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Ask Kyle: On Bob Quinn, Ezekiel Ansah and the best road trips in the NFL

ARLINGTON, Texas — Coming off their first win of the season, the Detroit Lions have been as loose as I’ve seen them since the summer. Matt Patricia’s tough training camp has become fairly notorious by now, and, yes, it wore at players. So did the slow start. That’s a toxic mix.

Then they went out there and slapped New England right in the face on national TV. 

A win like that will do wonders for your energy. There was a bounce to Detroit’s step this week. The conversations were more lively in the locker room. Even the spirits at practice seemed up, in just the 15 or 20 minutes available per day to reporters.

This team is feeling pretty good heading into Sunday’s road trip to Dallas to face the Cowboys at AT&T stadium. But whether that translates to another win in this up-and-down league is another matter. While we wait for kickoff, here is another mailbag to tide y’all over.

As always, a tip of the cap to everyone who participated. The ‘bag has been overflowing with questions for weeks now, and there’s no way to get to everybody in an orderly fashion, but we’ll be back next week, same time, same place. Questions can be submitted via email here, or Twitter here.

With that, on to the main event.

Q: What do you think Bob Quinn’s best accomplishment as our GM has been so far? — @ConDaddy

A: I’m tempted to say the recasting of the offensive line, because that thing was a mess for years. And in just 24 months, Quinn has dismissed every single starter he inherited. He replaced those guys with three early-round picks, including first-rounders Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow, as well as a third-rounder in Graham Glasgow. And then he spent top dollar on blue chip free agents like T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner.

The early results this year have been promising, too. Their running game ranks 10th in the league in yards per carry, and Matthew Stafford has been sacked the fewest times of any starting quarterback in the league. Hey now, that’s pretty good!

But the season is just three games old, too. And last year, the starting offensive line played just 95 snaps together because of injuries. So it seems premature to call that remodel up front an accomplishment, even if things are heading in a really positive direction.

So, allow me to instead go with Quinn’s ability to overcome the sudden retirement of Calvin Johnson. I mean, this guy is the best receiver in franchise history. He was one of the greatest talents of his generation. Conventional thinking suggested the Lions would struggle to replacement him. And yet, the Lions replaced him so well that I don’t think anyone really thinks about how bad this should have been.

Of course, Stafford deserves some of the credit for carrying on as well as he has, as does Jim Bob Cooter, who put a system in place that accents Stafford’s strengths. But you still need guys who can get open — just ask the Patriots about that these days, or the Cowboys for that matter — and Quinn went out and found a couple great complementary parts.

Quinn spent big on Marvin Jones a few days after Johnson’s retirement became official in 2016, and Jones has delivered big results, especially last year. The stats, both advanced and traditional, show he was one of the league’s best deep threats last year. Hell, he just might have been the best, period.

Then Quinn took little-known Kenny Golladay in the third round of last year’s draft. And he was so little known, I remember a whole lot of you wondering whether Quinn reached for the MAC product. Then Golladay averaged 17.0 yards per catch as a rookie. Now in Year 2, he already has a couple dramatic touchdowns. He has the measurables to be a WR1, and his skill-set is quickly catching up. And that’s Detroit’s third-best receiver. 

Not bad. And I give Bob Quinn a hell of a lot of credit for it. Losing Calvin Johnson could have been a disaster. Instead, Detroit reloaded, and Matthew Stafford just turned in the highest-rated season of his career. Not so bad at all.

Q: What’s the best concession in the JerryDome? Does the press box have a good selection? — @CallMeDjm

A: I’m not sure about concessions, since I eat in the press box — suckers! — but I’ll tell you this. The press box offering just might be the class of the league. All you need to know is this: Unlimited gummy bears during the game, and beer — on tap! I swear to God! — after it.

Say what you will about Jerry Jones, and there is a lot to say about Jerry Jones, but the man knows how to run a proper press box. 

