Detroit Lions statistical analysis: Why the defense failed

Chicago Bears v Detroit Lions
Chicago Bears v Detroit Lions /

Statistical analysis helps us determine why the Detroit Lions defense repeatedly allows opposing teams to come back in games

The Detroit Lions home opener reminded me of an overused quote: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Despite its platitude, that quote is ever so fitting towards the feeling of many Lions’ faithful. Insanity, there’s no other way to put it.

The Lions blew their 11th fourth-quarter lead during third-year head coach Matt Patricia’s tenure during Sunday’s matchup against the Chicago Bears. The unwillingness to adapt is why the team keeps finding themselves in the same scenario.

Here’s a look at the Lions infamous three-man rush compared to rushing attacks that include four rushers are more.

Four-Man Rush:
8/16, 50%, 88 yards,1 TD, 1.0 sack, 1 FF

Three-Man Rush:
5/7, 71%, 73 yards, 1 TD

Five or more/Blitz:
6/13, 46%, 81 yards, 1 TD

Defensive coordinator Cory Undlin went into detail as to why they continue to value coverage over pass rush during a press conference via the Lions’ official YouTube page.

"“When you talk about pass rush, I’m not just going to put that on the D-line by themselves. We’ve got to do a better job in coverage … you’ve got to be able to cover first. When you can cover, then you get an opportunity to rush (the passer).”"

Maybe we all are missing something here. Logically, putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks should lead to forced throws and mistakes. Those mistakes will then result in turnovers. When I first started learning football, they taught us that a pass rush is the secondary’s best friend.

Obviously, coverage is essential, especially if you want to eliminate quick throws. Which, in that case, I would agree with Undlin. It doesn’t matter how fast your pass-rush is if the quarterback gets the ball out in under two seconds.

Even so, in certain situations this strategy is unbearable … Take a look at this play: 

It’s 1st and 10 with two minutes left in the game. Detroit can not give up a touchdown. A field goal, which is still undesirable, still gives the Lions a better chance at winning this game.

They come out with a three-man rush. I have no clue what linebacker Christian Jones is doing here. It looks like his assignment is to either chuck the tight end or cover the flat. The defense was running man to man coverage here, so covering the flat is unlikely (but still possible).

Safety Tracy Walker was covering tight end Jimmy Graham, so why does Jones have to check Graham? Jones is essentially doing nothing. That delayed rush of his had no impact on the result of the play either.

By the time the defensive line would have gotten to quarterback Mitch Trubisky, he could’ve written this article for me. If Patricia opted for a second defensive end, there is no possible way Trubisky makes that throw. Worst case scenario, he throws to Graham for a five-yard gain.

Final Remarks

it could be beneficial if the Lions become more deceptive. Sending more blitzes would be the first step, making their opponents confused about whether they are blitzing or dropping a linebacker into coverage.

Again, if Trubisky can predict their defensive play calls, there is a problem. They need to get to a point where teams have no idea what the rush schemes and coverages will be. It’s too obvious and that’s where Patricia’s unwillingness to adapt comes in.

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During the first have, Detroit actually did an excellent job of mixing coverages and sending blitzes. For the first time, we saw Trubisky struggle against us. Unfortunately, the Lions reverted back to their old ways once they secured a 20 point lead. Ultimately, that’s why the defense failed.