Simplification key to the Detroit Lions improved run defense

Detroit Lions defense - Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Detroit Lions defense - Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Lions were able to find defensive success through simplification

The Detroit Lions had won only a single game going into their Week Six matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars. And a big reason for that lack of early success was due to their turnstile-type run defense.

Before Sunday’s matchup in Jacksonville, the Lions’ defense had allowed opposing offenses to rush for an average of 170.3 yards per game, the highest amount in the NFL. Back in Week Two, the Green Bay Packers ran through the Detroit defense to the tune of 259 rushing yards in a 42-21 blowout loss.

Those rushing woes continued in Week Four against the New Orleans Saints as the Lions’ defense allowed them to rush for 164 yards on the ground. So heading into their bye week, Detroit needed to find a quick fix.

On Sunday, against the Jacksonville Jaguars and their highly-touted undrafted rookie running back, James Robinson, the Lions’ defense held the Jags to a mere 44 rushing yards … total. Robinson carried the ball 12 times for a mere 29 yards, an embarrassing average of 2.4 yards per attempt.

Sunday was the first time this season Detroit held an opponent to less than 100 rushing yards in a game. So what changed?

Here’s what Tim Twentyman wrote on the team’s official website about how Patricia was able to improve the team’s run defense over the bye week.

"“Patricia said the Lions simplified some run-scheme stuff over the bye week … it was a result of two weeks of work over the bye week to grind out what was working and what wasn’t, and simplifying some things on both sides of the ball, particularly in the run game.”"

This offseason, the Lions once again brought in several ex-members of the New England Patriots to help execute the gameplan of their former Super Bowl-winning defensive coordinator, now Detroit head coach Matt Patricia. Specially, these veteran additions to the roster were made on the defensive side of the ball.

Linebacker Jamie Collins, defensive tackle Danny Shelton, and safety Duron Harmon have started in all five of the Lions games so far this season despite having played in New England last year. This transplanted trio has a supporting cast made up of young and inexperienced talent like rookie cornerback Jeff Okudah and second-year linebacker Jahlani Tavai.

Along their defensive line, another ex-Pat, defensive end Trey Flowers, is only in his second season in the Motor City. And Detroit also signed defensive tackle Nick Williams this offseason as a free agent after a successful stint with the Chicago Bears.

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While many on this defensive unit in Detroit may have experience playing in Matt Patricia’s multiple and complex defensive scheme, this group hasn’t had much time actually playing together following an offseason training program that was stunted by a worldwide pandemic. Simplifying the scheme over the bye week appears to have been the right choice for a defense still building its chemistry.