The Detroit Lions defense hasn’t exactly been its strong suit all season. Even in their late run to win the division and in the postseason, the Lions defense has been hemorrhaging yardage, particularly through the air. In each of the past five games, the Lions have allowed at least 340 passing yards.
But coach Dan Campbell pointed out another aspect of their defense that has actually gotten better over that same period of time.
“We’re disruptive,” Campbell said. “We’re aggressive and we hit.”
The stats back that up, too. In the past six games, the Lions are averaging over three sacks a game and 1.5 interceptions per game. Campbell says that’s baked into the DNA of their defense now—we’ll cede some plays here and there, but counter with game-changing individual plays.
“That, to me, has got to be what we’re about. Those are the principles,” Campbell said. “Look, we may get hit on a couple of things and I know, for me, I’m willing to give up something to get something. And sometimes things may happen, but that’s okay because it’ll pay dividends by the time you hit the fourth quarter.”
The San Francisco 49ers, though, present a unique challenge in Sunday’s upcoming NFC Championship Game. They do everything well. They’re the third-highest scoring offense, and in terms of efficiency, they rank first in pass offense DVOA and second in the running game.
So what is the priority this week?
“You stop the run,” Campbell said. “You’ve got to stop the run because if you don’t, they’ll rush for 250 on you and then they won’t even worry about passing. Everything has to start there.”
That’s a task the Lions may be up to because for all of the struggles they’ve had defending the pass, they’ve been consistently strong against the run all year. The 49ers are averaging 140.5 rushing yards per game (third) and 4.8 yards per carry (4.8), but the Lions counter with the second-best run defense in terms of yardage (88.8 yards per game) and third in terms of yards per carry (3.7).
Stopping the 49ers won’t be easy, though. With arguably the best running back in football in Christian McCaffrey, San Francisco has only been held short of 100 rushing yards in a single game this season—way back in Week 7 against the Vikings.
And even if the Lions are able to slow down McCaffrey and company, Campbell knows that 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy is capable of hurting them in the passing game.
“You’ve got your hands full in both regards, and Purdy does a hell of a job,” Campbell said. “They throw a lot of daggers middle of the field and he does a hell of a job with touch, timing, rhythm, but we have to stop this run game. It just has to start there. As much as you can, you have to try to make this team one-dimensional and that’s not easy to do.”