A lot of things went wrong for the Detroit Lions defense last Saturday against the Carolina Panthers. You don’t give up 320 rushing yards (a franchise high for the Panthers) on the day unless there were a lot of failures at multiple levels of the defense.
However, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn stopped short of blaming any schematic issues when it came to their game plan against a run-heavy team like the Panthers. When asked if he had any regrets, here’s how he responded:
“Not at all. Not at all,” Glenn said. “Obviously, as a coach the first thing you look at is yourself. But when you’re just playing down-safety defense when that had been the talk the whole week as far as stopping the run, we know exactly who they are.”
Glenn has seen some criticism this week due to Detroit’s insistence on staying in nickel package. Zebra Technologies—the official on-field player tracker for the NFL—dropped this stat on Wednesday (emphasis added):
“[Panthers RBs] D”Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard finished the week with a combined +139 RYOE [rushing yards over expectation] (Foreman with +76 and Hubbard with +63 RYOE, 1st and 2nd this week respectively). Neither of the 2 RBs faced a stacked box on a single carry.”
Justin Rogers of the Detroit News took things a little farther into a deeper stat dive:
It raises concern about the lack of defensive adjustments. Lions averaged two off-ball LBs on the field, exactly, for the 68 snaps. Admittedly, some of that was forced with Carolina averaging 2.44 WRs per snap, dictating plenty of nickel in response.— Justin Rogers (@Justin_Rogers) December 28, 2022
However, Glenn insisted that Saturday’s issues fell more with execution and discipline.
“Execution, technique, assignment,” Glenn said. “There’s a number of things involved with that situation, and we talked about them, had a really good practice yesterday, gonna have a good practice today and move forward.”
To be fair, the Lions have utilized this strategy of nickel defense, involving their defensive backs more heavily in the run game—and rarely relying on a third linebacker—quite often as of late, and it’s been a big reason for their defensive turnaround coming out of the bye week. After giving up 1,084 rushing yards at 5.1 yards per carry in the first seven games of their 1-6 start, the Lions had rebounded to allow just 784 yards at 4.5 YPC over their 6-1 stretch (prior to Saturday’s performance).
Glenn says the focus this week has been maintaining high confidence among the players, pointing out that Saturday’s performance was not the new standard for this unit.
“You remind them of who we are and what we’ve been doing,” Glenn said. “You know what? It happened. This is the NFL and things like this happen. Do you want it to happen? No, but we have a bunch of young guys that they have to understand, they have to keep their confidence exactly where it was as far as playing really good defense.”
Complicating issues for the Lions this week is the fact that they’ll be going up against the No. 1 rushing attack in the Chicago Bears, and a team that rushed for 258 rushing yards the last time the two met. Quarterback Justin Fields had well over half of that production with 147 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just 13 carries.
“The number one thing that we’ve learned is how strong this player is, and we had him wrapped up a couple times in that game,” Glenn said of Fields. “We missed the tackle on him, and listen, he’s an athletic player. He’s going to make some plays. I mean, that’s just the crux. He’s going to do that. The things that we have to do is be able to eliminate the big plays that he’s able to make.”
On top of that, the Lions are hurting at safety with both starters—DeShon Elliott and Kerby Joseph—missing Wednesday’s practice. That could force Ifeatu Melifonwu—who made his first start at safety last week—and special teamer C.J. Moore into the lineup this week.
Glenn admitted that the injuries obviously are impactful, but he’s not going to use them as an excuse and it’s his job to get his guys ready.
“Everybody practices, everybody’s in the meeting and everybody’s expected to step up when your time is called,” Glenn said. “So, is it a strain? Absolutely it is because those guys don’t really get all the reps that should get, and that’s just how the NFL is, so in the meeting, we’ve got to be ready. C.J.’s got to be ready. Iffy’s got to be ready. If we call on those guys to have to get ready to play for us, they’ve got to get ready to play, but absolutely it’s a strain.”
The Lions have battled through plenty of injuries on the defensive side of the ball this year, and so Glenn is expecting a much better performance than what he saw last week against the Panthers.
“This was very uncharacteristic of our players to have a game like this. I don’t expect a game like that to happen again.”