As you may have read, I was on hand for the debacle in Seattle this past Monday. I don't have anything to add about the end of the game; Jeremy Reisman has already said all that needs to be said, and more eloquently than I could have. It's probably best we just collect ourselves and try to move on. At least I got to meet Taylor Boggs' parents before kickoff. They were seated in our section--nice people!
While I have no desire to discuss the end of the Lions' loss to the Seattle Seahawks, I'd be remiss if I avoided talking about how they got there. The Lions' moribund offense continued to sink further into the grave, but the defense showed some real, honest-to-God signs of life. Nowhere was that more evident than up front, as the Lions pressured Russell Wilson on nearly half his dropbacks. Plenty of the credit for that goes to the Lions' front four (and, to be fair, a pretty awful Seattle OL): after I downplayed his abilities as a pass-rusher last week, Ezekiel Ansah collected himself a pair of sacks, and against a less maddeningly elusive quarterback than Wilson, Jason Jones might have added a couple of his own. However, the pressures weren't limited to the defensive line. Teryl Austin involved a few different members of the back seven in the pass rush, and he did so by employing a number of zone blitzes that allowed the Lions to keep at least seven defenders in coverage.
To provide an overly brief and simplistic definition of the concept, a zone blitz involves dropping traditional pass-rushers into coverage while bringing a linebacker or defensive back to provide pressure. It was developed as a safer alternative to the traditional man-to-man blitz, a boom-or-bust proposition that leaves defenders on an island in coverage while selling out to get the quarterback. The zone blitz affords the defense the opportunity to bring pressure from unusual places while still being able to prevent big gains if the blitzer doesn't hit home. As you'd expect, there are infinite wrinkles and variations on the concept, but Dick LeBeau is generally credited with inventing it.
This is one of the safest examples of that kind of call, though it didn't necessarily result in pressure on Wilson. The Lions bring James Ihedigbo and Josh Bynes to the line of scrimmage to show six possible rushers, but bring only three at the snap, as Bynes, Ansah, and Tyrunn Walker(!) all drop into coverage. I've fetishized defensive linemen in coverage before, so this was borderline pornographic for me to watch. Bynes and Glover Quin have the middle of the field bottled up, and the pass to Luke Willson falls incomplete.
Ihedigbo continues to be the member of the secondary that Austin chooses to send at the quarterback most often, and that makes sense—Dig is comfortably the biggest liability in coverage among Lions starting defensive backs, so if you're going to send someone, why not him? However, Dig wasn't the only defensive back sent at Wilson Monday night.
Again, Austin drops two defensive linemen into coverage (Devin Taylor and Caraun Reid, this time). Haloti Ngata crosses the center's face to draw a double-team at the opposite A-gap, while Ihedigbo draws another from the RG/RT. Darius Slay, who enters the left side of the image just prior to the snap, comes free at Wilson after the RB runs a route to the flat. Wilson, as he did seemingly a dozen times that game, evades the sack and escapes the pocket to find an open receiver for a first down. However, that Seattle gain doesn't erase the fact that the opportunity was there for the defense. Great players make great plays, and Wilson certainly made his share in Week 4. But, as much as any defensive play to this point on Monday night, this one gave the Lions the clearest shot at the quarterback. Austin saw it, and waited on the right time to call it again. That time came in the fourth quarter.
Aside from some slight changes in positioning, Austin calls the same thing here. Reid (in Ngata's place) comes from the left to draw the C/LG, and Ihedigbo attacks the guard's outside shoulder. Jones (formerly Reid in the previous play) drops into coverage, and Taylor once again drops into the flat, though not before jab-stepping enough to draw the right tackle forward. For the second time, no one touches Slay coming off the left side. This time, the Lions make it count. Dig gets the strip, and Reid scoops and scores. Here's the same play from a different angle:
I don't know what the Lions named this play call, though I have to imagine it's something sweet like "Red Barbarian Thunder" or "Crimson Dragon Inferno." Regardless of its name, it was the right call, at the right time, and the defense executed it to put the Lions back in the game. Regularly dropping defensive linemen into coverage isn't necessarily something you can do against every team (though I so wish it was), but when it's justified, Austin has shown the willingness to take that calculated risk.
None of this erases the cold reality of the Lions' current situation. They're 0-4 and can't score points on offense. It's October, and many of us are already thinking about draft boards. But at least last week, the team did manage to do something well. In a season with very few bright spots, Teryl Austin and the Lions' defense provided one in Week 4.