Slowly, the Detroit Lions have been working Teez Tabor into the lineup. Prior to the bye week, Tabor played in just three total defensive snaps, causing some to worry that the Lions’ second-round draft pick may have been a bust.
Since then, he’s playing more often, but Detroit is still bringing him along slowly. In the first six games out of the bye week, he only played 55 total snaps, averaging less than 10 a game. But on Sunday against the Buccaneers, the Lions took off the training wheels. Tabor played in 39 snaps, well over 50 percent of the defensive downs.
But it’s one thing to get playing time, it’s another to play well. How did Tabor do in his first significant playing time? Let’s break it down.
Jack of all trades
What really stuck out to me during Sunday’s game was how the Lions used Tabor. Because the Lions didn’t just have Tabor in one or two specific packages. He was all over the field.
In the slot? Check.
On the outside? Check.
In press coverage? Check
In zone coverage? Check.
Man-to-man against one of the best receivers in the league? Check.
For you visual learners, here’s what Teez Tabor’s day looked like:
The Lions entrusted him to do just about everything. That shows me that we can expect this sort of thing to continue the rest of the year.
Though the Lions had Tabor in both man and zone coverage, he really displayed his skills in press coverage. We all saw how he manned up 6-foot-5 Mike Evans in the red zone on Tampa’s second drive of the game, but that wasn’t all.
Check out Tabor disrupting the slot route here:
Adam Humphries initially tries to go inside Tabor, but when he tries to break back outside, Teez does a good job keeping a hand on him. That gives Tabor the time to flip his hips and remain by Humphrey’s side as he cuts outside.
Of course, with any rookie matched up against a guy like Mike Evans, he isn’t going to win every time. And sometimes Tabor’s physical aggressiveness worked against him:
Tabor’s first initial punch into Evans’ shoulder pads is decent, but with only his left hand truly landing, Evans is able to swim out of the press and has Tabor beaten by two steps just five yards down the field. Thankfully, Jameis Winston misses him, otherwise that’s an easy 20-yard gain.
The Lions trust Tabor
For someone who had never seen more than 17 snaps in a game, the Detroit Lions showed a ton of faith in the rookie. You would think that Detroit would shadow Mike Evans with their No. 1 shutdown cornerback Darius Slay all game, but defensive coordinator Teryl Austin had something else in mind.
Evans only saw Slay on 8-of-39 routes. Covered more by Teez Tabor (12 routes) and Nevin Lawson (10 routes) https://t.co/w0uTRvhAyV— Jeff Ratcliffe (@JeffRatcliffe) December 11, 2017
Tabor covered Mike Evans more often than Slay did. Just let that digest for a moment.
And when the game was on the line, Detroit wanted Tabor out there. With game tied at 21 and just 4:49 remaining, the Buccaneers had the ball and an opportunity to take their first lead of the game. The Lions had Tabor out there for all six snaps of that drive. And on a second-and-10, Tabor rewarded their decision:
The Bucs try to fake a bubble screen in order to hit Mike Evans on a big splash play towards the top of the image. Tabor is the outside cornerback at the top. As the Lions play a very standard Tampa-2 defense, Tabor’s responsibility is the right side of the defense for intermediate routes.
The hope for the Buccaneers is that Tabor bites hard enough on the fake screen to create a gap in between him and the high safety (Quandre Diggs). To put in Jon Gruden terms, Winston was looking for that turkey hole.
Tabor bites a little bit, but mostly stays true to his assignment. He knows that a deep shot could potentially be ballgame, and as soon as he nibbles on the bait, he recognizes the play. So he stays stride-by-stride with Evans for about 7 yards, which is just enough to pass him off to Diggs, who is in a perfect position to make a play. There is no turkey hole to be had, and Winston can’t pull the trigger. One play later, the Buccaneers punt it away to the Lions, and Detroit would go onto score the game-winning field goal.
To me, this was Tabor’s first real debut, and I thought he played pretty darn well all things considered. He wasn’t tested all that much in Sunday’s game, but he was in a good position almost all of the time.
Perhaps more notable than his play, however, was the amount the Lions put on his plate. They clearly expect a lot out of him now and don’t seem to be too worried if he’s up against the best receivers the opponent is offering.
That should have Lions fans excited for the rest of the year, and more importantly, the 2018 season and beyond.