2018 wasn’t a successful year for the Detroit Lions by just about any measure. A 6-10 season was a big step back for a franchise who had just put together its first back-to-back winning seasons in a couple decades. It was an inauspicious start to the Matt Patricia era that has fans understandably worried about the future of the franchise.
But during his year as a rookie head coach, there were glimpses of why the Lions made the hire and what the former Patriots defensive coordinator can bring to the team. Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated did a great job highlighting one of those things this week, pointing to Detroit’s masterful defensive gameplan in their Week 13 game against the Los Angeles Rams.
“What the Lions did in that Sunday night game was tweak their profile to force the Rams out of theirs,” Benoit wrote.
The key to their game plan, according to Benoit, was changing their coverage defense—which usually involves a single high safety and man-coverage—to a quarters-based defense, in which the outside corners and the deep safeties are each responsible for one-fourth of the field.
The purpose of the adjustment was to disguise their coverage and use the ever-so-slightly decreased depth of the safeties—hopefully unnoticed by Rams quarterback Jared Goff—to help out in the run game.
For the majority of the game, the plan worked extremely well. Los Angeles, who came into the game averaging just over 35 points per game, had only 16 points halfway through the fourth quarter. Goff finished with a passer rating of just 68.6 and a paltry 6.3 yards per attempt—both of which were among his three worst outputs of the entire season.
“Goff never looked settled against the Lions, including when he threw a bad interception and lost a sack-fumble—both turnovers of which came against that unexpected Lions’ ‘quarters coverage,’” Benoit said.
After that game, the blueprint was out. The Rams lost the next two games, with the Chicago Bears holding the Rams to just six points and the Eagles holding Goff touchdown-less for the second straight game.
It’s a small consolation for Lions fans, considering Detroit didn’t even win that Week 13 game. However, Patricia was billed as an defensive genius when the Lions were selling him to the fanbase. Considering the Lions defense was one of the worst statistically in 2018, this game serves as an opportunity to cling to that hope.