On Friday morning, Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell started his press conference by immediately saying starting safety DeShon Elliott is “unlikely” to play this week against the Chicago Bears. This will be the second game he has missed due to a shoulder injury suffered against the New York Jets.
And while it was C.J. Moore who replaced Elliott in the second half of that Jets game, it was second-year defensive back Ifeatu Melifonwu who started in his place last week against the Carolina Panthers. It was a rough outing for Melifonwu, who was making his first career start at the position after transferring from cornerback to safety last year. Melifonwu—along with most everyone on the Lions' defense—failed to contain the Panthers’ run game, which racked up 320 rushing yards.
Despite those struggles, Campbell more-or-less said that the plan this week will be to keep Melifonwu in the starting lineup.
“I think the plan would be to stay with Iffy more this week,” Campbell said.
Part of the reason is that Campbell doesn’t want to disrupt special teams, where the Lions have had solid play all year, and Moore has been a big part of that.
“He’s a four-core player and the more strain you put on him defensively it takes away from the core and that’s really where he really excels,” Campbell explained.
But Campbell also has a lot of confidence in Melifonwu, and expects him to play faster and more aggressively this week.
“Aggressiveness, finish on the tackles, use your hands,” Campbell said of what he’s hoping to see from Melifonwu. “He’s a big, long athlete and he’s got the tools. And it’s just—alright man, you’ve got your first start under your belt now we need to see the aggressive side of you come out. You’ve got to play more violent in there and you do have to finish on these plays. That’s what we’re looking for from him.”
Detroit faces a big challenge this week when it comes to defending the run. The Chicago Bears boast the league’s best rushing attack (by yardage), and Justin Fields may be the toughest quarterback to bring down right now.
“He is the X-factor for that team, and it shows all over the tape,” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said this week. “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. We missed a tackle on him.”
So while the Lions are hoping Fields and company don’t make it to the safety level of the defense very often on Sunday’s must-win game for Detroit, Campbell is expecting a more prepared and upgraded version of Melifonwu.
“I think we’re going to see a player that sees it faster and triggers faster, and he knows what we’re looking for just from what we talked about, the intensity, the aggressiveness. So, yeah I anticipate we’ll see a better version of Iffy.”