Rogers: Lions’ defense’s results belie Aaron Glenn’s projected rise as coaching prospect

Detroit News

Allen Park — On multiple occasions this past year, Aaron Glenn has said he wants to be the best coordinator in Detroit Lions history. Three games into the 2022 season, he couldn’t be further away from reaching that goal. His defense currently ranks last in the NFL in scoring, last in red-zone efficiency, bottom 10 in yards allowed, and the same with third-down conversion percentage.

Considered a rising star in his profession, and a future head coach in the eyes of many inside and outside the organization, Glenn is going to need to get his house in order if he’s going to ever fulfill those lofty expectations.

To be clear, the Lions haven’t been without their successes under Glenn. He inherited the worst defense in franchise history and had the unit making clear strides in the second half of the 2021 campaign. And this year, the group has demonstrated its ability, essentially playing a perfect half while shutting out the Washington Commanders through two quarters in Week 2. Or how about the execution of Glenn’s game plan last week, which saw the Lions hold Justin Jefferson, one of the best receivers in the NFL, to a career-low 14 yards on three receptions?

But, when looking at the larger picture, the Lions aren’t improving quickly enough, if at all. And the biggest issue is there isn’t a singular issue, making consistency an elusive concept.

In the opener, the Lions couldn’t find a way to bottle up dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts. And maybe we excuse that one because no one has, as the Eagles’ signal-caller sits among the early-season MVP favorites. But remember that aforementioned Washington game, where the Lions put the clamps on them early? Well, they allowed 27 points in the second half, with Glenn subtly admitting he didn’t stay true to himself by keeping the pressure dialed up all the way through the contest.

This past week, the defense couldn’t hold double-digit leads on two separate occasions. And even though they were put in a tough spot, having to hold the lead after coach Dan Campbell opted for an ill-advised 54-yard field goal in the closing minutes, it’s an indictment on Glenn that the team’s young secondary wasn’t on the same page coming out of a timeout, leading to a blown coverage on the game-winning touchdown.

That moment was reminiscent of the team’s Week 3 game last year, when after a timeout, another young defender, cornerback Bobby Price, blew his coverage assignment, leading to a big gain that set up Justin Tucker’s NFL-record 66-yard field goal, sending the Ravens improbably past the Lions at Ford Field.

What’s that saying? “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Since joining the Lions, Glenn has aimed to install a defense that plays hard, plays fast and plays physical. And no one can say the effort has been a problem, but what else can we point to that the team is doing well? What foundation has been established, beyond effort, that they can build on going forward?

Asked to identify that foundation this week, coach Dan Campbell said, “I think we can be disruptive.” And that’s true, particularly in third-down passing situations, where Glenn has shown the propensity to dial up some pretty impactful blitzes. But they aren’t getting in those situations often enough, magnifying a need to be better on early downs.

Campbell also bemoaned the recent loss of defensive lineman John Cominsky, which doesn’t seem anywhere near as significant as some of the injuries the offense has successfully overcome in the first three games. Basically, if that’s your biggest injury woe, it’s not a viable excuse. It certainly doesn’t compare to losing your top edge rusher and highly touted cornerback, like the Lions did early last season.

Going back to Glenn, people aren’t wrong — he does possess the traits of a future head coach. He’s worked under some great minds, both as a player and a coach; he’s smart, accountable and players love him. But without better results in his current role, it’s difficult to imagine the opportunity coming in the near future.

Detroit’s defense is young and it’s going through the growing pains you might expect with that relative inexperience. And so is Glenn, in just his second season as coordinator. But as Detroit efforts to round the corner on its rebuild, with an offense that’s dug itself out of a similar hole and is shouldering its share of the load, it’s come time for Glenn’s defense to start doing the same.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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