We took a look at how the Detroit Lions offense and special teams played already. Now it is time to give the defense the same treatment. Overall, the defense was inconsistent. The "bend but don't break" nature of the defense was displayed once again, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. The Lions offense has so, so much big play potential that it will be difficult to keep them out of the end zone. Scoring touchdowns while limiting your opponent to field goals is a proven recipe for winning football.
Corey Williams started the game with an offside penalty on the very first play. The Lions defensive linemen need to understand that other teams know how aggressive they are. Joe Flacco put on a hard count and got Williams to jump. It is easy for us to say that the linemen have to learn to temper that aggression, but that is part of what makes them effective. We probably will have to tolerate the occasional offside penalty to get the benefits that an aggressive defensive line brings. Williams also made some nice plays in the run defense in limited snaps.
Nick Fairley is having trouble metering his aggressiveness. It paid off on one play where he helped stuff Ray Rice in the backfield, with help from Lawrence Jackson and DeAndre Levy. His aggressiveness hurt him with a completely unnecessary personal foul for roughing the passer and offside penalties. Both Fairley and Jackson lined up offside on a play late in the first quarter and got flagged. Fairley got away with lining up offside on another play that the officials didn't call. That play resulted in Fairley making a tackle in the backfield with help from Levy. There was a third time that Fairley lined up offside that was incorrectly called against Levy. It seemed that Fairley and Levy had a lot of synergy going on offside plays. The coaches need to get Fairley to line up about a foot farther back to avoid this problem. The replacement refs were inconsistent in calling it, but the regular officials won't be.
Ndamukong Suh played well, but he did not make as much of an impact as last week. He had to cope with being held on many plays that the officials ignored. Suh still managed to block a pass and take away the ability of the quarterback to step up in the pocket. His run defense was inconsistent, as he struggled a bit to fight through blocks and holds. Suh still managed to make a handful of good plays on runs. I really like how he's been playing in this preseason.
Cliff Avril had a good game. He was active and made some good plays. What impressed me most is that he is expanding his game. He played responsible run defense on several plays and made a good tackle on Ray Rice after the linebacker had been blocked. That tackle prevented Rice from breaking into the secondary and possibly busting a big play. Avril also broke up a pass where he might have had an interception with a bit of luck. I forgive him because I have experienced that situation. The ball gets to you very fast and forces you to bring your arms down very quickly. Fast arm movement makes it hard to place your hands properly to catch the ball. Avril had another excellent play when he chased down Rice from the backside to get the defense off the field on third-and-goal. Erik Coleman and John Wendling were also in on that play.
Everette Brown came back down to earth a bit in this game. His most memorable play of the night was an offside call against him.
Willie Young had a good, but inconsistent, night. He jumped early on a play in the second quarter but managed to get back onside before the snap. The Ravens thought they had a free play and ended up throwing away the ball. In reality, the Ravens had just blown their third down attempt and had to settle for a field goal. The play made me laugh. Every now and then fate just smiles on your team. Young also allowed himself to be ridden too far upfield while pass rushing against Tyrod Taylor. You can't do that with a running quarterback because it gives them a lane to escape the pocket. To his credit, Young did not repeat the mistake. Young also let Taylor get away from a tackle for a safety in the third quarter. Despite all that, Young was able to apply consistent pressure on the quarterback and force the play.
Ronnell Lewis had a nice pass block, but he was inconsistent in pressuring the quarterback. He has to make more of an impact on special teams as well.
The linebacker play was better than it was in the first preseason game, but it was still too inconsistent.
DeAndre Levy played well, but he missed a tackle by not wrapping up the Baltimore running back. Instead of stopping the play for a two-yard loss, it turned into a seven-yard gain for the Ravens. This is a prime example of how a small mistake in technique can change the complexion of the game situation drastically. Levy also made some very good plays. Several were in tandem with Nick Fairley, as previously mentioned.
Justin Durant was good in run support, but he also had some problems. A facemask penalty on Durant negated a great play by Chris Houston on an outside run. Houston had played off a block and tied up the runner behind the line of scrimmage. Durant closed in to finish the tackle but grabbed the facemask of the Ravens running back. Once again, a Lions defensive mistake bailed the Ravens out of a bad down and distance situation to give them new life. Mistakes like this that are in the process of the play are more forgivable, but they still need to be eliminated as much as possible.
Doug Hogue bounced off a tackle on the first Ravens offensive play of the second half. He made a great read and filled the gap beautifully. Then he muffed the tackle. Hogue was steady during the second half and made several good plays.
