Despite the Detroit Lions' defense not having great overall results in either of his two seasons as coordinator, Aaron Glenn has gotten multiple head coaching interviews each of the last two offseasons. And yes, they have seemed to be more than token looks to fulfill the Rooney Rule.
The Lions' second half surge last season coincided with Glenn's unit playing a lot better, particularly against the run and in terms of generating takeaways. There was the bad game in Carolina, but overall the arrow on Glenn was pointing up. A concerted effort to upgrade the secondary this offseason would only help, and raise Glenn's head coaching stock leading a vastly improved unit this season.
However helped by drops from Chiefs' receivers, the Lions' defense was game in Week 1 against the Kansas City Chiefs. A test would come on Sunday, against a Seattle Seahawks' offense that scored a total of 99 points on Glenn's defense in the last two meetings between the teams. After last year's game, then-Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny called out the predictability of the Lions' defense.
Well, Glenn failed Sunday's test. The Seahawks put up 393 yards of offense, and if not for two missed field goals they would have scored more than 30 offensive points in regulation.
The heat on Aaron Glenn's seat should turned up hotter than it's ever been
After last year's 1-6 start, Lions' defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant was fired and it was easy to point to him as a scapegoat for Glenn's shortcomings (apart from any lack of talent he was working with). The move worked though, given how much better the defense played overall afterward.
It's up to the players to execute, and cornerback Jerry Jacobs notably did not play well against the Seahawks. But Seattle found what worked in the passing game, and were never forced out of it. Geno Smith was rarely pressured or hit. A secondary that did not play together until Week 1 had breakdowns again, and this time the Seahawks made them pay.
In 2021 and 2022 under Glenn, the Lions were in the top half of the NFL in blitz rate. Albeit through just two games this season, they are blitzing at the second-lowest rate in the league (5.6 percent). There has been little imagination in Glenn's trying to scheme pass rush, almost in deference to an improved secondary.
After Sunday's game, via The Detroit News, safety Kerby Joseph chalked up the secondary's communication issues to having trouble with the crowd noise. That comes off as an indictment of preparation, and thus an indictment of coaching.
"Communication, noise is going, you’re going to block out sound. That’s why we got to use signals. We got to get on point with each other because we have to get the communication up and we have to be on the same page," Joseph said. "Sometimes, we just gotta get the call, gotta get in the huddle, just gotta communicate. ... Communicate with each other on the back end, or up front, like, we gotta be able to — even if we can’t hear, like, you gotta be able to look and trust your guys that we’re making the right calls."
Dan Campbell has stood behind Glenn amid the defense's struggles before. But an assistant coach has been fired or demoted from a role in each of the last two seasons when changes were necessary. This season, the stakes are higher as the preseason favorites to win the NFC North.
Week 3 against the Atlanta Falcons, and run-based team with a quarterback who'll be making his seventh career start (Desmond Ridder), is lined up to be a get-right moment for the Lions' defense. If it's not, the questions about Glenn's job security will be even more intense than they are now. And the answer to the questions may mean a change has to be made.