‘Measuring stick game’: Detroit Lions’ Aaron Glenn to learn more about defense vs. Vikings

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions defense might not look all that improved. The unit has given up 65 points through two games, third most of any NFL team.

But second-year defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn sees a group that has made adjustments, growing in both understanding and confidence, and just had one of its best halves under his watch through 19 games.

“That was a fun, fun way to play defense, because that’s the vision of who we want to be,” Glenn said about the first half against the Washington Commanders, when his unit allowed just 56 yards, two first downs and had a safety. “Our head coach said it best, we’re on a race to improve and when you have so many young players that’s a true statement.”

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That race continues this week, when the Lions travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings.

Both the Philadelphia Eagles and the Commanders have presented unique challenges in the first two weeks. Philly knocked off Minnesota 24-7 on Monday night and has one of the most mobile quarterbacks in the league in Jalen Hurts. He gave the Lions’ defense fits.

The Commanders had a half-dozen dynamic playmakers — Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Jahan Dotson, Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic and Logan Thomas.

The Vikings, have a number of playmakers, but there are two who are circled, starred, underlined, highlighted and otherwise denoted in every way possible: running back Dalvin Cook and wide receiver Justin Jefferson.

“There’s no doubt he’s one of the top five in this league and he’s steady rising,” Glenn said of Jefferson. “They put him in a lot of different positions, right, where they can get him the ball which I think is a credit to that staff.

“I think they really compliment as far as (Cook) and (Adam) Thielen, and the other guys they have … when we do have Jefferson locked up we have to make sure we’re good with the other guys as well, because they can hurt you.”

Glenn watched the tape of what the Eagles did to slow down Jefferson. They held him to six catches for 48 yards in Week 2 after he went off for 11 catches, 184 yards and two scores in the opener vs. Green Bay.

The Eagles had Darius Slay on him, one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. But they also frequently had a safety over the top because they didn’t want to get beat deep.

Dedicating more resources to one spot leaves you vulnerable in another, so Glenn says it becomes a delicate balance. It’s more difficult when Vikings new head coach, Kevin O’Connell, and offensive coordinator, Wes Phillips, move Jefferson to either side of the ball and line him up both in the slot and out wide.

“To make sure that you don’t create a bad matchup, that’s the tough thing with that,” Glenn said about his job in keeping up with Jefferson’s various alignments. “Make sure you create a defense to where you try to put skill on skill.

“You want to try and create a defense where you can take care of the running back because you don’t want to always have two guys on (Jefferson) because that creates an extra space, an extra gap for (Cook) to get free.”

Glenn is familiar with O’Connell; the two were on staff together in Cleveland in 2015 when O’Connell was the quarterbacks coach and Glenn was an assistant defensive backs coach, which is where the chess match begins.

The other part of the game within the game is how the defense continues to mold.

That’s players like Jeff Okudah, who are not only watching more film, but “trusting” what it’s showing them and the feedback from the coaches. It’s the big men up front in the middle, closing multiple gaps to allow the edge rushers to shoot in the backfield and drop quarterback and ball carriers for a loss.

And the development of the rookies, Aidan Hutchinson and Malcolm Rodriguez. Sunday marks another step in that process.

“I think we’ve done some stuff really, really well,” Glenn said. “Obviously there’s things we need to work on. But you look at our young guys, and look at the things that happened from Game 1 to Game 2 and you see growth there … it kind of marries up to what our head coach expects — it is a race to improve.

“We are looking forward to the challenge. This is a measuring stick for us, again, against a good offense. But our guys will be ready to play.”

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