Q: It’s time for Ziggy to go, right? — mik

A: Wrong. Listen, I know fans are frustrated with Ziggy Ansah. Just imagine what it must be like to be Ziggy Ansah. He’s a really good player when healthy, but hasn’t been healthy since, what, 2015? He had two sacks in 2016 because of an ankle injury. He had 12 sacks last year, although it’s impossible to understate just how empty those sacks were. Three came against Ereck Flowers in Week 2, and another six came in the final two games of the season, including the meaningless season finale against Green Bay.

That left another 13 games where he combined for three sacks. Not great. There’s a reason he wasn’t even among the top 50 edge rushers in the league according to ProFootballFocus, despite finishing top 10 in sacks.

And now here we are again.

Ansah looked good in the opener, but left that game after 19 snaps because of a shoulder injury. When he missed a couple practices the following week, he said he was “sad” not to be out there with his teammates. And now he’s gone on to miss three straight games, including Sunday’s in Dallas. He’s already been ruled out.

Frustrating stuff, I know. Or to use Ansah’s word, “sad.” But his contract is fully guaranteed, so cutting him doesn’t do anything for you. And I have no idea who would be interested in trading for an oft-injured defensive end who costs more than a million bucks a week.

Ansah’s going to finish the season in Detroit. And then God-knows-what after that — although if I were a betting man (I’m not, Mom, I swear), my money would be on him playing his football, or not, whatever, someplace else.

Q: Given the struggle of the Lions defending the run (with the exception of the NE game), and the Cowboys presumed strength running the ball (even though they haven’t dominated yet this year), who wins the battle in the trenches on Sunday? — @SameNewLions

A: There’s little doubt in my mind the Lions defense is headed for a long day against Ezekiel Elliott. But the Cowboys couldn’t complete a pass into the Rio Grande if they were standing at its shores, and their defense, while pretty good, will be without top linebacker Sean Lee. 

This is a winnable game. Whether the Lions actually win it just comes down to how much they can contain the Cowboys’ running game. Elliott is going to get his, especially on those stretch-zone plays, which have ripped Detroit this year, and Dallas does them better than just about anyone. And that’s fine. They can’t pass. You can allow some chunks on the ground and still board that flight home with “W.” You just can’t let Elliott go bananas.

With that, we now interrupt your regularly scheduled program to bring you this gif of Eli Manning dancing in a banana suit.

Q: Considering Ameer Abdullah has been inactive the first 3 weeks, does it make more sense for Quinn to try trading him before the trade deadline or to hold onto him as depth in case of injuries to the RB corps? — @andrewkeck

A: Considering how badly Abdullah played last season, and that he hasn’t been good enough to even dress for a game this season, I can’t imagine he’d fetch much. Probably a conditional sixth- or seventh-round pick at best. Maybe that’s something that would interest Bob Quinn. I just don’t think it will.

Injuries almost always occur in the backfield. They didn’t last year in Detroit, which is nice, but that just means the club is overdue. I’m not in the business of projecting injuries, but it’s a statistical fact that running backs have it tougher than most. And if/when Kerryon Johnson, LeGarrette Blount or Theo Riddick goes down, Detroit is going to need someone to step up.

And who better than a guy with 326 carries and 55 catches over the last three seasons, almost all of which were accrued in this very system?

Abdullah wasn’t great as a starter, I get it, but the problems hardly started or ended with him either. The blocking was a mess. There’s a reason everyone struggled, and not just him. I think Kerryon Johnson is a better player, to be sure, but I would be fascinated to see what Abdullah could do behind this line. I honestly believe he’d be fine.

In short, Abdullah is no No. 1 back. But his athleticism and experience make him an excellent insurance option at a position that needs insurance more than perhaps any other. And I think that offers the club more value than a conditional sixth- or seventh-round pick.

Q: If you had to choose, which 0-16 team was worse: Lions or Browns? — @Big_Wes15

A: Give me the Lions. They Browns are dysfunctional too, yes, but that team has a lot of individual talent. And I think we’re seeing it now. They’re a kicker away from being 3-0 this season. Meanwhile, the Lions won just two games after going 0-for.

