Mailbag: Takeaways from the offensive and defensive play calling

Pride of Detroit

It’s time for another edition of the AskPOD Mailbag, where Jeremy Reisman and I answer a handful of your questions about the Detroit Lions. We actually already snuck in a one-question special edition of the mailbag this week, focusing on the Lions’ evolving situation at left tackle, but in this regular edition will focus on several other interesting topics.

Let’s get started!

Jeremy: I have to say, I came away more impressed by Anthony Lynn than any other coach on Sunday. At the beginning of the game, the Lions came out with a bunch of aggressive run looks and misdirection. Honestly, all of the “eye-candy” the Lions were talking about with the 49ers offense looked like the Lions were trying to emulate. He was giving off Kyle Shanahan vibes, and you know that gets me going.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to judge his play calling too much in the second half, seeing as the Lions had to abandon the run after falling way behind. But if this team can stay in games—and the defense can get some stops—I’m very encouraged about what Lynn could do with a full four quarters.

That being said, throw away the designed rollout for two-point conversions. I know it ended up working, but it puts the quarterback in a really tough spot when no one is open.

Erik: We all knew Glenn’s work was cut out for him, especially this past week with the 49ers offense, but there were several things to like. What stood out the most was their overall aggressiveness. Not only did we see more punches thrown at the ball—like in the Trey Flowers caused fumbles—, and pressure up the middle, but the Lions blitzed more than any team in the NFL last week, 15 times on 28 passing plays (53.6 percent) per Pro Football Focus. That blitzing resulted in Jimmy Garoppolo having just 2.3 seconds on average to throw, only two quarterbacks had less time to throw in Week 1, also per PFF.

Gap discipline and linebackers getting caught up in the watch is still a very concerning issue and a big reason why the 49ers found success on the ground. The passing defense also needs improvement, which got a heck of a lot harder with the Jeff Okudah injury, but correcting things up front will go a long way to helping out a young secondary.

How will the Lions replace Tyrell Williams snap counts if he is not able to play on MNF against the Packers? — Hungry Lion

Erik: Concussions are no joke and Williams could legitimately miss this upcoming game, so the Lions need a realistic game plan to supplement his skill set. Here’s the issue, they may not have any one player who could fill his role. So what does that mean for the receiver group? Expect both outside spots to be in rotations between Kalif Raymond, Quintez Cephus, and Trinity Benson, with Amon-Ra St. Brown the only player consistently starting.

Jeremy: Out of the bunch, Benson saw the most snaps after Williams went out. The staff seems extremely high on him, and he tied Quintez Cephus for the most targets from Jared Goff among the wide receiver crew. Cephus made a couple big grabs, but it’s important to remember that Benson is this coaching staff’s guy, while Cephus is from the previous regime. I think we may see a ton of Benson on Monday night if Williams doesn’t make it through concussion protocol.

Erik: Quite simply, I don’t think the coaches trust him enough to be consistent on an every-down basis. While he is making splash plays in games, he’s still raw and has only played off-the-ball one season in college. Yes, he was in the right place to make two really good run stops late in last week’s game, but if Trey Flowers doesn’t cause that fumble, Barnes may have been criticized for blowing his coverage assignment on Deebo Samuel.

Jeremy: But don’t you think it’s telling that Barnes was in on the final defensive possession with the game on the line? And the fact that he took over for Jamie Collins instead of Alex Anzalone is very interesting to me. I know Anzalone has the play-calling helmet, and they weren’t going to mess with it, but I’ve also got questions about Collins. He’s the most talented linebacker they’ve got, I wouldn’t consider him among the highest effort players on the team, and that may rub this coaching staff the wrong way. I’m not saying they cut or trade Collins—his contract makes that nearly impossible—but I wouldn’t rule a benching out.

I’m starting to believe that we’re going to start seeing Barnes a lot sooner than I initially believed.

Erik: Hey, I’m all for it. My gut is telling me his snaps won’t increase much during the first month of the season—then again, to quote Glenn on Barnes, “If you’re a good player, I’ll find a way to put you on the field. It’s as simple as that. He’s a good player, so we’ll find a way.”

How loud should the alarm bells be ringing in the CB room after losing Jeff Okudah for the season? — CalebXF0rce

Jeremy: We’ll see what the Lions do with the cornerback position, whether it be adding a veteran like Quinton Dunbar or just adding a depth piece, but to be honest, the alarm bells are probably worn out at this point. It was always a risky proposition to go into the season with as little experience as they did, and we’re already seeing why.

But it was a calculated risk from the Lions’ front office. They want to see how much they have in their young players, and now they will (well, except for Okudah). It’s probably going to continue to look bad—very bad—for much of the year. The key is progress. Will any of these guys get better as the season goes on? They’re going to have to be mentally tough because this first month or two is going to be rough.

Erik: This feels a lot like the offensive tackle position, where it looked like you have three or four quality options, then through injuries and cuts, the Lions are down to one true starter and two spots to fill. If they were to re-add Dunbar back into the fold, I think the alarm sounds would soften, but it sure looks like the young corners are going to gain a lot of experience. Let’s see who rises to the occasion.

