Niyo: Lions’ Aaron Glenn still believes in the ‘D’: ‘We’re going to get this fixed’

Detroit News

Allen Park — After more than 25 years of marriage, Devaney Glenn knew the drill. Sunday evening, she was having dinner at a restaurant with her husband, Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, and after a disastrous showing by Detroit’s defense in a 48-45 home loss to Seattle that afternoon, he was more than a little worked up.

“I’m just bitching about everything,” Aaron Glenn recalled Thursday, before hitting the practice field in preparation for this week’s road trip to face the New England Patriots. “But after I finish, she’s like, ‘Are you done?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ And then she just said, ‘Well, go be A.G. Go be A.G. You’re built for this.’ And she’s right.”

And right or wrong, that’s where the confidence starts now. That’s where the surety lies, in spite of the ugly reality that Glenn’s defense ranks as the NFL’s worst — by far — a month into his second season on the job in Detroit.

Frankly, that’s where it has to start, too. It has to start with Glenn, the coach tasked with cleaning up a mess he has created for himself here, leading a defense that ranks last in the league in points allowed (a franchise-record 141 through four games) and yards allowed (444.8 per game), last in third-down efficiency (52.8% conversion rate) and in the red zone (13 TDs in 15 attempts.)

And that’s why it was notable Thursday when Glenn stepped to the podium for his weekly media session in Allen Park and, rather than beginning with a few notes highlighting the good things he’d seen in the previous week’s game, he essentially skipped to the questions.

“Wish I had a lot of positives to start, like I usually do,” Glenn said, “but there are no positives, really, the way that we played.”

No, there really aren’t. But just as there’s no sense hiding from it, there’s also no point in wallowing in it, either, which partly explains why Glenn sounded so energized Thursday.

“That’s what I’m excited about,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for me, great opportunity for my staff, great opportunity for some of these players who are going to get a chance. So that’s what excites me, because I know me. I know how I respond to things like this here. And, man, I can’t wait for it.”

Asked to explain that, he rewound the tape to the start of his own NFL career, as a first-round pick drafted by the struggling New York Jets and thrown into the fire immediately as a starting cornerback “in the media capital of the world.” There was one game, in particular, an early-December game in 1998 — against Seattle, no less — where he was beaten twice in the first quarter by the Seahawks’ Joey Galloway for touchdowns of 70 and 57 yards. The Jets fans at the Meadowlands were loudly voicing their displeasure with Glenn, and so was his head coach, Bill Parcells.

“At that point, I’ve (gone from) a Pro Bowl player to the worst corner that ever played the game,” Glenn said, shaking his head. “But it comes with the job, and I guess you can say that I’ve been built and I’ve been hardened to be able to handle things like this.”

Things like a fan base calling for his job after only 21 games as a coordinator in Detroit, where the Lions’ defense now features three rookie starters and too few playmakers. Or the media repeatedly asking his boss to explain why Glenn’s still calling the shots.

Last season, Campbell used a Week 9 bye to demote offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn — another close friend he respects — and took over the play-calling duties for the remainder of the season. A similar move this fall seems unlikely, though there are other candidates to call plays on the defensive staff, in line coach Todd Wash and secondary coach Aubrey Pleasant.

“I’ve had to do this before and I’m not afraid to make a hard decision if I really believed that’s what was the cause of it,” said Campbell, who spent five seasons together with Glenn on Sean Payton’s staff in New Orleans and shares also a coaching mentor with him in Parcells. “But, I don’t believe it is. I believe that Aaron Glenn is the right man for the job and he gives us our best hope, our best option, to run this defense. I just do.”

Glenn, for his part, says he’s not worried about job security, though he says that’s not due to his relationship with Campbell or even because the Lions are still early in Year 2 of a rebuild here. Instead, it’s because Glenn lasted 15 years as a player in the NFL, and has another decade as a scout and coach on his resume — enough to make the 50-year-old a candidate for head-coaching vacancies in New Orleans and Denver last winter.

Still, he admits: “I would say this, even though me and Dan are friends, this is a job and I look at it like that, too. I have to perform just like everybody else has to perform. When things aren’t going well, you have to answer to that and I’m not blind to that fact.”

He also sees what we’ve all seen with this Lions defense, whether it’s the tackling issues — Pro Football Focus credits the Lions with 39 missed tackles through four games — or the “fundamental” problems with execution that keep happening “over and over again.” Glenn sees the pass rush that’s getting stymied and the blitzes that are getting burned. He sees the players running themselves out of plays or filling the wrong gaps. And, yes, the players see it, too.

“It’s the mental errors, the undisciplined football — the rat ball — that gets you in trouble,” veteran linebacker Alex Anzalone said. “To be honest, that’s kind of where we are at as a defense right now.”

Where they go from here remains to be seen, obviously. Campbell promised some changes in personnel this week, and I’d expect that to include tweaks to the rotation up front — undrafted rookie Demetrius Taylor will make his NFL debut and Aidan Hutchinson figures to be on the move a bit more — as well as at cornerback, where starter Amani Oruwariye has played poorly and the nickel spot keeps coming up tails.

Sunday’s opponent hardly looks threatening, particularly if new play-caller Matt Patricia — remember him? — is relying on a third-string rookie (Bailey Zappe) at quarterback. But we were saying the same thing about Seattle a week ago. And while Glenn points to the turnaround Kansas City’s defense made after a rough start last season, that group had far more experience and more talent than this Lions’ unit has right now.

“But we’ve just got to continue to believe,” Glenn said. “That’s a powerful drug, belief.”

So that’s where he’ll start, he says. Right where his wife told him to when he’d finished complaining last Sunday.

“The thing is, man, you just have to go back to your fundamentals and have faith in who you are and what you’ve done,” Glenn said. “Your background and your history tells your story. That one or two plays doesn’t tell your story, that one game doesn’t tell your story. … So I look at this like this: My track record speaks for itself and I’m going to continue to let that speak. We’re going to get this thing fixed. We’re going to get this thing moving forward, our guys are going to respond, our coaches are going to respond and things are going to be all right.”

john.niyo@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @JohnNiyo

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