After the Detroit Lions’ last-second loss to the Chicago Bears, much was made of the coaches’ decision to call back-to-back timeouts late in the game. The infraction came when both head coach Dan Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn pleaded to officials to grant them a second timeout because there was a miscommunication in the Lions' defense and Detroit was fearful that Chicago would convert, effectively ending the game. The third-and-9 turned into a third-and-4 after the Lions were penalized for back-to-back timeouts—which isn’t allowed in the NFL—and the Bears converted anyways.
But many took umbrage with that third-and-4 play. If the Lions get a stop there, they’ve still got a chance to win that game, and Chicago converted with relative ease by throwing a 7-yard pass to Damiere Byrd, who basically had an 8-yard cushion on the play.
Can someone help me on this ... why were the Lions playing 10 yards off the receivers on third-and-4? They just handed that first down to the Bears.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) November 25, 2021
And probably ended any chance of getting their first win. pic.twitter.com/9UKBe7wult
On Tuesday, Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn talked to the media for the first time since that play call and he explained exactly what happened.
“We called a pressure on the next play,” Glenn said. “Now, I wish I would have told Will Harris to challenge in that situation. I should have told him that. But we called pressure and he was just playing off.”
Indeed, the Lions did bring pressure from the offense’s right, forcing a somewhat quick throw by Bears quarterback Andy Dalton. However, the off-coverage made it an easy play for both the quarterback and receiver.
Harris, who normally plays safety for the Lions, has been playing nickel corner ever since the Lions put undrafted rookie AJ Parker on injured reserve a couple weeks ago. Glenn reiterated that it’s his job to remind Harris to press, given that the 25-year-old defender was just in his second start at the nickel position.
“That’s what, his second time playing nickel a whole game? Sometimes we put so much blame on players, but man, listen, that guy is just now learning,” Glenn said. “I told him, ‘That wasn’t your fault, man, that was my fault. Because I put you in that situation as a new player playing that position.’ So I’ve got to make sure I help that player, as far as how to operate in those situations.”
Of course, it’s fair to wonder how much situational awareness Harris needs to have on his own there. It’s third-and-4 and a first down ends the game. He shouldn’t have to have a coach remind him of a situation like that, no matter how new he is to whatever his position is. Still, Glenn protected his guy.
“To me, every player’s failure is my failure. I’m just built like that. Every player’s failure, I have to teach that in that situation. I will say this, Will won’t make that mistake again, because I’m going to make sure that I teach, as far as that situation is concerned. Other than that, I thought he did a pretty good job at playing a position we have to make him play that he’s used to playing the safety position.”
That being said, Glenn insisted that the back-to-back timeouts was the right decision. He said the coaching staff knew it would result in a penalty (although it certainly didn’t look like it from the broadcast), and if they hadn’t called it, the Bears would have easily converted. And while head coach Dan Campbell said after the game he was afraid of Chicago scoring a touchdown, Glenn noted that the Bears are coached, too, and they likely would’ve fallen down before scoring and run out the clock.
“In that situation, they would have caught the ball and had ample time to get first down and fall down,” Glenn said. “Then they would try to run the clock out, at that point. Our situation was, man, listen, we don’t want to give them an inch to be able to have that type of situation on us. That’s why we called a timeout, to get to the next play.”
Glenn is always quick to point out how easy it is to point at decisions in hindsight. If the Lions get the stop on third-and-4, he argued, they come out looking smart taking the intentional penalty instead of giving up a third-and-9 conversion on a communication breakdown.
“Listen, the decision didn’t pan out, but if we would have stopped them on the third-and-4, what you guys would be saying, ‘Oh hell, that was the greatest decision ever.’”