A running joke among Lions fans is that the Lions refuse to blitz and rush with just three players too often. Of course it it not true that the Lions never blitz and it is dishonest to act like the Lions only ever rush the passer with fewer than even the standard four-man package, but like all exaggerations there is at least a bit of truth where this is all flowing from. Last season, the Lions clearly rushed the passer with fewer players on average than most teams and they had horrific pass rush failure rates.
In the offseason, the team brought in a new defensive coordinator and supposedly handed the play-calling duties over to him. While the outcome on the scoreboard was a disaster in Week 1, for those who wanted to see the defense take risks to apply pressure, there are hints that at least the play-calling philosophy in passing situations may have changed in 2020.
The #Lions are known for rarely blitzing since Coach Patricia arrived in 2018, but Week 1 was a little different— PFF DET Lions (@PFF_Lions) September 17, 2020
Blitz Rate in Week 1, 2020:
Blitz Rate from 2018-19:
Could Patricia be changing his philosophy or is this just an anomaly?#OnePride pic.twitter.com/fChIy4MDCd
Now, just because you actually send more bodies at the quarterback, that does not necessarily mean they will get home and put the target on the ground. According to data posted by ESPN’s Seth Walder, pass rush win rate data placed the Lions near the bottom of the heap in terms of effectiveness. As a reminder, the pass rush win rate is a location-based measure that checks to see if a pass-rusher’s physical location on the field is past the blocker who appears to be assigned to them after 2.5 seconds. So, on actual dropbacks, Lions pass rushers made it past their blockers in less than 2.5 seconds only about a third of the time (that’s bad).
And here's team pass rush win rate for Week 1.— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) September 17, 2020
ESPN's win rate metrics are powered by data from NFL Next Gen Stats. pic.twitter.com/RBQZxS7B47
What we do not know from this level of aggregated data is whether or not frequent blitzing made a difference. After all, it is possible that the Lions could have won pass rush confrontations even less than the relatively sad rate they actually ended up with. Mitchell Trubisky is not exactly what you call a savvy veteran when it comes to dealing with the blitz:
Here the #Lions throw a kitchen-sink blitz at Trubisky ( the entire front 7 blitzes) and Trubisky apparently doesn't see it, throwing to ARob deep when literally everyone else on the field is open.— Robert Schmitz (@robertkschmitz) September 16, 2020
This is what I'm talking about -- when a QB sees a blitz, he's gotta throw hot. pic.twitter.com/rQOoRnFfKc
Okay, so the Lions were blitzing more often than they had in the past and had reason to believe they were facing a quarterback who would struggle to throw to his left (but possibly also his right) in the face of a pass rush. In light of the fourth-quarter collapse that surrendered three touchdowns and a slew of big plays, was it because the defense stopped sending extra rushers? Nope:
41.7% blitz rate in the 4th Q (5/12 dropbacks)— PFF DET Lions (@PFF_Lions) September 17, 2020
As our own Mansur Shaheen pointed out immediately after the game, by the time the last period rolled around, the team was putting special teams players on the field to play cornerback. Lacking big free agent signing Desmond Trufant, their best returning cornerback from last season Justin Coleman and their top draft pick in 2020 Jeff Okudah all due to injuries, the coverage was simply overmatched.
football is such a small-sample, high-leverage game, and I think that because of that we're going to be dealing with the "if it didn't work, it wasn't the right call" for a long time— Eric Eager (@PFF_Eric) September 16, 2020
We only have one game’s worth of data, so it is still too early to know whether the Lions are actually going to keep blitzing more often than they did in the last two seasons or if more blitzing is even going to make a difference. It did not do enough to help them win the game last week, but this is something worth keeping an eye on for the next few games. Now let’s move on to the rest of today’s Notes:
- Speaking of banged-up cornerbacks, we’re still not sure what to make of cornerback Darryl Roberts. Our Justin Simon is not yet convinced the PFF grades were warranted, while Jeremy Reisman thought if the team was forced to start him he would best be used inside. The Athletic’s Chris Burke and Lions Wire’s Erik Schlitt agreed on putting Roberts over the slot against the Packers and keeping Amani Oruwariye outside:
Yeah, I'd agree here. Oruwariye also was more solid watching it back than I thought he was live.— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurkeNFL) September 17, 2020
He actually held up better against Allen Robinson than he did against Darnell Mooney. And he just said on a press conference Zoom that he's working to improve against shiftier WRs. https://t.co/RL6zlDKI4H
- Staying with the defensive backs, fearless leader Jeremy Reisman was not happy with what he saw from one particular safety on the delayed All-22.
- MLive’s Kyle Meinke thinks Quintez Cephus might get another start if Kenny Golladay is inactive again against the Packers. Hopefully it goes better than last week (CAYOE = Completed Air Yards Over Expectation, where big positive numbers are better):
- Kerryon Johnson was one of the players featured in Electronic Arts’ Madden 21 ratings update article for falling four overall rating points. Other big movers on the Lions in Week 1 were Adrian Peterson (plus two, rising to 80 overall) and Quintez Cephus (plus one, rising to 68 overall).
- Mike O’Hara is not pleased with the disrespect towards former Lion Dre Bly:
Don't get why cornerback Dre Bly, who made two Pro Bowls as a Lion, was not one of 130 players nominated for the 2021 Pro Football Hall of Fame. Bly had 43 career interceptions, 20 fumble recoveries, and played on a Super Bowl winner with the Rams. Not at least nominated?— Mike O'Hara (@MikeOHaraNFL) September 18, 2020
- Many Lions greats wore jersey number 20, and not all were running backs (hat tip to @BenjaminSRaven for drawing our attention to this tweet):
On this day in 1967:— Ken Coleman (@HistoryLivesDet) September 17, 2020
Rookie Detroit @Lions cornerback Lem Barney pick-sixes Green Bay @Packers quarterback Bart Starr and scores his first NFL touchdown. Lions tie Super Bowl champ Packers at 17 in Lambeau Field. Barney is a @JacksonStateU graduate. pic.twitter.com/YH6uQfPu7a
Naturally, some were running backs.