There’s something very, very wrong with this defense.
The Detroit Lions defense is broken. This much is known by everyone. They’ve given up the sixth-most points, the 12th-most yards, the highest passer rating, and the highest yards per carry average in the league. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has had to deal with a plethora of injuries across the board, but he has now had a few weeks to adjust to those injuries and has seen no improvement.
Aaron Rodgers only threw the ball 24 times against the Lions on Sunday and he still managed to find the end zone four times. That’s because the Lions made it incredibly easy for him. Once again, we saw finger pointing and confusion among the Lions defense, especially at the linebacker level.
The following play perfectly encapsulates everything that’s wrong with the Lions defense right now. First, just take a look at the entire disaster all at once:
If you need a moment for your brain to reboot after watching that, I understand. Take as long as you need.
Okay, ready? Let’s attempt to break this one down. The first thing to note is middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead telling Zaviar Gooden to move toward the line. After a couple of tries, Gooden finally hears him and lines up outside the defensive end. At the snap, Gooden makes a beeline for Aaron Rodgers and is completely unblocked. So far, so good.
But in coverage behind him, it is an absolute mess. Here’s what the players actually do:
The cornerbacks are in man-coverage, that much is clear. Everything else, though, is utter confusion. The tight end on the right side of the line, Richard Rodgers, draws Whitehead, Kyle Van Noy, and safety Rafael Bush. While Eddie Lacy runs free at the top of the screen and absolutely no one covers tight end Justin Perillo, who Rodgers eyes the entire time, and finds for the easiest 13 yards of his life.
So what were the Lions supposed to be doing? It’s very hard to tell since this coverage was obviously blown by someone, but there are some clues. