Last week, the Detroit Lions held the worst defense in the league. They had given up the most points per game, they ranked in the bottom five of just about every statistical category, and after allowing Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins to throw all over them en route to a 31-27 loss, the Lions made the tough decision to fire defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant.
For some players on the Lions defense, it was a wake-up call.
“I feel like it definitely sets a tone,” Lions linebacker Alex Anzalone said last week. “What’s been going on is not acceptable. So, yeah, I definitely think it sets a tone. For me personally, it’s like, AP wasn’t my coach, but it’s like, ‘What did I do to get him fired?’ If everyone takes that perspective on it, that’s really when you’ll get growth out of a tough situation like this.”
By Thursday, the Lions players knew they needed to do something to make sure this firing was not for nothing. A veteran on this defense—Lions players wouldn’t reveal who—called for a players-only meeting to get everyone on the same page.
“We met without coaches and we discussed what we need to do to be better as a defense and be tighter, and that really helped out,” Lions cornerback Jerry Jacobs said on Sunday. “We did that Thursday and it translated to the field.”
Indeed it did. The Lions defense produced its best showing of the season, holding Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers to just nine points while forcing a season-high three turnovers and an additional two turnovers on downs. It was the first time all season the Lions held an opponent below 24 points in a game.
So what was said during the meeting?
“We tried to get tight,” Jacobs explained. “We thought we were losing each other and we just wanted to all be back on the same page. We just discussed how we can make our defense better. Nothing bad about nothing, just trying to bring our defense tighter so we can be as one on the field.”
But the players didn’t hold back on each other. In order to get on the same page, you have to recognize and identify when players are not sticking to their assignments. That may not always be easy to hear for players that are struggling, but according to Lions veteran safety DeShon Elliott, those honest conversations are necessary to bond.
“If you really want to win, these guys need to be your brothers,” Elliott said. “You need to know more about them than just ball. You gotta know them outside of the building. And you have to have uncomfortable conversations.
“And I think that meeting we had, it was an uncomfortable conversation, but everyone was able to be honest with each other. I really think that helped us move in the right direction because now we’re like, ‘Alright, I know exactly what’s on your mind and I know who I’m playing for’. So, I think us building that comradery, continuing throughout the season, we’ll get better and better each week.”
Ever since coach Dan Campbell stepped in the building, he has said that his ultimate goal for the team is to build a culture where they can eventually police themselves. It appears the Lions took a massive step in that direction last week, and it resulted in the team’s second win of the season. The question now is whether Detroit will be able to keep that going for the rest of the season.