Through two weeks in the NFL, the Detroit Lions’ pass rush has been absolutely woeful. They only have one sack thus far—and that didn’t come until the very end of regulation in their Week 2 matchup against the Seattle Seahawks, and it came literally 13 seconds into the play. While Aidan Hutchinson does lead the NFL in pressure with 13, according to PFF, the rest of the team isn’t carrying their weight. Only Charles Harris (7) has more than three, and Detroit just lost their best pure pass rusher, James Houston, to a fractured ankle for two months.
On Monday, coach Dan Campbell addressed this issue, giving several reasons why the Lions have struggled to get to the quarterback. His first reason: Detroit’s defensive front isn’t transitioning from a run defense to a pass rushing attack quickly enough during the play.
“I felt like just from transition into rush, some of this play (action)-pass, now we’re from reading the run into pass. Man, we’ve got to transition much quicker,” Campbell said. “Our urgency has to go up there and our violence has to go up to shed those blockers. That’ll go a long way.”
The stats back that up, particularly last week against the Seahawks. On play-action passes, Geno Smith completed 13-of-16 passes for 174 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, and a 132.8 passer rating with only five pressures created.
Another problem that has persisted is the Lions’ lack of discipline with quarterbacks capable of making plays outside of the pocket. So much of the Lions’ rush plan is focused on containing the quarterback, but it all falls apart if one person goes rogue and leaves their assigned pass rushing lane.
“The discipline to just do your job and trust the guy next to you is going to do his. And (at the) perimeter, we can’t rush high,” Campbell said. “We’ve got to close this in on the quarterback. We rush high and we don’t have somebody that can cover, we’re going to be in trouble.”
The Lions are also failing at the most basic level: winning one-on-ones.
“A guy’s got a one-on-one, he’s got to win,” Campbell said. “We’re getting chipped on this side, you may be getting chipped, you’re getting doubled, a center, guard, this guy’s got to win and we’re not winning our one-on-ones.”
Again, this appears to be backed up by some advanced statistics. The Lions’ ranked dead last in ESPN’s pass rush win rate last week against the Chiefs, and outside of Hutchinson and Houston, the Lions don’t have a defensive lineman with a PFF pass rushing grade above 64.0. The problem is massive on the interior of the defensive line, where Benito Jones (53.7 PFF pass rushing grade), John Cominsky (51.6), and Alim McNeill (53.7) have combined for just six pressures and a single quarterback hit.
Finally, without naming names, Campbell called on the team’s foundational players to act like it.
“And the other thing I think just defensively is man, we need our most reliable players to be reliable,” Campbell said. “That was a big thing that came out of that game.”
The Lions have a lot to clean up on the defensive side of the ball, but with so much optimism surrounding their revamped front seven, their pass rush needs to step up the most.