Concerns about the Lions defense

Written by :
Published on : September 15, 2016

 

 

In typical Lions fashion, the team gave up a late lead with less than a minute to play on Sunday. In not-so-typical Lions fashion, they managed to drive down the field and win the game with a late field goal. Much like the first game of last season, the team built up a 21-3 lead in the first half, only to watch it slip away as their defense withered against Andrew Luck. If not for superb play from Matt Stafford, and a long lost running game that showed up big time, this team could very well sit at 0-1 right now.

 

The offense was a pleasant surprise. The line held up fairly well (against a weak Colts defense), and the Detroit backs and receivers more or less did as they pleased all day. A win is a win and in the NFL, you have to take them where you can get them. It’s encouraging that the offense seems to be picking up where it left off last season with Jim Bob Cooter calling the shots. But there might be some cause for concern on the other side of the ball. After a strong first quarter, the Detroit Lions defense regressed as the game wore on. The way things unfolded in the second half has me wondering if the Lions defense might be in trouble. Here are some of my biggest concerns at each level of the defense.

 

Piss poor pass rush

Early on in the game, the Colts offense looked lost and the Lions defense looked pretty tight. I was specifically impressed with the play of the defensive line, going as far as to voice my pleasure on Twitter…

 

 

As usual, I was premature in my praise. Early on, the pressure was constant and guys like Kerry Hyder Jr (one of the last players to make the 53-man roster) were making plays. The team was using stunts and disguising the rush in order to confuse the Colts offense. Andrew Luck looked uncomfortable and the pocket was collapsing with regularity, causing some difficult throwing situations for the young QB.

 

About midway through the second quarter that began to change. The Lions had built up a comfortable lead and then it seemed like defensive coordinator Teryl Austin took his foot off the gas. The play calling went vanilla as the Lions switched almost exclusively into a two-linebacker package, after working the 4-3 with Kyle Van Noy early on in the game. The four man rush was inept and the guys looked slow off the ball. Big boys like Haloti Ngata got pushed off the line much more often than they should have been. Devin Taylor wasn’t much of a factor either, giving a bit of legitimacy to my original concerns about him being a full time starter.

 

 Ziggy just couldn’t get there.

 

There just wasn’t much going on up front and Andrew Luck took full advantage of it. Even when there was pressure the boys couldn’t get home. Like on the Colts final drive, when Ziggy Ansah allowed Luck to narrowly escape a sack that could have been a big boost to the defense. By the end of game, hell, by mid-game, the defensive line looked worn down. This is despite a pretty constant rotation of bodies. The defensive line has got to be the heart and soul if this defense is going to thrive. If they play against top level offensive lines like they did Sunday, then there are going to be some painful moments in Detroit this season. Two sacks against that Colts is unacceptable.

 

Linebacker issues

Tahir Whitehead started the game pretty strong. He made some big hits and looked good in man coverage. But as the game progressed, and the team asked him to play more zone coverage, he got exposed. Teryl Austin was clearly asking him to do more than he could handle. There were some suspect coverage hand-offs in zone that left me thinking Whitehead may have been out of place or indecisive about where he needed to be. The team should let him do what he does best and let other players who thrive in more complex coverages do their thing. That’s what we have our other stud linebacker for, right?

 

The only problem is that he didn’t look so great either. DeAndre Levy played a total of 17 snaps in 2015, and only a handful during this year’s preseason, but was on the field for all 70 defensive snaps in week 1. By no means was he a liability (except on that shit head taunting penalty), but he didn’t live up to what we expect from him either. He was solid enough but also much slower to react than Lions fans have become accustomed to with him. It was his killer instinct and quick reflexes that helped earn him a big contract extension before last season, but this was not the same bearded beast we are all used to seeing. It was obvious that there is some rust to be knocked off with Levy, but if by some unfortunate chance his play doesn’t improve, this defense could be in trouble. They need him to be game changer not an average guy.

 

Second(ary) Thoughts

We all know that the Lions have at least one star in the secondary with Darius Slay. They also happen to have one above-average safety in Glover Quin, although he had a bad game against the Colts. In the NFL, that’s the foundation of a pretty good secondary. If those guys do their job and you can get just a few more players to play up to, or slightly above, their potential then you can have some real success. On Sunday that didn’t really happen.

