Opponents running wild against Lions defense

Detroit News

Justin Rogers
| The Detroit News

In football, there are three key components to any good defense: You need to be able to stop the run, rush the passer and cover. The Detroit Lions aren’t doing any of those well, and it’s a big reason the team has one win through four games. 

Despite the league becoming pass-heavier the past decade, most NFL coaches place an emphasis on stopping the run, first and foremost. The idea is you force the opposition to be one-dimensional, which creates opportunities for the pass rush to be successful. 

Well, the Lions haven’t been able to stop the run. Not even close. Through four games, they’re dead last in the NFL in yards allowed per game and aren’t much better on a per carry basis, with opponents gouging them for 5.2 yards per pop. 

“You can watch a lot of our last or first four games, and the running yards is just pretty crazy,” defensive end Trey Flowers said. “So if a team doesn’t have to pass, then you can’t get a pass-rush opportunity.”

One of the biggest issues for the Lions is there is not one big issue. Roll the tape and you’ll see different guys missing tackles, plugging the wrong gaps or not shedding their blocks. It’s a revolving door of problems, which points to coaching and scheme as much as, if not more than personnel. 

“We have to do a better job in the run game, and we have to settle some things down there that have hurt us and play with better fundamentals and technique and just be consistent,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “I mean, that’s the biggest thing for us right now. We have some good run plays on tape and just unfortunately too many bad ones. We have to be consistent with it and try to get teams in a situation where they have to pass the ball more.”

Sure, that’s the idea. Hypothetically, it’s better for the defense when you can count on the quarterback dropping back 40 times. That allows the defensive front to pin their ears back and attack. But could the Lions even capitalize if that were the case?

According to ESPN’s pass-rush win rate metric, which measures how often a defender beats his blocking assignment in under 2.5 seconds, the Lions are last in the NFL, and by a wide margin, at 21%. 

The team is pinning some of their shortcomings in this area on their game-planning, built around keeping mobile quarterbacks from doing damage with their legs. And to the end, the Lions have actually been successful. No QB has rushed for more than 29 yards against Detroit this season.

“You’ve got to look at who you going against, who is at quarterback,” defensive line coach Bo Davis said. “Unfortunately, we haven’t had many chances to play guys that are stationary quarterbacks that a lot of guys do. If you watch guys that take off. We’d love to play Drew Brees every week. Our stats would be tremendous playing against him. Unfortunately, we don’t have that.”

Really? Only Arizona’s Kyler Murray wasn’t able to beat Detroit with his arm. The other three quarterbacks — Mitchell Trubisky, Aaron Rodgers and Brees — all posted passer ratings above 100, while combining for seven touchdowns and one interception.  

The Lions did sack Brees twice, a season-high. But at that rate, the team’s 32 sacks over the course of the season would have ranked bottom-10 a year ago. That’s hardly tremendous. 

This week’s opponent, Jacksonville, will test Detroit’s weaknesses, particularly stopping the run, while also offering an opportunity to get on track. After all, the Jaguars are only averaging 21.8 points per game. 


Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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