The Detroit Lions struggled defensively against the Los Angeles Chargers, allowing 421 yards of offense and 38 points—including five straight touchdown drives to end the game. The performance has raised questions about whether the Lions defense is capable of hanging with some of the best offenses and quarterbacks in the NFL.
On Thursday, Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn shrugged off the performance, first giving credit where credit is due: the Chargers offense is no slouch, starting with star quarterback Justin Herbert.
“He got into a rhythm and he got hot,” Glenn said. “And they have some pieces there as far as sill positions. To try to take Keenan Allen out and try to take (Austin) Ekeler out, that’s a tough duty. There’s a reason why they’re one of the top offenses in this league. Man, you’ve got to try to hold on as best you can.”
Glenn also expressed confidence that while Sunday was a step back, the defense as a whole has been much better than last season, when they were a bottom-tier defense in almost every statistical category.
“We know who we are. Last year, we were the last ranked defense and I think we’re a top-10 defense this year,” Glenn said. “That’s a really, really huge improvement. As far as knowing who we are, we know that. We now have the capability to go out there and play really, really good ball. There’s no secret to why we rank up there pretty high. That’s on third down and that’s in other categories, too.”
He’s right. The Lions currently rank in the top 10 in DVOA (ninth), third-down defense (seventh), and yards per carry allowed (sixth). But there are also some concerning stats, too. Detroit ranks 21st in points allowed, 30th in red zone defense, and t-21st in sacks.
Most troubling, though, has been the pass defense against elite quarterbacks. As pointed out by The Athletic’s Colton Pouncy, Geno Smith, Lamar Jackson, and Justin Herbert all set season-highs against Detroit in terms of EPA per dropback (Smith was second-highest).
Glenn’s answer for that? Welcome to today’s NFL.
“This is the NFL, that’s what that is and it happens,” Glenn said. “I mean, no one thought Cleveland to put 30-something points on Baltimore, but it did. And again, this is not peewee football, fellas. This is the NFL, so things happen and, man you fight your ass off every week to make sure it doesn’t and our guys do a damn good job of that.”
It’s true that the Lions have bounced back from each of these tough performances this season. After allowing the Seahawks to score 37, the Falcons scored just six against Detroit the next week. When the Ravens tallied 38 points against the Lions, Detroit countered by holding the Raiders to 14.
“I think so many people get caught up in, ‘This is what happened against this game, against a really good quarterback.’ And, I mean, all hell breaks loose Well, no it didn’t,” Glenn said. “Guys, we’re still a pretty damn good defense.”
Glenn said he draws inspiration from his playing days back in 2000. His New York Jets managed to put up 524 yards of offense on the iconic Ravens defense. Of course, that Ravens defense continued to ball out for the rest of the season and won the Super Bowl.
“You think those guys batted an eye?” Glenn said. “No, they didn’t. They kept on playing and that’s our mentality.”
(Note: It’s worth noting that in the Jets/Ravens game, despite allowing 524 yards, Baltimore did force six turnovers and won the game 34-20.)
Regardless, the Lions, once again, have a good opportunity to bounce back this week. The Bears rank 19th in points scored and 25th in offensive DVOA. But Glenn warned not to overlook this Chicago offense now that they’re getting healthy.
“They’re really playing well on tape, I’m just telling you,” Glenn said. “I wouldn’t say their record really is a true measure of who this team is. I think they have some good pieces and we’re going to have our work cut out for us.”