Matt Patricia is a defensive guru. So why is the Lions’ D so bad? – Detroit Lions Blog
ALLEN PARK, me. – Two and a half years ago, the Detroit Lions hired a man considered a defensive guru to turn the team from consistently mediocre to consistent competitor, not only to make the playoffs occasionally, but to win playoff games
Matt Patricia’s defense system and the combined knowledge he and General Manager Bob Quinn provided were intended to take the seats in Detroit that former head coach Jim Caldwell did not have.
Thirty-six games in Patrick’s tenure, that didn’t happen. It’s largely due to the side of the ball that Patricia knows so well: Defense. The Lions (1-3) are back at the bottom of the league in many key defensive categories, including yards per game (405.0, # 28), yards per game (6.16, # 26) and rushing yards per game (170.3, # 32) and yards per rush (5.16, # 29).
Failed draft picks, questionable phone calls, and a lack of consistency were hallmarks of Matt Patrick’s Detroit defense. Joe Robbins / Getty Images
“We have to do a better job [against] the run … play with better basics and techniques and just be consistent, “said Patricia. “I mean, that’s the biggest thing for us right now. We have some good run pieces on tape and unfortunately too many bad ones. “
Detroit allows too many first downs (27.3, # 31) and doesn’t get enough quarterback when opponents pass, dismissing the QB on only 4% of attempts. According to Football Outsiders, Lions have the third worst defensive DVOA in the NFL at 10.8%, a measure of a team’s efficiency.
These are ongoing trends from last year when the Lions gave up 400.4 yards and 284.4 yards per game and were last in the league in interception percentage (1.1) and penultimate in sack percentage (4.6).
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How did Detroit get to this point? Shouldn’t the defense be better? The short answer is yes, the Lions should be much better defensively. Detroit has more than $ 87 million in cap space tied to defense in 2020 (number 12 in the league according to ESPN Stats & Information), and Quinn has invested huge capital in free agents (Trey Flowers , Jamie Collins, Desmond Trufant, Justin Coleman) and has been traded for Duron Harmon over the past two seasons.
Yet it’s more than that. It’s a multi-faceted explanation of why Detroit tried but largely failed to build strong defenses.
Give Quinn the credit for trying. Type of. Defense has been a priority for the first three rounds of the draft since its adoption in 2016.
In every draft, Quinn took at least one defender in the first three rounds. In three of his five drafts he took two. His 2016 second round pick, Defensive Tackle A’Shawn Robinson, had five sacks in four seasons with Detroit. He started at least five games a season but never had more than six quarterback hits or two sacks a year. He’s with the Los Angeles Rams now.
Patricia came from Bill Belichick’s Patriots staff with a rep as a defensive innovator. But the Lions’ D was far from innovative. Steven Senne, File / AP
In 2017, Quinn spent the team’s first and second rounds with defenders – linebacker Jarrad Davis and cornerback Teez Tabor. Tabor was a complete failure. He started five games for the Lions and never intercepted or canceled a pass. Quinn boasted that he has explored Tabor more than any other player this year. The big blow to him from critics was his speed – an issue that routinely came up when he was on the field.
Davis is everything the club could want in the locker room and for hard work. His game didn’t go right. The Lions turned down his option for the fifth year and he became more of an RPG, appearing in 42% of the defensive snaps in 2020 – including less than 30% of the snaps in the last two games.
Quinn’s 2018 third round pick, Tracy Walker, was his best early defensive pick. Walker is safe in his sophomore year and has had 13 career pass separations. That was a good find.
His four combined defensive picks over the past two years are still in question. The Lions took linebacker Jahlani Tavai (second round) and Safety Will Harris (third round) with them in 2019. Tavai was used more frequently this year than last year, playing 65% of the defensive snaps in 2020 but playing sparingly against the Saints. Harris has played 52% of the snaps in defense that year. This year’s No. 3 overall winner cornerback Jeff Okudah has shown the lightning bolts of the player the Lions hope can become, but with anticipated disagreements. The third round team’s choice, Edge Rusher Julian Okwara, was a non-factor.
It’s too early to judge these four tips, but to understand the Lions’ lack of effectiveness and style of play, a starting point is to miss drafted players at every level of defense.
Lack of attention to the center of defense
One of the chronic problems is how the Lions in the middle of the line of defense have repeatedly failed.
In 2018, Detroit was trading against Damon Harrison – a high-profile run-stopper – which was a good move for the Lions at the time. He has strengthened their running defense for the second half of the year. The Lions then gave Harrison extra time, and his game was suspended in 2019. The Lions released Harrison – less than a year after his renewal – this off-season. It left her with a hole that stopped the run and still without a constant internal rush of passers-by.
Defensive Action Da’Shawn Hand has fought post-injury injuries and has barely affected the Lions’ defense. Steven King / Icon Sportswire
The Lions designed Da’Shawn Hand in the fourth round in 2018 and it appeared to be a find. But he has been badly injured in the last two seasons. Ricky Jean Francois started eleven games against the Lions in 2018 and had two sacks in the last year of his career. The Lions signed Mike Daniels last season – and he was injured for most of the year.
In 2020, the Lions reloaded their line of defense by signing Danny Shelton to replace Harrison as run-stopper and Nick Williams as the player they hoped would last after a six-sack season with Chicago Year could speed up the pass.
In three games, Williams has no sacks and a pass rush win rate of 7.7%, which is below the league average for defensive tackles.
While it’s more than just the defensive tackles, the Lions pass rush win rate is by far the worst in the NFL at 21.3% (closest are the Giants at 32.2%), and the run-stop Team win rate is 28.1% No. 26 in the NFL, another charge against a below average center of the defense.
“When teams let the ball run at you, the chances of rushing the passerby are much lower than if you stopped them,” said defense coordinator Cory Undlin. “That would be my first attempt. Obviously we can get better at a couple of different things, that’s one of them. But in any case, I think we all know we need to put more pressure on the quarterback. “
Lack of pressure leads to problems
The lack of pressure, partly schematic, partly human failure, and partly Detroit’s inability to stop the run, creates problems with the multiple scheme that Lions are constantly trying to use. Without being able to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, playing Man Defense will result in longer cover times for defensive backs and ultimately open receivers.
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If the pass against a zone fails, any quarterback can destroy the defense. Combined with the lowest Pass Rush win rate in the league, Detroit has played more man defense (71.3%) than any other team in the NFL.
The Lions were actually okay at times – a 59.3% completion rate – but they allowed eight touchdowns. Detroit has played the lowest number of zones in the NFL (28.7%) and was mostly in cover 3. Detroit allowed 74.3% of those passes to be completed against it (ninth worst in the league) but has only one touchdown approved against Zone and an opposing QBR of 51.3, seventh best in the league.
So there are signs of potential, but it was nowhere near enough when you combine the pressure and the inability to stop the run. That was a defensive problem for Patricia.
Flashes of brilliance and more than competent efforts against the Patriots in 2018, the Chiefs of last season and the Cardinals this year are often lost in the dirt of poor performances. The inability to adapt and the same problems haunt Detroit’s defenses over and over again.