Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell likely surprised some people during his Tuesday afternoon press conference when he came out with a lot of praise for linebacker Alex Anzalone.
“Alex wasn’t perfect, but I thought he was all over the field and made a lot of plays,” Campbell said. “I thought he played with a lot of energy, I think he was spot-on with his calls, and, look, he’s high effort. He’s high effort, he’s smart, he’s kind of what we’re about here, and so I liked where he was at.”
Anzalone was the source of high criticism after Monday night’s loss to the Green Bay Packers. The Packers ran the ball efficiently up the middle of the defense, and Anzalone struggled in coverage. Per PFF, all five targets that went Anzalone’s way were complete for a total of 56 yards and a touchdown. And while he led the team with 10 tackles, PFF also credited him with a team-high two missed tackles. His overall grade through two games is 29.7—with only two linebackers in the NFL grading out worse.
His linebacker mate, Jamie Collins Sr., however, did not exactly get high praise from Campbell.
“Jamie, look, Jamie had some mistakes. It wasn’t certainly his best performance,” Campbell said.
Collins has notoriously struggled outside of a scheme that doesn’t resemble the New England Patriots’ style of defense. He, too, was exploited in coverage against the Packers, allowing three-of-three completions for 48 yards and a score.
And while he’s a phenomenal athlete, he was criticized during his time with the Browns as a low-effort kind of player. When asked if he believed Collins was struggling with some low-effort plays, he didn’t exactly brush off those concerns.
“Nah, well I mean, Jamie is a big linebacker, he’s a very athletic linebacker. The way he moves is a little bit different,” Campbell said. “Now does he move with the same effort or have the same effort as Alex? No, I don’t (think so). I think Alex just plays at a high level all the time. That’s him. That’s how it goes,” Campbell said.
Collins’ PFF grade for Monday night was 59.6.
The struggles of both players have led to calls from fans—and analysts—to let fourth-round rookie Derrick Barnes get a shot on defense. Barnes was a standout during the preseason and even made a couple of plays in the regular season opener when Collins was briefly sidelined with an injury. Campbell agreed that it was time to get him on the field.
“Yeah, I think Barnes deserves a shot,” Campbell said.
When asked to clarify what his role could be, Campbell said he didn’t want to jump ahead of himself, but those conversations have already started with defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn.
“A.G. and I, we’ve already—like last night we spoke about it a little bit. This morning we did (again), and we’ve just been game planning just trying to get everything down, because we’ve got the players in tomorrow, but tonight we’re going to sit down and really say, ‘Alright, this is how we want to handle it.’ So, I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself as to exactly what it’s going to look like yet.”
With Anzalone's status as a captain, sporting the green dot—meaning he calls the defensive plays—and Campbell’s high praise for him, it seems unlikely that Barnes cuts into his playing time. Anzalone hasn’t missed a single snap on defense through two games, either. On the other hand, Campbell’s open criticism of Collins seems to suggest that Barnes could take over for him. But the Lions head coach also made sure to note that Collins still has a skill set they value in certain situations.
“There’s things that Jamie does well that we still have to continue to use,” Campbell said. “He’s still a mismatch on third down, particularly in the rush game, and we’ll see where this goes.”
So do we see a lot more of Derrick Barnes on early downs, then substitute Collins in on obvious passing third downs? That certainly seems to be what Campbell is suggesting.
You can watch Campbell’s entire press conference here and make whatever inferences you’d like.