While the Detroit Lions were more than happy to walk out of Los Angeles with a big 41-38 win over the Chargers, there is some serious clean-up to do on the defensive side of the ball. The Lions allowed five straight touchdown drives by the Chargers to finish the game on defense, with all five of those drives spanning at least 65 yards.
On Monday, coach Dan Campbell discussed some of the defensive shortcomings and how they plan on turning things around going forward.
Once again, Campbell said Detroit was dealing with some issues when adjusting the play at the line. The Chargers successfully used motion and no-huddle to both identify what the Lions were doing pre-snap and put extra stress on defenders when altering their assignments.
“There was a lack of communication in some areas,” Campbell said. “We weren’t really clean. We really have got to get to where even if it’s the wrong call, it’s right if we’re all on the same page. There were a couple of these things with the motions. How are we treating this motion entirely because the nature of it. There’s just a few things where, man, we need to make a call and live by the call, and not try to live in two worlds.”
That miscommunication really showed up in the passing game. Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert threw for 323 yards and four touchdowns against Detroit, averaging 8.1 yards per pass attempt on the day. After a slow start in which the Chargers tallied just three points in four drives, Los Angeles moved to a high-tempo offense; that’s when Detroit’s downslide happened.
“The no-huddle wasn’t necessarily stressful, however it was enough to where we felt like it unraveled us a little bit on defense and some of our looks. So we’ve got to disguise a little better.”
Campbell noted that players like Alex Anzalone provide some good communication and stability on defense, but he needs more out of the defensive backfield.
“We also need consistency on the back end making a call and living by it. I think that’s where we can really get better.”
Pass rush issues
The Lions were held without a sack again on Sunday, highlights the inconsistency of their defensive line when it comes to pressuring the quarterback. Of the team’s 21 sacks on the season, 18 have come in three of their games. That means the Lions generated just three sacks across the other six games.
Campbell expressed confidence in the game plan, but thinks the execution is just off right now.
“We’ve got to really hone in on our technique with where we’re at,” Campbell said. “We’ve got a lot of things that are schemed up that we can be better at. The execution of it—we had a number of different pressures in games that we had lined up in second down, third down that we just weren’t getting there fast enough.”
Additionally, the Lions just simply aren’t winning their reps often enough. Aidan Hutchinson was the only defensive lineman to register a QB hit on Sunday, and as he continues to get additional attention from opposing offensive lines, it’s on anyone else along that front to take advantage of being in a one-on-one situation.
“We’ve got to win our one-on-ones when they show up up front, even on the backend, too,” Campbell said. “When those times present themselves, we have to win our one-on-ones and certianly more than we did yesterday.”
Lack of continuity between coverage and rush
The Lions spoken multiple times about the marriage needed between pass rush and coverage. If coverage holds their end of the bargain, the pass rush needs to get there. If the pass rush is getting there, coverage needs to be tight. Several times on Sunday, the Lions had one of those units working, but rarely did it ever sync up.
And that sometimes spoiled their plan, for example, to double cover Keenan Allen, the Chargers’ primary receiving threat who burned Detroit for 175 yards and two touchdowns.
“We’ve got him doubled, but he’s able to run through the double because we’re not getting there fast enough,” Campbell explained. “Then on the flip side, we’re getting there, but we’re not tight enough in coverage. We’ve just got to get them to mirror up and we’ve got to keep working our technique.”
Giving it up to Herbert, Allen
While it’s hard for some coaches to admit it, sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the opponent. Herbert is a former Offensive Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowler, and Campbell thought he was fantastic on Sunday.
“Ultimately, Herbert, that was one of the best games he’s played all season,” Campbell said.
That, too, went for five-time Pro Bowler Keenan Allen.
“We struggled to stop him,” Campbell said. “We knew that going into the game (that) he’s a heck of a player, but they did a good job of finding some matchups. they were able to see the looks, get to the best play available. You live, you learn, you move on.
Campbell didn’t offer much in terms of solutions, other than expressing confidence that the defense has performed well this season in the past, and they can get back to that. After all, this is a still a top-10 defense in DVOA, they’re still excellent against the run, and—most significant of all—they don’t have to play Herbert again.
“Defensively we took a step back, but I know that we’re about to take three steps up again,” Campbell said. “I believe that, and (defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn) AG is going to get this thing right. And those guy defensively, I could see it on their faces. You don’t want anybody disappointed. A win is a win, but those guys on defense—everyone of them last night—they were frustrated, pissed off. That’s kinda what you want.”