Erik: It’s yet to be seen if defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn will prefer to matchup his corners on the top opponent’s receivers or if he will just allow them the plays sides. When Amani Oruwariye and Jeff Okudah were both available, the Lions could play things straight up, but with Okudah lost for the season, how they adjust is an unknown.

If I had to guess, I’d wager they keep to their sides so that everyone can execute the assignments they are familiar with and shorten the learning curve for the young group.

Jeremy: Two noteworthy things: During the game, Melifonwu took over Okudah’s spot on the left and stayed there. Additionally, I skimmed over some Saints tape from last year, specifically their game against the Lions. You may remember that their top cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins were out for that game. So, in a similar situation, as the Lions are now, they kept each corner glued to a side.

It would probably make the most sense for the Lions to keep Oruwariye on the right side, as that’s where his comfort zone is.

Erik: Look at Jeremy putting in the research I lazily glossed over doing.

Jeremy: I demand a raise for having to try and navigate the horrible, no good changes to NFL Game Pass. Please, write your local congressperson and complain about this horrible injustice.

The most surprising inactive last week was Julian Okwara. Dude killed it in preseason, I was sure he was the #3 EDGE on the team. Any ideas on why he wasn’t on the active roster, and do you see him taking a more significant role vs. the Packers? — elgarraz

Jeremy: Julian Okwara is still a very raw player. While we were all enamored with his pass-rushing performance against the Bills, it’s important to remember that the Lions had him playing a ton of snaps throughout the preseason. That, to me, indicates that they think he’s not quite ready for a full load of playing time.

Additionally, the matchup wasn’t right for him. The 49ers are a run-based offense, and that’s where Okwara needs the most work. What I found more interesting is that the Lions barely rotated their outside linebackers against San Francisco. Austin Bryant and Charles Harris combined for just 16 total snaps.

Erik: I’m with you Jeremy, the matchup was not ideal for him because he is struggling to set the edge right now—something we saw in the preseason several times. More reps, improvement in run defense, and a better matchup will all get him more opportunities. Maybe even this week.

Do you guys foresee any significant personnel changes on defense (specifically the line) for the matchup against Green Bay? — TomFoolery27

Erik: The 49ers deploy a proficient running attack and that called for more nose tackle play, which is why we saw a lot of Alim McNeill (51 percent of defensive snaps) and John Penisini (31 percent). That figures to change against the Packers and Aaron Rodgers, and I am expecting to see less now tackle, more nickel corner—specifically AJ Parker—, and more three safety sets.

Jeremy: A lot depends, too, on how the game plays out. With the 49ers holding onto a big lead, the Lions didn’t rotate many pass rushers at all (Austin Bryant had one snap, Charles Harris had 15). If Detroit can handle the Packers’ run game a little better and find themselves in more obvious passing downs, I think you’ll see a lot more rotation in that defensive front.

Curious what your take was on AJ Parker in game 1? I could be wrong but I believe he may not have given up a reception in his (limited) snaps. — critical perspective

Erik: You are correct, in fact, they didn’t throw his way a single time. Now, he was only on the field for 21 snaps (38 percent of defensive snaps) but he was still doing his job when called upon. Unfortunately, the All-22 still isn’t available so giving a proper evaluation isn’t an option, but watching live and on the broadcast replay, there weren’t any noticeable flaws that stood out.

Expect his snaps to increase this week, and we will likely get a better group of plays to make a better assessment—but so far, so good.

Jeremy: Parker gets a big INC grade from me. Obviously not getting targeted is a promising first step, but he didn’t have the most challenging of assignments against the 49ers. I’m eager to see how he’ll play against a Packers offense that likes to spread ‘em out, and we all know Aaron Rodgers is going to have his eyes on exploiting whoever he deems the weakest link in Detroit’s young secondary.

Erik: And if the outside corners hold their positions as we noted earlier, Parker may end up getting a lot of Davante Adams in the slot.

When will we see Will Harris benched for Dean Marlowe? — Jake Plachta

Erik: If it happens, it won’t be for a while. This coaching staff loves Harris’ potential and they believe he can develop into a quality starter with more time. If you need further evidence of that, look no further than last week’s snap counts when Harris saw 55 defensive snaps (100 percent) and Marlowe saw just one.

Jeremy: Will Harris must look really, really good in practice, or he must own a photo album of compromising pictures of all NFL coaches. The last regime loved him and played him over Tracy Walker until they realized that was a mistake on the field. This regime has clearly shown even more faith in him, skipping out on drafting or adding any true competition for Harris, and then singing his praises throughout all of camp.

Outside of a couple plays in camp, I just don’t see the growth they’re seeing. And if this was a team competing for a playoff spot this year, I think we would see a switch soon. But the reality of the situation is the team is better off knowing for sure whether or not Harris is going to be their guy or not. And so give him a chance until you’re absolutely sure he’s not, because Marlowe is not going to be this team’s answer for the long term.

Erik: For compromising photos of Jeremy, click here.

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