What Detroit Lions are doing to try to ramp up NFL-worst pass rush

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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Bo Davis has seen the numbers, the ones that paint the Detroit Lions as having the least effective pass rush in the NFL, and he does not buy them one bit.

“Everybody has a measuring stick of how they measure things,” said Davis, the Lions defensive line coach. “Nobody takes into the elements of you playing against a guy that can run. They’re just looking at you, are you pass rushing, how efficient are you getting to the quarterback? We can be very efficient getting to the quarterback if we just take off and just go. But in the game plan you’ve got to look at it and say, ‘Hey, do we want to just take off and just rush this guy?’”

The Lions are tied for last in the NFL with five sacks entering this week’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and have the league’s lowest pass rush win rate, according to ESPN.

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But Davis insists his group’s low sack total – linemen have accounted forthree of the five sacks – is partly a function of the quarterbacks they’ve faced.

In Week 1, the Lions hosted a mobile quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky who was one of the most inaccurate passers in the league before he was benched.

In Week 2, they faced two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers, who’s adept at extending plays with his feet.

And in Week 3, the Lions played the ultra-athletic Kyler Murray, who leads NFL quarterbacks with 296 yards rushing and five touchdowns.

“If we’re playing the guy in Arizona again and we don’t play him like we played him and keep him in the pocket and we just rushed it, yeah, we can have great efficiency rushing the passer, but he’ll have 200 yards rushing on us,” Davis said. “So I mean, they all have measuring sticks of how they measure that. You’ve got to look at who you’re playing, who’s at quarterback, and unfortunately we haven’t had a lot of chances to play guys that are stationary quarterbacks.

“We’d love to play Drew Brees every week. Our stats would be tremendous playing against him. But unfortunately, we don’t have that.”

The Lions had their only multi-sack game of the season in Week 4 against Brees and the New Orleans Saints, when Brees completed 19 of 25 passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns in an easy Saints victory.

This week, they face a quarterback in Gardner Minshew who’s more mobile than Brees but does not strike fear in opponents with his legs like Murray.

Minshew has been sacked 16 times this year – Joe Burrow, Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson are the only quarterbacks who have been sacked more frequently – and Davis said his troops are excited about the opportunity to get after a passer.

“I mean, guys, they look at who they’re going against and who they’re playing against,” Davis said. “It’s like, … ‘Hey, we can get after this guy, we can have fun,’ and all those things start playing a big role and guys start really like, ‘Here’s what we got to do. We’re going to play this guy. We know what he can do.’ And we played against some good running quarterbacks and we feel like, hey, we can get after these guys and do a good job rushing the quarterback.”

Beyond the quarterbacks they’ve faced, Lions defensive coordinator Cory Undlin said his team’s poor pass rush stats are a reflection of the team’s defensive struggles as a whole, and specifically their inability to stop the run.

The Lions rank last in the NFL in rush defense, and have fallen into large deficits against the Green Bay Packers and Saints.

“When teams are running the ball on you, the opportunities to rush the passer end up being a lot less than they would be if you were stopping it,” Undlin said. “Obviously, we can get better at a couple different things, that being one of them. We’ll continue to keep looking at it and see if we can start mixing up and putting the best personnel groups out there that we can generate some more of that. But definitely, I think we all know that we’ve got to create some more pressure on the quarterback, and we’ll see how we can do that going forward this week.”

Lions coach Matt Patricia said fixing the pass rush was a focus of last week’s bye, but that he also has to be cognizant of putting too much on his players’ plates.

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Rather than scheme up more blitzes and pressures and exotic looks, Patricia said he wants to dial it back defensively to “allow the guys to play a little bit faster out on the field.”

“Maybe some things fundamentally that we were trying to do that we’re just not ready for that I think we’ve got to just backtrack a little bit and do some other things well first before we build on top of that,” Patricia said. “Those are all some of the things from the self-scout from the bye week that I thought that we could implement going forward and really just try to build on it as we try to go. We’re going to need some of that stuff somewhere down the road, but at this point let’s just try to play some good football.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Lions content. 

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