The Detroit Lions defense has not been getting the job done this season rushing the passer, and everyone has struggled thus far to find a reason why.
Who better to ask about this than Trey Flowers, the team’s high priced defensive end? A few years back, Flowers came to the Lions with designs of turning around the rush. Flowers himself has helped with 8 sacks in his Lions career, but why can he not get any help rushing the passer from his other teammates?
The answer revolves around the team’s run defense and play in the trenches. According to Flowers, Detroit isn’t able to get teams in pass rush situations thanks to their struggles up front against the run. Far too many third and short scenarios are playing out preventing the Lions from being able to really crank up their pass rush on the field.
What Flowers says certainly makes sense in terms of the most recent game the Lions played. New Orleans ran for multiple yards on first down and pushed the Lions around in the trenches. As a result, it was tough for the team to get a hand on the pocket consistently and impact the game. Stopping the run would have put the Saints at a disadvantage, but far too often they were simply able to rush the ball for yards they needed.
So far, the Lions defense is not having a banner year in many ways, and it could have everything to do with toughness and winning battles on early downs. Detroit has to find a way to turn this around in the second half of their season.
Lions Pass Rush Struggling
During this season, a disturbing trend has emerged with the Lions. Once again, the team is not putting nearly enough pressure on the pocket and that has played a direct role in both of the team’s defeats so far this season.
Worse than that, the numbers indicate what most already know. The Lions are a team that doesn’t often get after it up front or generate much pressure. According to ESPN, Detroit’s pass rush win rate percentage is dead last in the NFL at an ugly 19%. It’s a huge dip from the teams near them in last place as well, who have pass rush win percentages in the 30% range.
Obviously, the Lions have to turn around the pass rush if they want to win games. Week 3 showed why this was the case, as the team put a tiny bit of pressure on Kyler Murray in key moments and used it to their advantage to turn around the game and pull out a close win. On the season, the Lions still only have 3 sacks to their credit, which is far too low a total to sustain success defensively.
Safe to say that as these numbers show, the Lions have to start winning more battles up front if they want to win more battles on the field on defense. This fits with what Flowers thinks has been the problem so far.
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.
If the Lions could find a pass rush, plenty of these problems would be solved. It hasn’t played out that way, and Flowers thinks it has plenty to do with toughness and the ability to win battles.