By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – The results the Detroit Lions got in 2013 did not seem to match the level of talent on the roster, and new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is keen on making sure that kind of discrepancy does not happen again.
The areas Austin wants shored up include sacks, takeaways and big plays allowed. The Lions finished 28th in the NFL in sacks in 2013, and they came in tied for 12th in turnovers forced. Part of a team that blew fourth-quarter lead after fourth-quarter lead in the second half of the season, the Detroit defense also surrendered its share of big plays.
As far as sacks, Austin – like previous coordinator Gunther Cunningham – said the low numbers do not necessarily reflect on the quality of that group. However, Austin does expect those statistics to shoot up in 2014.
“There were a lot of hits on the quarterback, a lot of the quarterback scrambling trying to move out of the way,” Austin said. “So that’s the good part of it. We’d like to get some more sacks and, you know, that’s our job trying to generate some more sacks. But I was pleased, when you watch them overall, I thought Ziggy [Ansah] is learning how to rush and is going to get better. Obviously, the two inside guys can get pressure and it just becomes a matter – sometimes the quarterback just gets the ball out fast.
“Maybe we can get a little bit better coverage and he’s got to hold it for that extra second and it gives our guys a chance to get there,” Austin continued. “I think those guys have a chance to be really good and really put some pressure on some people and get some sacks. I think our sack numbers will go up this year.”
Austin also expects 2014 will bring an uptick in turnovers forced. He said getting takeaways is always an emphasis for his players, particularly in practice, where players are told to go for the strip or for the interception instead of merely the pass break-up. In the secondary in particular, Austin said he wants players to practice catching the ball instead of just knocking it down so they are prepared if the opportunity comes up in a game.
Another of Austin’s keys for the defense is the limiting of big plays, a preventative measure that keeps the other team from gaining momentum and keeps the Lions from losing steam.
“I think the way you become a game-changing defense is you cut down on the amount of big plays because those are demoralizing to your defense,” Austin said. “You try to create some more turnovers. I know that’s an area that we weren’t as good as we want to be. So, if you can do those things and continue to improve – I believe we were No. 1 in red zone defense. So, what that does if you start tying all those things together, basically what happens is you become really good in scoring defense.
“You don’t let teams score on you and if you create some turnovers, then you give our offense the short fields,” Austin continued. “If you give your offense short fields, then all of a sudden you’re able to play with the lead. When you’re able to play with the lead, then all those pass rush stats, all those sacks, all that stuff starts to go up. That’s really going to be the challenge for us.”
As far as his philosophy, Austin believes that some unpredictability is a necessity, one that will make life easier for those on the Lions defense.
“You can’t pressure all day and you can’t just play four-man all day, so we’ll try to mix those things up, and I think what it will do in the end of it, it will give our four-man guys a little bit better rush because they know it’s not always four and they won’t be getting chipped all the time because there’s a threat of somebody else coming,” Austin said. “If we are going to pressure, we’ve got to be able to cover them in the back and give our guys some time to get home. So, we’ll work on those things. We’ll kind of iron those things out and see what’s best for us as we move forward, but I can promise you this – we won’t be blitzing every play and we won’t be four-man rushing every play.”