The dust has settled from the Detroit Lions’ ugly Week 4 loss to the Chicago Bears. Losing to the Bears is never fun, and it’s even worse when you’re their rebound game. Adding on top of the loss were the injuries to two of the Lions’ best players: Romeo Okwara and Frank Ragnow.
As a result, everyone is bumming. We knew the Lions were bad, but we were hoping they weren’t going to be this bad. Now 0-17 is imminent, the team is doomed, and we’re in for a miserable three months.
Of course, all of this is an emotional overreaction. A week ago, this team took the Baltimore Ravens to the wire and probably should have walked away with a win. Then, some were talking about the Lions maybe competing for a playoff spot or at least second place in the NFC North. While that was likely an overreaction at the time, the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction this week.
So I re-watched the game on Tuesday and made some observations that I did not notice in real time. Some of them good, some of them not-so-good.
Here are four things I learned on the Lions vs. Bears re-watch.
Evan Brown held his own
It’s not exactly represented in his PFF grade (53.3), but I thought Brown did a really good job filling in for Frank Ragnow after the Lions’ Pro Bowl center suffered an injury just 11 snaps into the game. His impact is certainly shown when looking at the PFF scores of the Bears: nose tackle Eddie Goldman posted a 30.1 PFF grade while Bilal Nichols didn’t fare much better with a 58.9 grade.
The Lions did not shy away from running behind Brown and it rarely cost them. Brown showed good awareness and strength, but what I like most about this clip above is his attitude. After riding his defender out of the play, he went searching for another body to block and nearly put Roquan Smith on his behind.
Promising Lions 2021 debut for Brown.
Don’t be surprised if Bobby Price is benched this week
I’m not going to sit here and bad-mouth a guy. Bobby Price has been put into an impossible situation. He entered training camp as a roster bubble player who, at this point in his development, was likely only a special teams player. Intrigued by his athletic profile, the Lions started teaching him some cornerback at the beginning of August. Two months later, he’s being asked to be a full-time starting cornerback, and it’s going about as well as you’d think.
Price’s mistakes aren’t physical—his athletic profile is fantastic for a cornerback. They certainly aren’t effort-based. He’s fighting as hard as he can on every rep.
Unfortunately, though, the mental errors are killing the team right now. He was the one responsible for last week’s fourth-and-19 conversion and it was much of the same this week. This sort of thing is simply not acceptable at the NFL level.
Head coach Dan Campbell said he kept seeing the same kind of mistakes out there and it’s hurting this team right now. He not-so-subtlety suggested that it was time to scale back some of the work on his young players’ plate because they simply aren’t good enough right now. It’s hard for me to watch this tape and not think he’s talking directly about Price.
He even seemed to soften the blow by making sure he said nice things about Price.
“We still like Bobby Price, man. The kid’s talented, he works his rear off. We just moved him from safety to corner right before we even started the season,” Campbell said.
But the Lions simply cannot keep getting gashed by a player who simply isn’t ready—and understandably so—to start right now.
Detroit’s third-down defense is... good?
Against the Bears, the Lions' defense stopped Chicago on seven of eight third-down attempts. Last week against the Ravens, they stopped Baltimore on nine of 10 third downs. In fact, for the entire season, Detroit’s third-down defense—allowing just a 27.8 percent conversion rate—is second-best in the NFL.
So why is the defense so bad? Well, because they’re so awful on first and second down:
This was the good news for the Chiefs. Here is the bad news:— Timo Riske (@PFF_Moo) October 5, 2021
Same chart for defenses https://t.co/ON4Lw3tVls pic.twitter.com/nZyVjPrUMR
As the top chart indicates, the Lions are allowing a new set of downs 63 percent of the time on first and second down, trailing only the Chiefs.
So what’s going so well on third down? Well, I credit Aaron Glenn with dialing up some unique pressures to get opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable.
Take, for example, this play: a third-and-7 with the Lions down 21-7. A touchdown here and the game is absolutely over, but Glenn knew he had to bring some heat to protect his struggling secondary:
Fun pressure look here from Aaron Glenn.— Jeremy Reisman (@DetroitOnLion) October 5, 2021
If this team can get into more favorable third downs, they've still got some versatility on that defensive front. pic.twitter.com/tbvGnhu1WX
You’ve got Austin Bryant wide to the left, Julian Okwara wide to the right, and Michael Brockers over the nose. Jalen Reeves-Maybin is hanging around the line of scrimmage showing blitz, and even at the snap, it appears he’s coming. Instead, though, he hits the running back, throwing him off his route. Meanwhile, Alex Anzalone sneakily curls around undetected and forces Fields into an incomplete pass.
If Detroit can somehow get better on first and second down, Glenn has shown no hesitancy to send blitzes, and with creative ways to get free runners like this, he actually gives the Lions a chance.
The Lions need Trey Flowers back—and losing Romeo Okwara hurts even more
David Montgomery’s chart vs Detroit. #Bears pic.twitter.com/BBR5g2hp4w— colton (@colton97_) October 3, 2021
Last week, the Lions didn’t seem to miss Flowers much against the Baltimore Ravens, but they sure as heck did—along with Romeo Okwara after an Achilles injury knocked him out in the first quarter.
Those two players are Detroit’s best pass rushers, but they’re both also excellent at defending the run. They are excellent at setting the edge and making sure no backs can kick it outside.
But as you can see from the chart above, David Montgomery did most of his damage outside of the hashes. Both Charles Harris (38.2 PFF run-defense grade) and Austin Bryant (58.7) struggled to hold the edge against the Bears. They also weren’t helped out by poor tackling from the defensive backs and linebackers. Detroit had 18 missed tackles per PFF, 12 came from off-ball linebackers and defensive backs.
Flowers’ return, which sounds like it could happen this week, could help get this run defense back on track.