‘Rat ball gets you in trouble:’ How Detroit Lions plan to fix trust issues on terrible defense

Detroit Free Press

A day after they failed to get a single stop against one of the NFL’s lowest-scoring teams, Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell said he is planning to “move some personnel around” on his league-worst defense.

Campbell declined to identify what players will be moving where, but said that was one of the changes he and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn agreed to make after the Lions’ 48-45 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

“A.G. and I are still working through (the fixes),” Campbell said Monday. “I’m not totally through all that, but I know we’re going to need to move some personnel around. That’ll be one part of it, and then certainly look at calming things down and simplifying schematically. Those’ll be two of the biggest changes I think that we’re going to make.”

The Lions (1-3) rank last in the NFL in scoring and total defense, and are the only team in NFL history to average at least 35 points a game through the season’s first four weeks and have a losing record.

The Lions on Sunday allowed a season-high 555 yards of offense and did not force a punt in nine possessions against a Seahawks team that entered the week averaging 15.7 points per game.

Campbell said after the game he planned to do a “deep dive” into his team’s defensive issues. On Monday, he reiterated his support for Glenn as defensive coordinator and explained what his review entailed.

“I think it’s just as much as you can try to – do we have guys in the right places? How are these guys responding?” Campbell said. “And I mean, there’s so many different things come up. It’s like even Minnesota last week, it’s, well, you want to simplify but yet you’re also trying to double (receiver Justin) Jefferson and then take care of the run, and then this week it’s a little bit different cause you’re not necessarily doing that.

“So I think you’re looking at the totality of it. Our FBI (football intelligence), we’ve got to get some players that we feel like we can rely on, we can trust to get out there because once they’re trustworthy, then their teammates will trust them.”

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Campbell said one issue that has plagued his defense is players trying to overcompensate for their teammates’ mental mistakes, calling it a snowball effect.

“And then that’s costing him a step behind his job, and then this guy’s trying to cover for him,” Campbell said. “And then the next play, they don’t trust that their teammate’s going to be there. We’re in this vicious cycle right now so we’ve got to pull things way, way back and just get our confidence back and gain some trust among teammates. That comes with scheme, that comes with personnel and we’re going to work through it.”

Several veteran defenders hinted that was an issue Sunday.

“I think it just comes down to being your piece of the puzzle,” linebacker Alex Anzalone said. “Stuff’s going to happen within a game. It’s the NFL. Someone’s going to make a play. You know if you’re singled up on DK Metcalf, he’s going to make a play. But it’s the mental errors, the undisciplined football, the rat ball that gets you in trouble. To be honest, that’s kind of where we are at as a defense right now. And, everyone just needs to be a piece of the puzzle every day. That’s why you get into these type of situations.”

The Lions have leaned heavily on the same core of defensive players, though they lost safety Tracy Walker to a torn Achilles tendon in last week’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Rookie Kerby Joseph started in Walker’s place Sunday.

Campbell said one personnel change could be using defensive end Aidan Hutchinson in different spots along the line. Hutchinson has three of the Lions’ seven sacks this season, but all three came in a Week 2 win over the Washington Commanders.

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Campbell said Hutchinson’s physical traits make him a better fit than fellow starter Charles Harris for the Lions’ closed defensive end spot, where he aligns against opposing tight ends. Campbell said he does not believe Hutchinson would be better served as a stand-up rusher, where he enjoyed much of his success at Michigan, but is “open to whatever is most comfortable” for the rookie.

“Do we need to see if we can give him the opportunity to have more success?” Campbell said. “I think he did a lot of good things in the run game yesterday. I think he’s kind of where our defense is right now. We just got to improve and get a little bit better and I think we can all help each other.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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