 

It remains to be seen if Tavon Wilson and Rafael Bush can combine to form a serviceable safety tandem, but they sure as hell aren’t going to do it if the defensive line can’t get any pressure. Slay and Quin can only do so much on their own, and without a consistent pass rush the entire unit will be a failure. Nevin Lawson and Quandre Diggs have shown that they can be better than adequate when given a fair shot in a defense that is functioning properly at all levels. When that was not happening on Sunday they couldn’t keep up and they shouldn’t be expected to. This secondary can thrive, but much like the defense as a whole, that is predicated on the defensive line.

 

 Nevin Lawson getting beat for a TD.

 

With all of that in mind, we have to remember that this is only the first week of the season. Many of these issues will probably get resolved as the team plays itself into game shape and the boys knock off some of that rust. With the limited amount of full contact practices during training camp nowadays, many teams need a couple weeks to get back up to speed, and after the last two seasons it’s clear that the Lions are one of those squads. This team seems to come out of the gate in sluggish fashion every year.

 

We often don’t see a team’s true self until they have played a few games. I suspect that may be the case with these guys too. DeAndre Levy had played only a handful of snaps in more than a year before Sunday. Time will tell if he will ever get back to being his pre hip injury self, but I’d be willing to bet that once he gets into shape we will see a better version of him than the one we saw against the Colts. Jim Caldwell and his staff once again has failed to have his football team prepared for 60 minutes of regular season gameplay coming out of training camp.

 

Speaking of the staff, defensive coordinator, Teryl Austin, deserves a big chunk of the blame for how the defense played Sunday. He displayed an unwillingness to play to the strengths of his players and the team suffered. By simplifying his schemes once the team had a comfortable lead, he gave Andrew Luck the window he needed to mount a comeback. It was a repeat of last season in San Diego all over again. This year, they were lucky enough to come out with a win in week 1, but they had better hope they get up to speed soon.

 

 


What lies ahead for the Lions’ defense?

Written by :
Published on : May 5, 2016

 

 

By most accounts, the Detroit Lions 2016 offseason has been a successful, if not earth shattering. Gone are Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew, and with them the last vestiges of the dark period in the team’s history when Matt Millen crippled the franchise with his inept management of the roster. In their place is a man named Bob Quinn, who the Lions signed as their new GM, stealing him away from the New England Patriots’ organization. He has proven to be a prudent team manager and seems to have the franchise headed in the right direction.

 

Faced with the loss of Calvin Johnson, one of the greatest wide receivers in the history of the NFL, Quinn acted quickly by signing Marvin Jones, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals. While no one man can replace the monster they call Megatron, the fact is that Jones was the best option on the market and provides a nice, sure-handed, one-two-punch, along with Golden Tate.

 

Bob Quinn also made good on his promise to improve the offensive line, by selecting offensive tackle, Taylor Decker out of Ohio State in the first round of the NFL draft last week. He also added a former rival of Decker, the center out of Michigan, Graham Glasgow in the third round. Decker should start at right tackle from day one and Glasgow should light a fire under the ass of the underachieving Travis Swanson.

 

 The Lions’ new right tackle.

 

So the offensive side of the ball is pretty set and seems to be in good hands. But what about the Lions’ defense?

 

This doesn’t seem so clear cut. The Lions lost starting cornerback Rasheen Mathis to retirement, and safeties James Ihedigbo and Isa Abdul-Quddus to free agency. They also haven’t made a move to re-sign defensive end Jason Jones and announced that they would eventually cut middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch, though he still remains on the roster.

 

In the trenches moves were made to re-sign an aging Haloti Ngata and a question mark (due to being injured most of last season) in Tyrunn Walker at defensive tackle. The team also signed Stefan Charles and drafted what lookd like a 45 year old man, Kimbo Slice impersonator and second round steal, A’Shawn Robinson to join an already crowded middle of the trenches along with Caruan Reid and Gabe Wright. That’s a lot of big boys in the middle of the defense.

 

 Kimbo, is that you?

 

What they haven’t done is pay much attention to the defensive end position. The team still has standout Ziggy Ansah, as well as Devin Taylor, both of whom are slated to start at this point. While Ansah is an obvious starter, I’m not so sure about Devin Taylor. He has developed into a solid rotational player in his three years since being drafted out of South Carolina, but he has never been a starter and I would be more comfortable with him in a backup role. Behind those two are Kerry Hyder and Wallace Gilberry, who don’t exactly inspire fear in the hearts of opposing offensive linemen.

 

Why so much attention given to the defensive tackle position and seemingly so little to the defensive ends? I think the answer may have something to do with a shifting of defensive philosophy by the team and their defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.

