The Detroit Lions have a huge defensive problem right now. The Lions have allowed 141 points through four games—35.25 points per game—which is by far the most in the NFL as of this publication. In fact, 141 points allowed through the first four games of the season is the 17th-most in NFL history—going back to at least 1940.
On Sunday, Detroit’s 45 points on offense—their highest offensive output since Thanksgiving in 2015—wasn’t enough to take down the Seattle Seahawks, who didn’t punt or turn the ball over (on offense) on the way to putting up 555 yards and 48 points.
After the game, coach Dan Campbell said he was going to do an exhaustive search for an answer to his defense’s woes thus far.
“We’ll look at everything we need to,” Campbell said. “To the scheme, to our personnel, and we’ll find the best fit and whatever we feel like’s going to give us the best chance and the best chance in three or four weeks too.”
When asked a follow up if “everything” included potential shakeups within the coaching staff, Campbell did not take that off the table.
“I’m going to look at everything,” Campbell said.
However, don’t think that means defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn is in danger of losing his job right now. Campbell went out of his way to defend the second-year coordinator.
“I’ve got a lot of faith in Aaron Glenn,” Campbell said. “I’ve got a ton of faith in those assistants, and I think it’s just—I think we sit down, and I think we look at everything together, because, really, I think more than anything maybe it’s time for a deep dive, a real deep dive into it. Players, everything that we’re doing, but I also trust what (Glenn) is doing. And there’s a reason why I hired him, and so I want to let him do his job. But certainly, I’m going – I mean, I’ve got to look a lot deeper than I have.”
Last year when the offense got off to a slow start, Campbell stepped in and took over play-calling duties, giving then offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn a demotion that would lead to him parting ways from the team at the end of the season. Campbell said he isn’t planning on increasing his role on the defense right now, but does want to collaborate with his defensive coordinator to figure things out on that side of the ball.
Glenn received a lot of praise over his first year in Detroit. Players respect him, he’s a charismatic and wise person when you talk to him, and he undoubtedly helped some of the team’s young players develop in 2021. He also has a long relationship with Campbell, as they coached alongside each other for five years in New Orleans.
But here in Year 2 as a first-time defensive coordinator, it’s fair to start to wonder if the extra responsibilities Glenn didn’t have at his previous job as a position coach—coming up with overall gameplans, calling plays—may not be in his wheelhouse.
Several times against the Seahawks, Glenn put his defense in a tough position on a critical down. For example, on a third-and-16—after the refs forced a redo due to a clock issue—Glenn dialed up an aggressive blitz around the edges. The Seahawks anticipated the pressure was coming—as it almost always does from Detroit on third down—and dialed up a draw play up the middle that went for a 36-yard touchdown.
“It’s a zero (blitz) beater obviously,” Lions linebacker Alex Anzalone said after the game. “So, it’s kind of what they got us in and kind of shit out of luck when they run it. It’s just good situational football by them.”
It’s good situational football for them, but it’s also bad situational football for the Lions. That’s been a running theme for Detroit this year, as they went into this game ranked dead last in red zone defense and 24th in third-down defense. Those were two more areas of struggles on Sunday, as Detroit allowed the Seahawks to convert 9-of-12 third downs (75%) and score touchdowns on three of four trips into the red zone.
Campbell, per usual, says he wants to go back and look at the film before judging exactly what is going wrong, but he does think the Lions are not mentally where they need to be right now.’
“We lack a lot of confidence,” Campbell said. “So certainly to do that you have to—you have to have production in games and have success and stop your opponents, get some stops, things of that nature. So, we’re lacking some confidence in areas, and then there again we’re still making errors that falls into our boat as coaches. That’s on us.”
Next week presents yet another opportunity for a bounce back game. The Lions head to Foxborough for a battle with a New England Patriots offense that has notoriously struggled to find its identity through the first month of the season. Add in the fact that both Mac Jones and backup quarterback Brian Hoyer are dealing with injuries, and Detroit may be facing off against fourth-round rookie Bailey Zappe next week in his first career start.