The Detroit Lions defense accomplished something against the Green Bay Packers that they hadn’t accomplished since coach Dan Campbell took over last season. With everything on the line in a one-score game and a full two-plus minutes for their opponents to drive and come away with the victory, the defense got a game-winning stop. In the grand scheme of things, beating the Packers to move to 2-6 may not seem like much, but defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn believes the act of finishing a game on defense was a huge confidence booster that could carry over to the rest of the season.
“That was something that our guys needed because belief starts to stick,” Glenn said on Thursday. “And I’ve said this to you guys before, belief is a powerful drug, so that’s something that we’ve got to continue to do,”
While Sunday was Detroit’s breakout performance on defense, there have been minor signs of improvement for the past few games. While the Lions allowed an average of 35.25 points per game in the first four games of the season, that average is all the way down to 23.25 in the last four games. Detroit allowed an average of 165.5 rushing yards per game and 5.6 yards per carry in the first four games. Those figures have dropped to 132.0 yards and 4.5 yards per carry over the last four.
Sure, strength of opponent plays a little into that—the offenses of the Eagles, Vikings, and Seahawks are no joke, while the Patriots and Packers are still figuring it out. But you can also point to a couple of individual performances that have helped, too. Getting rookie Josh Paschal into the lineup has helped shore up some of the run defense issues. Rookie safety Kerby Joseph has just been getting better and better, culminating in his Defensive Player of the Week award. And getting Jerry Jacobs and Derrick Barnes into the lineup seems to have given the team increased intensity on and off the field.
“It’s always good to have a guy like that on your defense,” Glenn said of Jacobs, “because he builds up the morale of everybody else because it doesn’t matter what happens to him. Like I said before, man, he’s always going to challenge.”
But despite the good vibes, the Lions know the Chicago Bears will present a unique challenge. They’re a surging offense that has averaged, in the past three games, 245 rushing yards and over 31 points per game. Chief among the challenges they face is Justin Fields, who broke the single-game record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game last week (178).
“I think there’s no easy answer to playing this guy because you see it all over the tape week after week,” coach Dan Campbell said of Fields. “But it’s certainly something that we’re preaching and it’s the cast the net, close the net. And man, you talk about you have to be as unselfish as you’ve ever been as a rusher against this guy on third down because you give him even a crease, you get pinned in the A-gap, he rushes high upfield, your defensive end and the B-gap’s open and now look out. He’s got a lot of grass and he can run.”
That discipline is much easier said than done. For a team as young and hungry as the Lions, the temptation is there for them to overrun the pocket and leave your rush lane to get around the offensive lineman in front of you. It’s a problem the Lions have had all season and one that was highlighted last week when Detroit allowed Aaron Rodgers to scramble for two third-and-long conversions last week.
Glenn said that was a point of emphasis this week, along with simply shrinking the pocket from all sides.
“Once you get a chance to try beat someone on the edge, man, you’re going continue to go, but I’ve talked to our guys about this morning,” Glenn said. “We have to play the type of game we need to play to win, and that changes. So, in saying that, we have to make sure that we condense the pocket, make sure we push the pocket, and that we equate to getting sacks for the most part.”
Still, confidence can go a long way for this young defense, and with their first marquee performance now under them, even the way they practice has an extra level of swagger to it.
“You can just tell by the body language,” Glenn said. “You just watch on the field, and body language tells you a lot, players and coaches. And that permeates throughout the defense when you have the body language, and you have that swagger within yourself, you have that look in your eye when you go out there and play defense, so regardless of what happens, turnover, big play, it doesn’t matter.”