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Mailbag: Are the Detroit Lions shifting to more zone coverage on defense?

The Detroit Lions employed an extreme amount of zone coverage against the Kansas City Chiefs—which went against their 2022 trends. Is this the new norm for Aaron Glenn’s defense?

NFL: Detroit Lions at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, the Detroit Lions loved themselves some man-to-man coverage on defense. According to, the Lions played man coverage at the second-highest rate in the league last year, putting a lot of pressure on their young cornerbacks.

This year, the Lions secondary went through a ton of changes. They added veterans Cameron Sutton, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, and Emmanuel Moseley in free agency, while spending a second-round pick on nickel corner Brian Branch. But on Thursday, the Lions revealed that they didn’t just go through a personnel change in the defensive backfield, there may be some serious schematic changes from last year, too.

Against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Lions rolled out a ton of zone coverage, seemingly preferring that to man, especially on early downs. The results were mixed, but holding the Chiefs to 20 points certainly has to be considered a success.

But is this how the Lions will play going forward or was this a Chiefs-specific game plan? On Saturday morning, myself, Erik Schlitt and Ryan Mathews discussed this and a lot more in a Twitter Spaces Q&A show.

Here are a couple of blurbs from that conversation:

Erik: “I think the Mahomes mobility factor definitely played into the zone. You’re probably going to see that next week with Geno Smith (too). Then as you get into more static quarterbacks that stick in the pocket, you’re probably going to see more man in those situations. I do expect it to be a little closer to 50/50.”

Ryan: “Now you have these different pieces and you can afford to be a little more unpredictable. You have some more talent in that defensive back end, so I think you afford yourself some opportunities that you didn’t feel like you had at the beginning of last year.”

Other topics this week and the corresponding timestamps of those conversations:

  • Are communication issues in the secondary going to be a thing again this year? (10:30)
  • With the early rust, should the Lions have played their starters in the preseason? (18:15)
  • First impression of new coaches like John Scott Jr., Dre Bly, Scottie Montgomery and Steve Heiden (29:30)
  • Sam LaPorta’s sneaky big debut (36:00)
  • Underrated performances by the defense and offense (42:30)
  • What will the Lions do at WR going forward? Kalif Raymond over Marvin Jones? When will we see Antoine Green? (50:00)
  • How big of a concern is Detroit’s lack of deep threat? (1:01:00)
  • Reactions to news that the Lions were not interested in DeAndre Hopkins (1:07:00)

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