On Sunday against the New England Patriots, the Detroit Lions generated a total of two pressures, according to PFF, the lowest figure of any team last week. The average amount of pressures by a team in Week 5 was 16.6.
Detroit ranks 27th in PFF’s pass rush grade and 31st in ESPN’s pass rush win rate. On their current three-game skid, the Lions have managed a total of one sack.
The Lions have a pass rush problem and coach Dan Campbell knows it.
“That’s one of the areas we’re looking at is, how do we help our guys generate more pressure?” Campbell said on Monday.
It hasn’t been because of a lack of trying. The Lions currently have the third-highest blitz rate in the NFL, and while that has worked at times, it has also left Detroit’s beat-up secondary in some vulnerable positions. And as we saw in the Seahawks game, teams are starting to get wise to the Lions’ overly aggressive defense and are working in some checks built to beat the blitz.
So Campbell is spending the bye week formulating ideas to fix one of Detroit’s biggest problems right now. It starts with figuring out what they’ve done best thus far.
“There’s a number of ways you do it you either pressure, pressure, right,” Campbell said. “So, you’re bringing five or six-man pressure. You either just stunt or you let them just fan it out and let them go. Go win a one-on-one or you guys that have it, straight rush. And so, we kind of tinkered with everything, but we’ve got to hammer down on some things that we think we can help them with.”
The Lions have already done this a little bit going back to last week. Aidan Hutchinson is one of their key pieces of the defense, and while he’s been productive at times, there’s clearly a level of expectation he hasn’t hit yet. So after spending a huge majority of his time lined up as the “big end” (on the side of the formation with the tight end) eating chip blocks and double teams, the Lions slid him over to the other side of the line against the Patriots to see what he could do there for a percentage of his snaps. Though he generated just a single pressure, the improvement in the run game was noticeable, and earned him a solid 80.1 PFF grade for the week.
But Campbell is already tinkering with the idea of changing the way they practice. Teams are allotted just 14 padded practices for the entire regular season, and the Lions have taken the last three weeks off—likely to slow their ever-growing injury list—Campbell thinks it’s time to throw the pads back on.
“I think we’re going to need to pad up for that stuff, we haven’t padded up in three weeks, so we’re going to need to do some of that,” Campbell said.
He also noted that he wants to add “a lot” more one-on-one reps in practice to help his pass rushers develop their moves. The more these players can win on their own, the more resources they can spend on their young and beat-up secondary.
That said, Campbell is also hopeful that getting some of his key players along the defensive front back from injury will help. John Cominsky produced a team-leading 10 pressures through the first two games before suffering a wrist injury that has caused him to miss the last three contests. Charles Harris, who led the team in sacks last year, missed Sunday’s game with an injury. And second-round rookie Josh Paschal—who hasn’t made his NFL debut yet, but just returned to practice last week—showed he can be a very productive pass rusher from the interior last year at Kentucky
“We’re hopeful for Paschal, we don’t know. He just started practice last week,” Campbell said. “We get him, let’s see where he goes, see if he can help us there inside. Cominsky’s coming back at some point here, hopefully by Dallas, but we’ll see. And then, hopefully, Charles (Harris) will be back. And so, that alone will give us a little bit of juice in there. So, that’ll help with what we’re doing.”
Next game against the Dallas Cowboys will certainly present an opportunity to get it right. Dallas currently ranks 32nd in team pass block win rate and has ceded the fourth-highest pressure percentage in the league, despite only allowing nine sacks.