Those Lions teams were bad. That roster was just so utterly bereft of talent. And I’m not saying Cleveland is loaded or anything, but they have some real-life NFL players on that roster. I’m not sure how many of those were hanging around Detroit in 2008. Outside of Don Muhlbach, of course.

Q: What are your expectations from Detroit’s running game this Sunday considering how Dallas’ run defense is? — @sweta2311

A: I don’t think it’ll be as easy as it was against New England, which ranks 31st in the league in run defense. The only team worse: Your Detroit Lions! And remember, the Patriots were playing without Trey Flowers, their best defensive lineman.

The Cowboys, meantime, are much stiffer. They’re allowing the third-fewest yards per game, and the second-fewest yards per play. And their strength is in the front seven, which spearheads the league’s seventh-best rush defense. Not bad, especially when you consider one of their three games came against Carolina, the No. 1 rushing attack in the league.

Of course, the Cowboys will also be without top linebacker Sean Lee, and that’s a break for Detroit. Still, that’s a good defense, and certainly better than New England’s. So, yeah, don’t expect the same kind of eight-lane roads we saw paved against New England.

That said, it’s important to remember the Lions were actually effective on the ground against the Jets and 49ers too. They just had to abandon it because of deficits, both of the early and double digit nature. I really believe in this running attack, behind a suddenly formidable offensive line and behind a budding star in Kerryon Johnson. It won’t always be so easy, sure, but I think they’re legitimate, and the Patriots game was no aberration. Johnson is good, I’m telling you.

Q: Is this Lions team closer to the one that lost in the Andre Roberts revenge game, or the one that won the Marquis Flowers revenge game? — @joefriedli

A: This team isn’t nearly as bad as the one that lost by 31 points to a Jets team that hasn’t won since. But it’s not nearly as good as the one that just housed the defending AFC champs either. It’s somewhere in the middle. And given just how wide open the NFC North is — hat tip to anybody who had da Bears leading the division through three weeks — that could still be good enough to play relevant football late into the season.  

Q: What’s your favorite road city and why? 2) detected any uptick in comments about Detroit as a road city from your out-of-town counterparts? — @ngelfond

A: I think life “on the road with an NFL team,” if you will, is overly dramatized. At least it is these days. In another era, sure, players and reporters were tight. The media even traveled with the team. But these days, teams have put up as many barriers as possible between players and reporters, and given the TMZification of media, I don’t blame them whatsoever. Now these trips are just a couple nights in a city, most of which is spent in a stadium, and then you’re hopping the first commercial flight home to be back in Allen Park for Monday press conferences.

Having said that, traveling around America to write about an NFL team is still cool as hell, and I’ve never taken it for granted. I’ve gotten to see so much of this great country, not to mention a couple trips to London, and on somebody else’s dime at that. Thanks, MLive! 

There are so many cool stadiums out there. AT&T used to be right up there for me for its sheer opulence, although it’s a little too corporate or big box or whatever to top my list. U.S. Bank Stadium in Minnesota is probably my favorite these days, for its combination of opulence as well as uniqueness. I mean, the joint is shaped like a giant boat, with natural light spilling in from the tallest glass door in North America. And, hey, they have an omelette station in the press box. That’s so beautiful, I could cry.

I love Lambeau too, for the tradition and college-like atmosphere on game day. And hey, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Ford Field here. It’s not the best in the league or anything, but it’s way up there for me, especially for a stadium that’s going on two decades old. I think that place has aged real well.

But if we’re talking about a favorite road city, it has to be Seattle. I just love that place. It could have something to do with my unhealthy obsession with seafood, OK, but Seattle just has such cool vibes. You look in direction, and you see mountains. Another, water. And that happens just about wherever you’re standing in that city. It’s so tranquil, so chill, so cool, with some of the nicest damn people you’ve ever met. Oh, and did I mention the seafood?

Of course, they play some pretty compelling football there too, and that atmosphere is one of the coolest in the league. My feet were vibrating from the noise during that playoff game against the Lions in 2016.

And have I mentioned the seafood?

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