Early in the week the message from the Detroit Lions was that they planned to simplify things on defense. Thursday, Matt Patricia seemed to almost bring the defense back to square one when he said, “For the most part, I would say trying to do a little bit less overall would be good and try to get our guys to be able to play faster out on the field. That’s certainly something I think we can do, and then build as we go forward.”
If simplifying things and doing less means doing all the things the Lions should have been doing on defense from the beginning, then I urge the Lions to do even less than what they did in Jacksonville on Sunday.
In all seriousness, the Lions defense looked good in Week 6 against a Jaguars offense that had played pretty well through five games. They came into Sunday’s game ranked 18th in the league in yards, but 10th in offensive efficiency per Football Outsiders. Sure, that doesn't make them the greatest show on turf, but middling at worst.
Right out of the gate, the Lions rushed the passer and didn’t stop. They controlled Gardner Minshew by putting constant pressure on him, especially on third down and in the red zone. The Lions forced a field goal early on in the game, but it was the a big stop after Matthew Stafford’s interception to start the third quarter that deserves a lot of attention. That was the moment the Lions we’re used to seeing would have allowed a touchdown and the entire game would’ve turned. Instead, they held strong, and got a huge fourth-down stop.
The Lions also forced a fumble and an interception with that pass rush. You have to hope Matt Patricia was really paying attention to what was happening out there.
Now let’s put on out tinfoil hats here for a second and jump in the weeds. It seems obvious that the original scheme design for this defense was just not working. I’m sure in theory it was good, but by doing less—and not trying to pigeonhole their players into difficult roles—they put their players in better positions to do the things they actually can do.
Whatever the actual plan was for Sunday’s game, it worked. The Lions defense looked just about complete. It was incredibly far from the team we saw against the Saints before the bye.
Not everything was perfect, though. The Lions still relied a lot on man coverage. It worked fine against the Jaguars because they don’t match up well against it. They also did other things, like bring out the prevent defense a little too early, to be comfortable.
Stuff like that didn’t hurt the Lions on Sunday. There’s a chance the Lions just go back to the status quo against the Falcons next week. That’s not going to work in Atlanta. The Falcons are equipped with Julio Jones, Todd Gurley and Calvin Ridley. The whole not-rushing-the-passer thing isn’t going to play well against Matt Ryan, even if the Falcons are one of the worst teams in the league. Frankly, it’s not going to work against any of the teams in this upcoming stretch of favorable matchups.
I’m not going to be overly positive here; it’s not my style. Okay, that’s a lie. I’m just saying that if the Lions commit to the changes they appeared to have made coming out of the bye, there’s no reason to believe they won’t be able to stop the upcoming offenses they have on this stretch of games and beyond. They have the talent, and maybe they’re actually going to use it correctly from here on out. The Lions might be poised to make a run.
Of course, the flip side of that is they go back to business as usual and maybe in two weeks the Lions will decide to end the Patricia/Quinn experiment and begin their search for the next regime. It’s your move, Matt. You can be a defensive genius by simply letting off the reigns, following your own words and doing less.