| The Detroit News
When things were going as poorly as they were for the Detroit Lions defense, it was only natural for outside observers to try and diagnosis the issues. Was the lack of a pass rush due to the team’s reluctance to blitz more often? Were the issues in coverage related to the team’s insistence on playing more man coverage than anyone else in the NFL?
At the end of the day, we’re all armchair quarterbacks. Most understand the game on a surface level, while the coaches have years of expertise in the field. But it’s also why we ask the questions.
Whatever the real reasons for their problems, the Lions temporarily pushed pause on nearly all of them in Sunday’s 34-16 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. And in the spirit of winning curing all, defensive coordinator Cory Undlin — with his typically dry delivery — had a little fun poking at the recent critiques.
“We talked about stopping the run, so obviously that was the No. 1 goal — it’s the No. 1 goal every week,” Undlin said. “I know we talked about if we can do that we can get some more pass rush going. Just catching up on some of the stuff you guys are talking about, you want to get some more pass rush, so we tried to create some more pass rush for ya. I know you guys are always talking about the man versus the zone, and I feel you guys wanted some more zone, so I tried to play some more zone for you. Ended up working out. We’ll see how it goes this week.”
As mentioned, the Lions did just about everything right against the Jaguars, holding the opponent to under 50 yards rushing and getting plenty of pressure on quarterback Gardner Minshew. And they did it changing some things up, especially in the back end.
Heading into the contest, the Lions had played man coverage 60% of the time, the most in the NFL. But in the victory, they utilized those coverages on 39.1% of pass plays, according to ESPN, leaving more heavily on zone looks.
“I don’t know where you guys get your stats from but there was enough man in there,” Undlin said. “Played a little bit more zone. Just like it is every week, it depends on the quarterback, depends on the wideouts, depends on what they’re doing in the pass game. So it changes up.”
This Sunday, the Lions will see a prolific passing attack when they travel to Atlanta to battle the Falcons. Even with star receiver Julio Jones battling an injury much of the season, the team is second in the NFL, averaging 291.2 yards through the air.
And it’s not just Jones. Calvin Ridley, a 2018 first-round pick, is enjoying a breakout campaign in his third season. He has 546 yards and five touchdowns through six games.
How does Undlin plan to counter that tandem? Well, he’s willing to tell you how he won’t.
“I’d have to rush two, and I know you guys would not like that if I rushed two and we tried to double all these guys,” Undlin said. “We probably can’t do that. I mean, I don’t know if I have a coverage that can handle all these guys.
“I would say it comes down to trying to be effective and make the quarterback, make Matt (Ryan) work here — pre-snap, post-snap and do our best to mix it up on him, try to make it hard for him. We all know this is going to be tough cover for everybody on the field and we welcome that challenge.”