Detroit Lions Film Room: Lions Hold Jason Witten in Check


Before the Lions defense faced Cowboys’ star tight end Jason Witten last Sunday they had taken quite a beating the previous weekend against the Bengals. The Bengals two tight ends–Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham–managed 7 catches for 109 yards and 1 touchdown between them. Coming into the game against the Lions, Jason Witten had put up considerable numbers earlier in the season, highlighted by a 7 catch, 109 yards, 1 touchdown game against the Denver Broncos in week 8.

The Lions knew they had to play more disciplined football on defense and not let Tony Romo & Co. throw it all over the field. They were determined to make sure Dallas’ playmakers didn’t take over the game. And aside from two big plays, they did just that. Jason Witten finished the game with a season low 2 receptions for just 15 yards and for the most part of taken out of the game plan for Dallas. As we’ll see, the Lions took out Jason Witten with a combination of sticky coverage and a strong pass rush.

Last week the Lions got beat down the seam on several occasions against the Bengals. On this play the Cowboys spread the field with three receivers and Jason Witten on the line of scrimmage. The two defenders to keep an eye on are DeAndre Levy and Glover Quin. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham used these two to shadow Jason Witten throughout the game. Here, the play is designed to get Witten down the field on a vertical route.

Both defenders run step for step with Witten, and take him completely out of the play. Combine the coverage with a good pass rush from Ndamukong Suh and the play results in a forced throw from quarterback Tony Romo for an incomplete pass. It’s a positive sign that the Lions were able to make adjustments and correct mistakes that burned them just a week prior.

Here the Cowboys come out in a spread set with 5 detached receivers–Witten being one of them. The Lions counter with a dime set and leave Louis Delmas shadowing Dez Bryant’s side of the field.

The Lions play man coverage across the board and once again double Jason Witten with the combination of Levy and Quin. This was an interesting combination the Lions used and one I’ll be sure to look for as the season moves forward.

Receiving tight ends are becoming such an integral part of offenses around the league that it’s necessary to make sure your defense has a way of slowing those types of players down. Against the Bengals the Lions failed to properly account for them and got burned several times because of it. Against the Cowboys it was good to see them turn around not only the play on the field, but also the scheme they used to defend them.

With the Lions currently on their bye week they won’t have to worry about covering any tights ends, but after that they’ll get right back on track against the Chicago Bears and Martellus Bennett. In their last meeting Bennett had 8 catches for 90 yards, so look out for how the Lions choose to defend him going into that week 10 division matchup.