The biggest shock from the Detroit Lions’ disappointing 2-3-1 start to the season is the drastic fall of their run defense. In 2018, the unit finished as one of the best in the league, holding opponents to just 3.43 yards per carry in their final eight games—good for second best in the NFL.
One big reason for that dominant defense last year was the in-season trade for nose tackle Damon Harrison Sr. The veteran defensive lineman has been notorious for being a run stuffer, and his impact was immediate in Detroit.
Harrison's 2018 impact with the Lions ⬇️— PFF (@PFF) August 22, 2019
Team run defense grade:
First 6 games: 69.0 (26th) and 21st in run stops.
Final 10 games with Snacks: 91.7 (2nd) and 3rd most run stops.
But this year, “Snacks,” along with the rest of the Lions front seven, hasn’t been anywhere near the same. In Sunday’s latest loss against the Vikings, the Lions allowed 166 yards at 4.5 yards a pop. It was the second straight week the Lions had allowed over 160 yards rushing—something Detroit didn’t do in the final nine games of 2018.
For Harrison, defending the run has been a point of pride his entire career. Only once has a Harrison-led defense allowed more than 4.0 yards per carry during his seven-year career. So is he disappointed?
“Yeah, especially when my entire career, that’s the only thing I’ve been known for,” Harrison said. “To see the numbers where they are, it’s very disappointing.”
The numbers aren’t pretty. As a team, the Lions are allowing 4.9 yards per carry, good for fourth worst in the league. They’ve yet to hold an opponent below 100 yards rushing in a game or below 4.2 yards per carry.
Harrison is the first to admit responsibility for the drop in play.
“It really starts with me up front,” Harrison said. “I have to do a better job in the middle and getting some of those plays I’m used to making that I’m not making this year.”
Harrison admitted teams are focusing in on him and exploiting some of the things he’s currently struggling with—though he chose not to share those specifics weaknesses. Snacks, though, won’t use that as an excuse. He’s gotten attention before and performed.
“Let’s just say teams are doing a good job of making sure I’m accounted for. That hasn’t stopped me in the past, and I don’t see why it should stop me now.”
This offseason, Harrison, along with a few other defensive players—Jarrad Davis, Trey Flowers, Mike Daniels—missed significant time due to injuries. Head coach Matt Patricia said that may play a part in why Detroit’s defense is lacking on some fundamental skills this deep into the season.
“The cumulative amount of reps that we get in camp far outweigh the Wednesdays or every other Wednesday kind of repetition that we get,” Patricia said. “It makes it really difficult to catch up and unfortunately, we have to do it every single way we can possible.”
Harrison admitted that may be part of it for others, but he isn’t using it as an excuse for himself. He’s missed OTAs before. He’s no amateur at this point in his career.
“Obviously, I missed a lot of the preseason, but, again, I’ve been playing football for a long time and it hasn’t changed,” Harrison said. “The game hasn’t changed. I just got to get better and better fast.”
With the Lions now way behind in the NFC North, there is no other choice but to get better fast. There are currently only four teams with a worse record than Detroit in the NFC, and while there are still 10 games left on the schedule for Detroit, the margin for error is basically gone given the competitive nature of the conference this year.
So will it turn around for Snacks and company before it’s too late?
“It has to,” Harrison said. “It has to. There’s no other way. It has to.”