Lions’ defense putting Panthers debacle behind them: ‘We have to move past it’

Detroit News

Allen Park — The Detroit Lions are moving on. In this league, the only way out is forward.

Detroit’s defense left Carolina on Christmas Eve depleted, dinged up and downright devastated. A few days later, they are not discouraged about where the true identity of this defense lies.

“You remind them of who we are and what we’ve been doing. And you know what? It happened. And this is the NFL, and things like this happen. Do you want it to happen? No,” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “But, we have a bunch of young guys, that they have to understand that they gotta keep their confidence exactly where it was, as far as playing really good defense. We gotta continue to move in that direction.”

“I could easily sit here or in the meeting room and yell and rant about this one game. The thing is, we have to move past it.”

According to Glenn, there was nothing schematically awry as the Panthers put up 321 rushing yards en route to a 37-23 win at Bank of America Stadium Saturday. And Carolina didn’t even do anything the Lions weren’t expecting. The Lions simply failed to execute.

“As a coach, the first thing you look at is yourself, but when you’re just playing down-safety defense, when that’s been the talk the whole week as far as stopping the run because we know exactly who they are…the technique and execution and just assignment has got to be better,” Glenn said.

Fields ‘the X-Factor’

Against Carolina, the Lions missed 13 tackles — a total of 24 over their last two games — which nearly ties a season-high and is undoubtedly a concern heading into Sunday’s game against the Bears, despite being a point of strength as recently as two weeks ago. In Week 10, the Lions set the season-worst mark for missed tackles (15) in a game against Chicago. Though wins haven’t come for Chicago as of late, Justin Fields’ offense is as dangerous as ever.

“When you have a quarterback who’s able to make plays with his feet and has the arm talent to get the ball down the field, man, we’ve got to be on our P’s and Q’s,” Glenn said. “And we cannot be undisciplined as far as our alignments, our assignments. I mean, especially the technique on how we played that guy from the first time.”

Fields, the No. 11 overall pick by Chicago in 2021, is having a monster sophomore season. Amongst a laundry list of accolades he’s claimed through 16 weeks, this one stands out: With 1,011 rushing yards, he’s just the third quarterback in NFL history to surpass 1,000 in a single year.

The Lions’ 31-30 win over Chicago earlier this year contributed heavily to that stat. He ran for 147 yards and two touchdowns — including a 67-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to take a late lead — in addition to throwing for 167 yards and two touchdowns (plus an interception).

“He is the X-factor for that team and it shows all over the tape,” Glenn said. “The No. 1 thing we’ve learned is how strong this player is, and we had him wrapped up a couple times in that game. We missed the tackle on him, and listen, he’s an athletic player. He’s going to make some plays. I mean, that’s just the crux. He’s going to do that.

“The things that we have to do is be able to eliminate the big plays that he’s able to make, and he made a couple plays against us. So, we have to do everything in our power to be able to stop those plays, and I’m not just talking about him running. I’m talking about him passing the ball also.”

Strained back(field)

With Tracy Walker out for the season and DeShon Elliott battling a shoulder injury, the Lions’ practice report on Wednesday dealt another significant blow to the team’s safety room: Rookie Kerby Joseph, who leads the defense in takeaways, missed practice because of a back injury.

Joseph was back at practice Thursday, but his uncertain status aside, a significant strain has been put on a young defensive backfield that turned a corner mid-season. If Joseph can’t play against the Bears, Sunday’s safety configuration would appear to feature the tandem of Ifeatu Melifonwu, who moved over to safety over the offseason and had played six defensive snaps this season prior to being thrown into the fire against Carolina, and C.J. Moore, who was signed off the Houston Texans’ practice squad in October.

“Injuries are part of this league, and it’s the biggest equalizer in this league. … Everybody practices, everybody’s in the meetings and everybody’s expected to step up when your time is called,” Glenn said.

“Is it a strain? Absolutely it is, because those guys don’t really get all the reps they should get, and that’s just how the NFL is.”

Though it would seemingly make sense to line up Will Harris, who made the opposite move of Melifonwu (safety to nickel corner) over the summer, as a starting safety, Glenn pooh-poohed the idea.

“Once you start moving all these pieces around, now it puts a strain on somewhere else,” Glenn said. “So again, that’s another deal that people don’t really understand. They think it’s just, fit people all over the place, and that’s not the way it works, because now you have another guy that hasn’t played, and he has to do the same thing.”

“We don’t want to take a strain somewhere else…and Will’s been playing our nickel for the most part, so we want to try to keep him in that spot as much as we can.”

Jeff and Jerry

Just about every player on the Lions’ defense will want to burn the tape from the Carolina game. The optics were particularly tough on cornerbacks Jeff Okudah and Jerry Jacobs, who made the highlight package on a few occasions as the first guys to miss tackles on big runs from D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard.

Like the rest of his defense, Glenn doesn’t want that game to become an inflection point in the wrong direction.

“It was tough. It was tough, because again, those guys have been really, really stout when it comes to [stopping the run], and again, I will say this, we’re not going to beat those guys up over this one game,” Glenn said.

nbianchi@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @nolanbianchi

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