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The Lions’ defensive end rotation is a mess

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Detroit can’t seem to decide on who they want playing defensive end.

Detroit Lions v Green Bay Packers Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

On Wednesday, the Detroit Lions claimed defensive end/linebacker Kasim Edebali off of waivers, cutting George Johnson to make room for the transaction. Prior to getting waived by the Broncos, Edebali had only played 55 defensive snaps with Denver this season, contributing mostly on special teams. Including those special teams snaps, he has recorded just a single tackle in 2017. On Sunday, he may be a key figure on the Lions’ defense.

Ezekiel Ansah missed practice on Thursday again—his fifth consecutive missed practice—meaning that the Lions only have four healthy defensive ends on the roster: Anthony Zettel, Cornelius Washington, Jeremiah Valoaga and Edebali. (Note: The Lions actually have Edebali officially listed as a linebacker on their roster.)

In every game this season in which the Lions have had just four defensive ends active, each player has played at the very minimum 22 percent of snaps on defense.

So unless the Lions make a transaction before Sunday, Edebali—who will have only practiced with the Lions twice in his career—will have a significant role against the Bears.

But this is nothing new for Detroit. They been fiddling with their defensive end rotation nonstop this year, especially in the past four contests. If you ask Jim Caldwell, he’s likely to throw the “every game is different” cliche at you, but this isn’t about matchups, this is straight-up panic.

Just look at the defensive end snap distribution over the past four games:

Ezekiel Ansah 59.2%—73.4%—64.4%—0.0%
Anthony Zettel 60.6%—78.1%—64.4%—72.8%
Cornelius Washington 0.0%—40.6%—40.7%—59.3%
Jeremiah Valoaga 40.8%—21.9%—0.0%—27.2%
George Johnson 40.8%—0.0%—0.0%—0.0%
Jacquies Smith 0.0%—0.0%—49.2%—48.1%

Detroit can’t seem to make up their mind on who they want to be their rotational pieces. It’s clear Ezekiel Ansah and Anthony Zettel are the starters, but their backups seem to change on a weekly basis. One week, George Johnson is their guy. The next, he’s completely off the roster (then back on the roster, then off it again). Jacquies Smith was a two-week tryout, even earning himself significant playing time over Jeremiah Valoaga, but now he’s off the roster, too.

Cornelius Washington and Valoaga have both been spared from getting cut this season, but even they have fallen victim to the inactive list on gameday. The Lions aren’t even sure who their No. 3 DE is right now.

Detroit is searching high and low for answers, and it’s pretty clear they aren’t liking the ones they are finding. Outside of the past four weeks, Detroit has also seen the likes Alex Barrett, Armonty Bryant and Datone Jones come and go without any success.

I don’t mind Bob Quinn going out and being aggressive trying to fix a clear problem. In fact, I prefer it. Standing pat with this defensive line is probably the worst thing you could do for it.

But it is strange that the Lions, for the most part, seem to be rotating the same guys. George Johnson has been signed and released twice. Same with Jacquies Smith. Datone Jones was signed and released before Detroit even played another game. Heck, the Lions reportedly brought Armonty Bryant back in for a tryout this week!

(Yes, this tweet from Wednesday is already out of date, as Johnson was cut later in the day.)

If Quinn likes these guys enough to bring them back, why not keep them to make sure they’ve had enough time to prepare for game days? When you sign a guy like Johnson on Monday, only to have him waived on Wednesday, it’s hard to see how that’s a benefit on Sunday, especially when his replacement, Edebali, will only have two days to prepare for Chicago.

Perhaps Edebali will eventually be worth it and will put an end to this game of defensive end musical chairs ends. It seems like a long shot for Bob Quinn, but considering Ansah’s health, and the ineffectiveness of all the other options he has rotated in and out, there’s at least a method to his madness. I just hope he finds an adequate answer to this problem before it’s too late.