While the Detroit Lions defense isn’t fully responsible for the team’s 3-8-1 record, it does take the brunt of the blame. Through 13 weeks, the Lions are 25th in points allowed, 28th in yards per play allowed, and 26th in passer rating allowed.
Worse yet, the Lions defense cannot seem to make a play when the team so desperately needs one. They’ve held the lead in the fourth quarter in nine different games this season, yet only have three wins. Last week’s game against the Chicago Bears was a perfect example of how games have played out this year.
With just under seven minutes remaining, the Lions were clinging to a seven-point lead against Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears. Detroit had two opportunities to get off the field and protect the lead or at least hold Chicago to a field goal. But on consecutive third down plays, the Lions allowed completions of over 30 yards and the Bears would score shortly thereafter.
It was supposed to be different this year. With a second year in a new defensive system, plus a handful of potential impact offseason moves, including signing Trey Flowers and Justin Coleman and drafting Jahlani Tavai, Detroit was supposed to take a big step forward. Instead, they’re worse in nearly every statistical category from where they were last season.
The coach staff is taking the brunt of the blame among fans. Head coach Matt Patricia was hailed as a defensive guru, and his staff was billed as experienced and knowledgeable. With some giving Patricia the benefit of the doubt and expecting a third year out of the head coach, the crosshairs have now shifted to defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni.
The veteran coordinator spoke with the media on Monday and took responsibility for some of the team’s failures this year.
“When the team and players don’t have success—if you’re in this for the right reasons and you’re in it to teach and you’re in it to help people—I think it bothers you,” Pasqualoni said. “I think that part bothers me. I take responsibility, I’ve got to do a better job.”
When asked what exactly was going wrong with the defense right now, Pasqualoni said it was a mixture of things. Some games it’s failing to contain opposing quarterbacks—like when Trubisky completed many of his passes on Thanksgiving out of the pocket. Early on, it was their inability to stop the run, something Pasqualoni points out as an area of improvement lately. Pasqualoni, too, points to the amount of injuries to the defense, especially on the defensive line.
“Well, we’ve had a lot of injuries,” the Lions defensive coordinator said. “We didn’t have Rashaan Melvin last week, so we’re playing, again, not with another corner. So we’ve had guys hurt up front, which kind of hurts the continuity of things. We had guys early in the year who weren’t able to practice as much in preseason camp.”
There’s certainly a level of truth to that. Trey Flowers, Damon Harrison Sr., Da’Shawn Hand and Mike Daniels all missed significant time in training camp and the preseason, and it showed early on in the year. But with no signs of growth or improvement as an overall unit as some of those guys finally get healthy again, it’s hard to keep using that as an excuse.
But Pasqualoni isn’t concerned about his job status going forward. He’s too busy to even consider it.
“I haven’t even thought about that, to tell you the truth. I really haven’t,” Pasqualoni said. “I haven’t put any thought into that. My focus is, ‘Let’s get the next game. Let’s do the best we can do in the next game, and in the end, let’s see what happens.’”
And in terms of considering retirement, now at the age of 70 years old, Pasqualoni doesn’t see that in the cards.
“I hope I’m coaching for a long time. I have no intention of not working.”