This week we have two questions in our SB Nation Reacts survey:
1. Are you confident the Lions are headed in the right direction? (asked weekly)
2. Who or what is most responsible for the Lions defensive turnaround?
After a win over the Green Bay Packers in Week 9, fans' confidence in the direction of the team shot up from 56% to 82%. Now, after a Week 10 win over the Chicago Bears, will fans’ confidence continue to rise, or have things settled?
On to question No. 2.
A common theme in each of the Lions’ two most recent wins has been their defense's ability to shut the door late in the fourth quarter. Against the Packers, the Lions not only intercepted Aaron Rodgers three times but when he had a chance to put the Packers ahead they got the stop. Last week, the Lions defense buckled down in the fourth quarter, intercepting a pass that they returned for a touchdown and sacking Justin Fields twice, including on fourth down of their final possession.
There are likely several reasons for this defensive production, but for the purposes of this survey, I’ll present my four top options and have voters pick the one they think has been the most impactful catalyst.
First up, coach Dan Campbell. For the second season in a row, Campbell has orchestrated a mid-season change—last year on offense, this year on defense—and the results have shown up a few weeks after implementation. Over the bye, Campbell sat down with his defensive staff and decided on a new path for the team to take. When the secondary struggled to adapt to the new changes quickly enough, he fired their position coach. Coaches are rewarded for making bold moves and this is the second season in a row one of Campbell’s seems to have paid off.
Next up, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn. When the Lions secured their victory over the Packers, the game ball went to Glenn. That’s a huge acknowledgment of his hard work to turn the defense around. He let his emotions flow in the locker room following the game and then got right back to work against the Bears. When the Lions defense once again secured the victory, you could see Glenn dancing for joy while exiting the field.
One of the notable things about the defense's success is that it’s not just one player stepping up but a bunch of them making plays. Over the past two games, Kerby Joseph had two interceptions on Rodgers, Jeff Okudah got a pick-six, Hutchinson an interception and a sack, Julian Okwara got two sacks (including a game clincher), Derrick Barnes had a sack and a dynamic goal line stand, etc. The list goes on.
So what might have prompted such a turnaround, if not coaching? The players are pointing to a players-only meeting where teammates had some “hard conversations,” took ownership of their responsibilities, and refocused their trust in one another. That trust has been noticeable on the field, as players are doing their jobs instead of trying to cover for a teammate. That trust was very evident at the end of the Bears game, especially on the final two drives, when they were able to bottle Fields up and make plays.
The final thing to consider is the firing of Aubrey Pleasant. Now, I’m not saying him being let go is the direct reason for the turnaround—Pleasant is a “damn good coach”—but more about the events that transpired following the decision. The firing lit a fire under some players, prompted the players-only meeting, and put Glenn in a position to have more player interaction. Players were forced to take a hard look in the mirror and they were sent a clear message: either you get on board or you won’t be here.
Okay, now it’s time to vote. Answer the questions in the polls below and keep an eye out later in the week (typically Saturday) for a breakdown of the results.