In 2019, the Detroit Lions offense was a pleasant surprise while the defense was embarrassing. Unfortunately, it looked the same Week 1 of 2020.
Like so often after free agency, the NFL draft, and training camp … there is a confidence that this is the year it’s going to be different for the Detroit Lions. For that to happen in 2020 though, what needs to be most different is the defense.
Unfortunately, Week 1 showed a lot of the same old defense for a Lions’ unit that ranked dead last against the pass, 31st in yards, and 28th in points per game last season.
The difference was supposed to start with the hiring of new defensive coordinator Cory Undlin. Then accelerated with all the new defensive acquisitions, especially third-overall pick, cornerback Jeff Okudah.
Contrary to popular belief, a corner taken third overall should be a year one contributor, and play at a high-level … just look at the corners taken top-5 in the past 10 years in a piece I wrote a few weeks ago.
So I’m here to say my piece on the two biggest changes the Lions need to stop getting walked over defensively.
Biggest change needed
The single biggest issue the Lions had to fix from their previous two years in the scheme was the lack of pass-rush. The lack of QB pressure is rooted in a poor defensive philosophy that prioritizes coverage over pass-rush in hopes of getting coverage sacks … I wish I could express an eye-roll via text better than this.
And unfortunately, their coverage over pass-rush philosophy didn’t seem to change much Week 1 despite the awful results on the field over the past two years under head coach Matt Patricia. Last season the Lions’ meager 18% blitz percentage was ranked 30th in the NFL (a blitz is defined as sending five or more rushers).
Week 1 last Sunday vs the Chicago Bears didn’t look like they learned from their mistakes as they boosted their blitz percentage to only 20.5%. Which would have put them in the same exact ranking they were in last season … 30th in the NFL. So even with the 2.5% increase, it still would have been less 29 other teams when looking at a full-season worth of data in 2019.
What makes things even worse, though Detroit blitzed more Week 1, they actually affected the quarterback less often. Last season the Lions averaged 1.75 sacks and 7.75 pressures per game. Sunday they got a lonely one sack and a whopping six pressures, albeit this is a very small sample size, to be fair. Still, change it.
The other change needed
I don’t have nearly a big of a problem with their love for man coverage as much as their love for coverage sacks. But I do have a problem with man coverage when you’re barely getting any pressure with your ‘coverage rush’. And even a bigger problem when you’re on your 5th and 6th cornerbacks like on Sunday with Darryl Roberts and Tony McRae.
There is no reason to not play more zone and let your secondary work as a unit and keep the ball in front of you instead of putting McRae on an island with Anthony Miller. With barely any pressure to begin with … you’ll get burned time after time after time with that game plan.
Every NFL team has its calling cards, and they will go to it when the stakes are high. For a Patricia defense, one of them will be man-coverage. But this defense is also supposed to be multiple and for some reason, this coaching staff has done a bad job at in-game adjustments.
Man-coverage seems to be an area Patricia is most stubborn in when it comes to adjustments. Change it.
2020? Is it truly never too late to change?
To be clear, I think the 2020 season is far from over. Despite all my efforts into this article, there is a chance what they showed Week 1 defensively was just a Bears game-plan. There’s a chance they do plan on being more multiple with 4-down fronts, blitzes, and pressure philosophy. There’s even a chance they finally have what it takes to run what they’ve failed to run successfully for the past two seasons as well.
They just didn’t show me any of the above in Week 1. Without a change in a few – praying for the pass-rush – I don’t see a change for the Lions division title or playoff win drought streak this season either.