something Falcons fans are familiar with. Is this a true committee, or do you anticipate someone will emerge and seize the lead role?
Sean Yuille: I don't know if I'd call it a committee. Reggie Bush and Joique Bell have pretty set roles in the offense when both are healthy (which has been rare this season). Bush is a more dynamic running back who is best utilized in space, and he sometimes actually lines up in the slot. Bell, on the other hand, is more of a workhorse. He will get you the tough yards, especially in late-game situations when the Lions are trying to run out the clock.
Dave Choate: The NFC is looking surprisingly vulnerable this season, and certainly the Packers and Bears have been having their struggles along the way. Do you like the Lions' chances of coming out of the NFC North with a division crown, and are they built to make noise in the playoffs?
Sean Yuille: Even though the Lions thoroughly shut down the Packers earlier this season, I'm not to the point yet where I have any confidence about the NFC North race going in Detroit's favor. The Packers have looked like their dominant old selves as of late, and with the Lions having to go to Lambeau in Week 17 -- a place that hasn't seen a Lions victory since 1991 -- the margin of error for Detroit is quite slim.
If the Lions do make the playoffs, I certainly think they could make a run given the way this team is built. If the defense continues to play at a high level, all the Lions need is for Matthew Stafford to pull a Joe Flacco and get hot at the right time.
Dave Choate: Dual question: What are your thoughts on Jim Caldwell as a head coach, and how do you expect this game to shake out?
Sean Yuille: I don't necessarily think Caldwell is a football genius or anything like that, but he has shown to be a great manager of people thus far. The hires he made have been quite good, and the players have seemingly bought in 100 percent to his vision for this team. The dumb penalties have decreased quite a bit this season, and the Lions have been much better at closing out games. Those were two of the biggest issues under Jim Schwartz, so Caldwell's attempt at "changing the culture" seems to be working so far.
As for Sunday's game, I fully expect the Lions to win, which has me a bit concerned. I had a similar feeling earlier this month before the Lions proceeded to lose at home to Kyle Orton and the Buffalo Bills. Granted, that was mainly because the Lions' kicker melted down, but even so, overconfidence in the NFL usually doesn't turn out well. That said, the matchups do seem to favor the Lions on paper quite heavily, so it would be quite disappointing if they don't close out the first half of the season with a victory.