Here are some quick hitting observations on the Lions after six games. Some are areas that need improvement, some are things they are doing well and some things I would like to see.
The Lions run defense still needs improvement, but they have made huge improvements over last year. They have given up a few big plays especially in Chicago, but teams have not been able to run it down the Lions’ throats this season.
Louis Delmas and DeAndre Levy are improving and making big plays every game, when is the last time you could say that about anybody on the Lions’ defense?
The Flip 90 play (the blocking heads one way with a fake handoff to the fullback, then they pitch it to the running back going the other way without any blockers) is overused in short yardage, they need to use Felton more on the fullback dive for it to be effective again.
TE screens to Pettigrew to get him more involved in the game early, they don’t throw to him enough early in the game which leads to drops later in the game. Just imagine having your pre-game jitters and then going out into left field, and for eight innings nothing comes to you. Then in the ninth inning with the game on the line, a high pop up is hit right to you. Imagine how much harder it is to make that catch than it would be if you had been able to get rid of your pre-game jitters in the first inning.
Kevin Smith has to be more decisive when hitting the hole. He frequently hesitates because the zone stretch run plays are very poorly blocked and he’s getting hit in the backfield too often. They need to get back to more power run plays where he hits the hole hard and fast and can make moves at the second level instead of immediately after taking the handoff. Even when the zone stretch plays are poorly blocked, he needs to keep his feet moving and just hit the hole, he’s not going to break any tackles by completely stopping his momentum.
I would really like to see some 3-4 defensive looks with Landon Cohen, Grady Jackson and Jason Hunter on the line, Julian Peterson, Larry Foote, DeAndre Levy and Cliff Avril at linebacker. This allows them to get Levy on the field more and get creative in the pass rush with Avril and Peterson. Sims can come in for Avril in running situations because he is more experienced playing the run standing up. The Lions can’t switch to a base 3-4 in the middle of the season, but installing 10-15 plays in a 3-4 package could go a long way towards generating a pass rush and putting playmakers in position to make plays.
The Lions are lining their cornerbacks up too far off the receivers and giving them a free release far too often. I know that they do not have great man-to-man coverage guys, but it’s far too easy to complete passes when you are giving the receivers an eight yard cushion. Opposing quarterbacks are putting up spectacular numbers because the receivers are able to dictate their routes against the defense. If a receiver is going to have an eight-yard cushion he can run any route he wants and the defender has to react to it. If the defensive back is up in bump-and-run coverage, he can bump the receiver to disrupt his timing and as an added bonus, it allows the defensive back to dictate where the receiver can go. Look at the illustration for an example:
In situation A. the CB is lined up eight yards off the WR, and the WR gets a free release and can run any route unobstructed. His timing is not disturbed and the CB can only react to the WR. In fact, on some plays, the WR has the option to adjust his route based on the defense’s positioning. This is difficult to defend because the offense is dictating to the defense.
In situation B. the WR is running a “go” route straight upfield. The CB bumps him at the line and redirects him a few yards inside. Not only was his timing with the QB disturbed, but he has to run through the LB’s (linebacker) zone and it gives the SS (strong safety) more time to react and get over to his zone. In addition, the WR isn’t in the location the QB was expecting and the pass rush has gotten a half second more to get to the QB.
Bump-and-run coverage can leave the defense open to big plays if the bump isn’t properly executed, but if you are already giving up big plays, what is there to lose? Al Harris does not have elite speed or athleticism, but he is one of the best because he is so good at bumping receivers he doesn’t allow them to get into their routes on time or use their speed. Green Bay is playing more “off coverage” this year and Harris has been struggling more because defenses are able exploit his weaknesses.
The first six games obviously didn’t go very well win-wise, but there were glimpses of good things to come and areas that need work. The coaching staff has been able to see what they have over six games, and they’ve had two weeks to make adjustments. The bye week is a great time to evaluate strengths and weaknesses and it provides extra practice time to try new things or iron out deficiencies. Good coaching staffs use the bye week exceptionally well and it is reflected in their teams’ performances afterward. Let’s see what kind of results Jim Schwartz’s first bye week as a head coach produce.