 

Historically, the team has run a 4-3 defense with four down linemen, three linebackers and four defensive backs. This has been a pretty standard defensive set for most of the history of football. The team has given the indication that they may begin running a lot more of a base nickel package like they did in the year that Stephen Tulloch hurt his knee by doing the discount double check. This involves running with five defensive backs and two linebackers, and would give the team a chance to showcase second year nickelback Quandre Diggs. But I think the team may be headed in the direction of using the 3-4 defense.

 

 Can Ziggy cut it as a 3-4 outside linebacker?

 

Perhaps some of the many defensive tackles on the roster are indeed slated to play defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. Robinson and Walker could easily slide in at defensive end in the new scheme and, in theory, Ziggy could switch to being a pass rush specialist at the outside linebacker position. I’m sure many people, like me, have reservations about moving someone who is still relatively new to the game of football, and just now starting to get a strong grasp on his current position, to a new spot in the defense but with Ansah’s size, speed and athleticism, I think it just might work.

 

That would leave Kyle Van Noy to play the other outside linebacker and DeAndre Levy and Tahir Whitehead in the middle, with all the other defensive linemen and linebackers as reserves and rotational pieces. If Van Noy (this is a big if) can show a bit of development from last season this could be a pretty scary front seven with a ton of speed and athleticism. I can just see Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Teddy Bridgewater shaking in their cleats.

 

None of us really know whats going to happen with the team until we get to training camp but hey, what else do we have to do in May but speculate about our favorite teams. While I’m not a huge proponent of the 3-4 defense, I’m a big fan of doing whatever it takes to win football games and destroy the opposing quarterback (I’m looking at you, Rodgers). And if making some changes in the defensive scheme is the best way to do that, then I have full faith in the judgement of Teryl Austin. Let’s just hope that he knows what he’s doing with this group because there is too much talent on this roster to justify another year without a trip to the playoffs.

 

 


If I was GM: Lions Offseason Edition

Written by :
Published on : March 6, 2016

 

Free Agency begins on Wednesday and with it, the season of hopes and dreams. This is the time when you get to imagine all the amazing things your team can accomplish in the offseason. I usually have a wish list of sorts for all the things that I hope my beloved Detroit Lions will do during free agency and the draft. This time of the league year is pretty much a crap shoot and most of what I hope for never comes to pass.

 

There are just too many variables. Too many other teams willing to be reckless with their spending and too many other top notch destinations for free agents. Let’s face it, Detroit isn’t exactly the ideal spot to relocate for work. That doesn’t mean that the Lions can’t have a successful offseason, they just shouldn’t expect to land any marquee free agents. In fact, while everyone loves an over-hyped free agent acquisition, I don’t really want them to overspend. The recipe for a successful franchise involves finding value in free agency and building your roster through the draft, just look at the Patriots and Packers. If I was GM, here are a few things I’d like to see this offseason.

 

Trench warfare

 Larry Warford is a piece you can build around but he needs some help.

 

Football games are won in the trenches and for that reason the Lions have got to make some major improvements along both the defensive and offensive lines. If they can add a few pieces to the foundation they have then there is a chance the defensive line can be as dominant as they have been in recent years. The offensive line is going to need a little more love though and the team should not be shy about spending serious money there if necessary.

 

The offensive line is the weakest part of the team in my opinion, so let’s start there. Matthew Stafford has been getting his ass kicked for the last couple of seasons and if they don’t want to absolutely ruin their (relatively) young franchise QB then they’ve got to make figuring out the o-line priority one. The line already has three solid, if not remarkable, pieces in place. Last year’s first round pick, Laken Tomlinson, wasn’t jaw dropping in his rookie campaign at left guard but he showed some flashes of what he can be capable of once he fully adjusts to the pro game. At right guard is former third round pick, Larry Warford, who was one of the best interior linemen in the league during his rookie season. He followed it up with a much less impressive showing last season, but I think that he improved once the zone blocking scheme was ditched along with Joe Lomardi. His future remains bright. Currently sitting at left guard is the much maligned, Riley Reiff. A lot of people inside and outside of Detroit love to trash him but the reality is that he is serviceable at worst. I personally would love to see him slide over to right tackle so that a more athletic tackle could cover Stafford’s backside, but franchise left tackles don’t grow on trees so that might not be so easy.

