Detroit Lions need major defensive overhaul after Tennessee Titans expose them

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For all the talk about what the Detroit Lions will do with Matthew Stafford after the season, the next head coach and general manager have an even bigger task at hand — rebuilding arguably the NFL’s most atrocious defense.

Derrick Henry ran for 147 yards and Ryan Tannehill accounted for five touchdowns, three passing and two rushing, as the Tennessee Titans pummeled the Lions at Nissan Stadium, 46-25, to guarantee the Lions a losing record for the third straight year.

The Titans (10-4) scored touchdowns on six of their first nine possessions Sunday, punted once and set a season-high for points against a Lions defense playing without three of its top defensive linemen and down to its seventh cornerback for much of the game.

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“It was a struggle and I’m not going to make any excuses one way or the other,” interim Lions coach Darrell Bevell said. “The guys that we have are the guys that we have, and those guys are out there giving us everything they’ve got. They’re fighting hard. The coaches are trying to put them in the best situations that they can to be successful, and today we weren’t able to do it.”

The Lions, 5-9 and losers of four of their past five games, have given up 40 or more points four times this season, and have lost six games by double-digits.

Their defense is floundering at the level of the 2008 unit, which allowed 40-plus points three times and had 10 double-digit losses on its way to the first 0-16 season in NFL history.

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“I’m not sure it has anything to do with adjustments,” Bevell said. “The one thing I’ll tell you is the guys are playing hard, and we knew the challenge was going to be tough today against that opponent and the way that offense is able to run. It was a long day for our guys. I will say that there was — obviously, the guys are frustrated. They want to do better. But just it was, you’ve got to give credit to Tennessee and how well they played on offense.”

Henry, who is vying to become the eighth player in NFL history to top 2,000 yards in a season, ran for 2 yards on his first carry and lost 4 on his second, then had his way with the Lions the rest of the game.

Henry scored on a 3-yard run on the game’s opening possession, delivered a punishing stiff arm to cornerback Alex Myres — a practice squad call-up who saw extensive playing time in his first NFL game — and his presence set up four of Tannehill’s five touchdowns.

Tannehill scored on runs of 17 and 3 yards, the second of which came on a zone-read with Henry in the backfield, and threw touchdowns of 75, 2 and 3 yards.

The Titans (10-4) finished with 463 yards of offense, including 195 rushing, and averaged 7 yards per play.

“We started clicking,” Henry said. “We started putting plays (together) and getting down the field, putting drives together, getting in the end zone. Still some things we need to improve on, but there’s a lot of things that we can build off of from this game. Everybody got involved. Everybody was able to make plays.”

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The Lions kept the game manageable for three quarters thanks to a gutty performance by Stafford.

Stafford started and played into the fourth quarter a week after suffering a painful rib injury in a loss to the Green Bay Packers. He completed 22 of 32 passes for 252 yards and a touchdown before taking two big hits early in the fourth quarter and giving way to Chase Daniel.

Stafford said he felt early last week like he might not play Sunday, but “turned a corner” sometime late in the week. He talked his way into a few practice drills Friday, and by that night convinced himself “something bad was going to have to happen between Friday night and Sunday” for him not to see the field.

“I’m the quarterback of the Detroit Lions and it was Sunday and I got a bunch of teammates out there that worked their ass off and they fight to be available and fight to get out there and play and try and help us win and if there’s any way I can play, I’m never going to not,” he said. “It’s just I feel like I owe it to those guys. I owe it to the game. I owe it to this organization, everybody. If I’m good enough to play, healthy enough to play, my ass is going to be out there.”

While Stafford’s future with the Lions remains unclear — he could ask for a trade to avoid another rebuild, or the organization could take its quarterback of the future with a likely top-10 draft pick — the next regime will have a major rebuild to do on defense.

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The Lions have few playmakers on that side of the ball, and one of their only building blocks — defensive end Romeo Okwara — will be an unrestricted free agent in March.

Okwara had a sack for safety Sunday in the only highlight for a Lions defense that played without Trey Flowers, Danny Shelton, Da’Shawn Hand, Desmond Trufant, Jeff Okudah and Darryl Roberts. Of that group, only Roberts is not on injured reserve.

Stafford threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones on the Lions’ opening drive, and D’Andre Swift ran for 67 yards and two touchdowns, but also lost a fumble on the goal line.

“Our guys are fighting tooth and nail,” Stafford said. “We’re down some guys and we know that. But we knew it was going to be — that’s a really talented offense. They have got one of the best backs in the league, a quarterback playing at a really high level, and some really talented guys on outside. We knew we were going to have to score points and we just got close too many times and turned it over and that hurt us.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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