Defensive players and coaches talk all the time about a good pass defense being a marriage between the rush and cover. Lions second-year defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson took it a step further Thursday while talking about Detroit’s lack of sacks to start the season, saying there also has to be a marriage between the edge players and the interior guys up front.
“We got back to work this week and got back to kind of our foundational belief and what we live on,” Hutchinson said Thursday. “Just playing more together. That’s the biggest thing from the edges to the interior.
“We’re just not playing complementary football with our (secondary), either. They’ll be playing really good coverage, and we don’t get as good of a rush and vice versa. It’s just about playing complementary football with our secondary and also just being more on the same page with our defensive tackles.”
The Lions have generated pressure on the quarterback the first two games against Kansas City and Seattle. Detroit’s 34 quarterback pressures are the fifth most in the NFL through the first two games of the season, per Pro Football Focus statistics, but they have only one sack to show for it from linebacker Alex Anzalone on a scramble drill late in last week’s game.
Quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Geno Smith were able to step up to elude edge pressure, scramble wide to avoid interior pressure and make plays with their legs because all four players upfront weren’t always doing their job or winning their matchups.
“It’s about discipline,” Lions head coach Dan Campbell said this week. “I think it goes back to, man, let’s just hone in on the discipline of it. If everybody would just stay disciplined and do your job, you don’t need to do more than that, and let the production come to you and not the other way around.”
The Lions are without one of their better edge rushers in James Houston and one of their more versatile rushers in Josh Paschal, but they still have enough talent and depth upfront both on the edge and interior to affect the passing game more than they have the first two weeks.
They’ve made being disciplined and playing together upfront a big emphasis this week, and we’ll see if it translates to the field Sunday with more sacks, pressures and impact plays against the Falcons.
RUNNING BACK ROLES
Is rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs ready for a increased role Sunday?
“We’ll find out,” Lions head coach Dan Campbell said this week when asked that question with the potential of veteran running back David Montgomery missing Sunday’s game vs. Atlanta with a thigh bruise.
“We’re going to treat it as business as usual. We’re not going to let it affect us. We feel good about the backs we have. Certainly, Gibbs is going to get more of a role and we’re going to do what we do. And really, our focus was on how we attack this opponent more than the backs that we have.”
Over the first two weeks Montgomery has been Detroit’s leading ballcarrier, carrying 37 times for 141 yards (3.8 avg.) with a couple touchdowns. Gibbs has carried it 14 times for 59 yards (4.2 avg.) but has also caught nine passes for 57 yards.
Campbell said the Lions will still use a committee approach with Craig Reynolds and Zonovan Knight expecting to get carries too, but Gibbs is expected to lead the way, and the rookie is excited for that opportunity.
“It’s always exciting when you get to play some more and touch the ball some more,” Gibbs said this week. “I’ll be pretty amped up for (Sunday).”
This week’s opponent, the Atlanta Falcons, have a potent rushing attack led by fellow rookie Bijan Robinson, who was the first running back taken in the draft at No. 8. Gibbs was the second back taken at No. 12. Robinson has rushed 29 times for 180 yards (6.2 avg.) with 10 receptions for another 75 yards and a score.
“They’ve done a great job using him,” Gibbs said of Robinson. “His skillset he can do pretty much everything and it’s really impressive with his size being 220 (pounds). Him being able to move like that is special.”
It’s not a matter of if injuries are going to affect a team but when, and for the Lions that happens to be early on this year.
But there has to be some comfort for the coaches knowing they have veteran players that can step in and attempt to fill the void.
Players like safety Tracy Walker, who has 37 career starts under his belt. Or guard Graham Glasgow, who has 91 career starts. Having those guys lessens the blow of losing starters like C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
“I feel like it’s the benefit of having competition in camp,” Glasgow said. “You bring guys in who could start. You have an injury and I’m able to play now and the same thing with Tracy. We know how to play and get to go out there and do it.”
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