By: Will Burchfield
It’s been a rough start to the year for the Lions defense.
They were torched by the Colts in Week 1, decimated by injury in Week 2 and steamrolled by the Packers in Week 3. Add it all up, and the Lions have allowed the sixth most points per game (28.3) in the NFL.
Two particular concerns? The lack of third-down stops and the propensity for giving up big plays.
“Third down is obviously more important, because we have to get the ball back for our offense. I think that limits the possession time, the amount of time the (other team) has the ball, those things,” said defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.
The Lions are getting third-down stops on just fifty percent of their opportunities, the second worst mark in the league.
“We’ve also had an issue right now with big plays,” Austin acknowledged. “That has to cease. They’re huge field-position swings. If we have any momentum, they’re momentum killers. If our offense goes down and scores and then we come back and let up a big play, that’s a momentum killer.
Through four weeks, the Lions have allowed 12 plays of 20 yards or more. 10 of those plays have come in the air, as opposing offenses have found it quite easy to pick apart Detroit’s secondary.
Veteran safety Glover Quin struggled to identify the source of the problems on defense.
“It’s been different things every week,” he said.
But he has a simple solution: more speed.
“We just gotta fly around and attack and just play. A lot of times, playing fast with great effort can cover up some mistakes. So that’s what we gotta do: just play fast, stop second-guessing ourselves or trying to play perfect or whatever it may be, and just fly around and be aggressive and let the chips fall where they may,” Quin said.
The Lions don’t necessarily lack speed in the secondary, with the likes of Quin and cornerback Darius Slay. And though they’ve been compromised up front by the losses of defensive end Ziggy Ansah and linebacker DeAndre Levy, Austin doesn’t believe the defense is any slower as a result.
“I think when you look at the tape, I’m not sure playing fast is an issue, because our guys play really hard. I think when you watch you don’t see a speed deficiency out there. I just think we have to do things a little bit better, and that falls on me,” he said.
In practice, at least, Austin has been seeing improvement, particularly when it comes to limiting big plays.
“We’re not allowing those things in practice, but they’re showing up in the games. As always, what we’ll do is we’ll just continue to work, continue to practice that way, and eventually it will turn. We just want it to turn very fast, we don’t want it to wait two more weeks. We need it to turn this week,” he said.
In that light, Sunday’s matchup with the toothless Bears comes at a good time. Their offense struggles in every category in which the Lions defense is looking to improve. On top of that, Chicago will likely be without quarterback Jay Cutler.
After stiffening up over the course of last week’s loss in Green Bay, Detroit’s defense has a chance to build on the momentum.
“The second half of last game, that’s the way we know we can play,” Quin said. “The thing is, putting it together for four quarters.”
As far as Jim Caldwell is concerned, the Lions have a number of areas to improve upon on defense.
“But the fact of the matter is we do need to play faster,” he said.