 

Anyway you slice it, the Lions are in dire need of a tackle who can protect their quarterback. The last two seasons have seen them start undrafted free agents at right tackle, and the reasons for them going undrafted were evident in the game film. While I do think that it is important for them to draft someone this year, I don’t like the idea of counting on them to develop in their rookie season. Tackle is the one position I would love to see them spend some money on if the right player is out there. As far as center goes, we could give Travis Swanson another chance to show he can cut it in the NFL, but I definitely want to add some depth as insurance.

 

The defensive line is in pretty good shape with Ziggy Ansah leading the charge but there are still a couple unplugged holes. The team already made a good move in getting Tyrunn Walker back on a cheap one year deal. He showed some very good potential in four games last year before a dirty play by the Seahawks defense ended his season. If the injury hasn’t set him back too much, he should be one of the starters at defensive tackle. For the other d tackle position I would love to see Haloti Ngata come back, but not for too much money. The draft is also pretty deep at that position so that should be an option too. We also need to decide if we want to bring Jason Jones back at the defensive end position opposite Ansah. I like him as a player but he is also getting a little long in the tooth, so I wouldn’t be too upset if they let him walk and got someone just as good who might be a little younger.

 

Someone to catch the ball

 Please don’t go.

 

By the time you read this article there is a very good chance the Calvin Johnson will have announced his retirement from the NFL. That makes me sad but the truth hurts sometimes. My dream scenario is that he comes back for one more year, but it would have to be at a reduced rate because his cap hit of $24 million is pretty hard to swallow. Even if that happens, the Lions need some help at receiver because after Megatron and Golden Tate, that position group doesn’t have a whole lot of talent and I’m not comfortable with counting too much on Eric Ebron.

 

I would like to see the team add someone in both free agency and the draft. A deep threat is the real need in my opinion so I hope it’s someone with some speed who can take the top off opposing defenses and take some pressure off of Tate and Ebron over the middle. Some deep speed at receiver combined with improvements on the offensive line to keep Stafford upright will make the Lions’ offense great again and strike fear into the hearts of NFL defenses.

 

Levy…… and who else?

 Let’s get this guy in a Lions jersey!

 

In just two seasons the Linebacker position has gone from serious strength to serious question mark. DeAndre Levy is a stud, who missed all of last season with a hip injury. That’s scary for someone whose strength is lateral movement, but I’m going to pray he fully recovers. The other two spots next to him are up in the air. Stephen Tulloch is no longer with us because it’s obvious that he can’t be a three down middle linebacker anymore. He’s still strong against the run but is regularly exposed in the pass game, and our defense can’t live with that. Tahir Whitehead is a free agent who I would like to see the team re-sign so that he can continue to fill the other outside linebacker position. Kyle Van Noy was drafted a couple of seasons ago to eventually fill that role but he hasn’t looked like anything other than lost during most of his NFL game action.

 

I’m kind of torn on if I want the Lions to add a Linebacker through the draft or through free agency. I’ve heard the idea of the them going after a guy like Alabama’s Reggie Ragland in the draft and I wouldn’t be mad about that but I have my eye on Danny Trevathan. He won a Super Bowl last year with the Broncos and led the team with 109 tackles. He was a big part of that defense and was rated by Pro Football Focus as the 10th best linebacker in the league. With him and DeAndre Levy, the Lions defense would have two very athletic linebackers who can play the run and the pass.

 

Secondary opinions

 Bring Isa back but don’t stop there.

 

I could see the Lions adding another mid level starter at corner through free agency but I was pretty impressed with how Nevin Lawson handled himself across from Darius Slay last season. With Quandre Diggs in the slot and Alex Carter’s development, I don’t see the Lions acquiring any big name cornerbacks but they do need some help at safety. Glover Quin has been great since the Lions signed him a few years back, but the other spot needs some attention.

 

The team has decided to let James Ihedigbo walk after it became evident that age is beginning to catch up with him when it comes to his coverage skills. Isa Abdul-Guddus took over for him halfway through last season and showed some very good stuff. He is a free agent and I really want the team to bring him back but the jury is still out on if he can be a full time starter. He is great for depth and special teams but relying on him for 16-plus is a gamble. I’d like to see him come back along with a new addition to the safety position.

 

There you have it. Without getting too technical, these are the types of things that need to happen for the Detroit Lions to have a successful offseason and get back into playoff contention. The only thing I didn’t mention is that I would look for the Lions to draft a quarterback in a later round to be groomed as the new back up to Matt Stafford. This isn’t really a glaring need though and could easily be put on the back burner until next season. So here’s to a good offseason and a Lions Super Bowl run in 2016-17!

 

 


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