The Detroit Lions’ defense has been exposed in some big ways through just 2 weeks of the 2020 NFL season, but their defensive coordinator isn’t worrying much if at all about all of that.
Even on the heels of one of the ugliest performances by the team in recent memory in Week 2, Cory Undlin says there’s plenty of football and time left for the Lions to turn things around on his side of the ball. As a result, he’s not panicking a bit about where the team is currently at.
Lions defensive coordinator Cory Undlin: "No panic right now in our room with any position group. We are all aware of the fact that we haven’t played great in the first two weeks and we’re 0-2."
— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) September 22, 2020
Such an explanation will likely not sit well with Lions fans, who’ve been panicking since the fourth quarter of Week 1 on. Undlin is right, however, in that there is plenty of football left to be played and the Lions have also been dinged up a bit on the back end.
Still, urging folks not to panic after the team has started 0-2 and is seemingly staring down the barrel of 0-4 is a difficult proposition. His defense would be wise to heed his words and try to keep a level ship at this point.
Lions Defense Ripped Over Performance
Why has the Lions defense been so bad under Matt Patricia? Finding an explanation for these anomalies has not been easy to do, but analyst Doug Farrar from Touchdown Wire has taken perhaps the best possible step in explaining why the Lions continue to struggle in their scheme while it works in New England. As Farrar said, it’s a matter of personnel in Detroit, even as the Lions have tried to take steps to improve their roster in recent years.
“So… why are the Lions so bad at man coverage, and why do they insist on doing it more than any other team? Personnel is a big part of it. If your secondary personnel isn’t matched to your schematic concepts, you’re going to get eaten alive — even if the opposing quarterback is Mitchell Trubisky. Before the 2019 season, the Lions signed former Seahawks slot defender Justin Coleman to a four-year, $36 million contract, making Coleman the highest-paid slot defender in NFL history. But Coleman had excelled in Seattle’s zone-based defense, and he wasn’t used to playing man as much as the Lions asked him to. The numbers played out as you might predict: Coleman allowed five touchdowns to just one interception in man and combo coverage last season,
Patricia, on the other hand, seems to have made the worst mistake a game-planner can possibly make: He’s subscribed to the idea that no matter what kinds of players he has on his roster, he’s going to run what he runs, and to heck with reality.”
In Farrar’s mind, the Lions still don’t have the right kind of personnel to be able to run the type of man defense that has become Patricia’s bread and butter during his time in the league. As he admits, the Lions do have Jeff Okudah on the roster perhaps coming to help aid in this, but the team still doesn’t have the types of players to run their scheme successfully. Worse, they don’t have the commitment of the coaching staff to switch things up when their stated plan doesn’t work.
Detroit’s had some tough injuries at cornerback to start the season which has prevented them from feeling completely comfortable, but if Patricia continues to struggle on defense and the year spirals out of control, it will be bad news for the former super genius coordinator turned head coach.
So far, Patricia’s plan to win in Detroit with man defense hasn’t turned out well whatsoever, and he hasn’t been able to adapt otherwise. That could prove bad news for his long term plans of sticking around if things don’t change.
Lions Defense Said to Have Not Improved
Bleacher Report may have seen these struggles coming a long way off. This offseason, the site power ranked every team’s defense following the biggest moves of the offseason, and the Lions didn’t place highly whatsoever. Detroit’s defense was bad last season, but according to Martin Fenn, the improvements they have made have been minimal.
The Lions placed 29th on the list, with only 3 defenses in the league worse at this point.
Here’s a look at what Fenn wrote about why:
“The Lions made the best decision for their defense by staying at the No. 3 spot in the draft and selecting Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah, who was dominant during his tenure with the Buckeyes. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed first downs on just 20 percent of all targets at the outside corner since 2018. He also dominated in press coverage, making him the perfect replacement for Darius Slay.
Detroit also signed former Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant earlier in the offseason while acquiring ball-hawking safety Duron Harmon from the New England Patriots.
The problem is, the secondary figures to see a ton of action due to a relatively lackluster pass rush. The Lions cut edge-rusher Devon Kennard and defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison, but the only move they made to upgrade the line was signing former Pats defensive tackle Danny Shelton.
Shelton was a run-stuffing machine for New England last year, and perhaps the Lions are counting on the additions of linebackers Jamie Collins and Reggie Ragland to help against the run as well. Still, they don’t have much of a pass rush outside of Trey Flowers, which does not bode well for the overhauled secondary. Collins did have seven sacks last season, but he will be 31 in October, and the Lions might need him to be more of a cover backer.
Third-round draft pick Julian Okwara might be able to help set the edge, but the Lions ranked 29th in passing DVOA last year, and the relative shortage of pass-rushing threats will test Detroit’s secondary once again.”
Detroit has added plenty to the mix in both free agency and the draft but clearly not enough to move the needle as Fenn is concerned in terms of a turnaround. Obviously, the Lions need to prove such rankings lists wrong considering how important 2020 is for everyone on the team.
So far, they’re not off to a hot start in doing so, but their staff isn’t ready to push the panic button yet.