Carmen Messina managed to get noticed again when he picked off Curtis Painter to seal the win for the Lions. He is looking like he wants a job and he is becoming a likely candidate for the practice squad.
Amari Spievey had a very inconsistent game. He butchered a reverse play where he was very slow to react. That allowed Jacoby Jones to get around Spievey for a long gain. Luckily, Justin Durant got off a block to save the touchdown by bumping Jones out of bounds. Durant had to give a lot of ground on his pursuit angle to do it, but that is much better than giving up a touchdown. Later in the second quarter Spievey made a nice play for a loss in backside pursuit of a running play.
Erik Coleman was active and involved in the flow of play. He played solid positional football and made some impact plays. Coleman impressed me when he came from the far side safety position to nearly stop Jacoby Jones on the aforementioned reverse play. If Coleman had given up just a couple more steps on his pursuit angle, he would have been in good position to shut down that play for a modest gain. You can't fault Coleman entirely for that because Jones is pretty fast. Coleman looked good in his run reads and participated in the run defense regularly.
John Wendling broke up a pass at the two-yard line on second-and-goal in the first quarter. That was the first pass breakup that I have seen by the safeties during this preseason. It was played perfectly by Wendling. You just cannot do any better without taking big risk. It is often difficult to break up passes from behind a receiver because you will get called for interference if you arrive too early and surrender the catch if you are too late. Wendling could have jumped the route and possibly got an interception, but if he missed he gives up a touchdown. Instead, Wendling put himself in position to stop the receiver short of the goal line even if he managed to catch the pass. This is a perfect example of how to play solid, responsible defense in the secondary. Alphonso Smith and Ricardo Silva need to study this play by Wendling and learn. Yes, getting interceptions is important, but being situationally aware is more important.
Through the rest of the game, Wendling was very good. He made a nice sack to force the Ravens to settle for a field goal. His reads were good and he was on time to make plays. He is also a reliable tackler. That is a skill that is in short supply on the Lions defense. In my mind, Wendling has placed himself at the front of the safety group in the absence of Louis Delmas. Coleman has been his only serious competition for that honor. Kudos to Wendling for a super game.
Sean Jones has been reliable but arrives just a bit too slow to make impact plays. He put a hard, and totally legal, hit on a Baltimore receiver near the end of the third quarter. Jones has been better than Spievey but is still significantly behind Wendling and Coleman.
Chris Houston played well. He played tight in coverage and made a couple nice plays in run defense as well. Houston is far and away the Lions' best cornerback, but we already knew that.
I thought that Jacob Lacey had a decent game. He wasn't flashy, but he made the plays that he had to make. Lacey is a solid tackler, which I love. The Lions defense needs more of that.
Alphonso Smith was typically inconsistent. He was called for defensive holding on a play that wasn't even coming to his receiver. Later in the game he found his ability to tackle and made a nice play for a loss on a run. It seems to be either great or bad plays with Phonz, and you can usually see both in the same drive. If Smith can learn to tackle well he can significantly raise his value by becoming a legitimate option as a nickelback. He also needs to understand that big plays only help if they are for your team and not the opponent.
Odds And Ends
The Lions are having some issues with spacing between the different levels of the defense. I noted some very deep drops by the linebackers in coverage that are leaving a large gap between them and the defensive line. The Ravens took advantage of those a couple times on short passes that went for good gains. If the opposing offense executes a screen pass while the Lions are in one of these deep linebacker coverages it can be extremely effective.
There were fewer instances where the safeties were playing very deep behind the linebackers than I saw against the Browns. It makes you wonder if some of this stuff is just Gunther Cunningham showing things to offensive coordinators in the preseason that really won't happen when the regular season starts.
The Lions had an interesting defensive alignment early in the second half. On third-and-nine the nickel package came in and the extra defensive back replaced a defensive lineman. This put the Lions in a 3-3-5 alignment. It is worth noting that the three-man front still got good pressure on the quarterback
I am impressed by the play of the first-string safety tandem of John Wendling and Erik Coleman. Their play in the Ravens game was as good, or batter, than anything we saw last season from the safeties, and that includes Louis Delmas. If they continue to play this well it could make the new contract negotiations for Delmas very interesting.
The Lions need to tackle much better. Tackling problems have been endemic on both defense and special teams. It makes me sad to see when I remember how coaches used to treat such things in practice. There are some things that the new CBA has accomplished that have hurt the quality of the game. It is hard to practice tackling if you can't wear pads in practice.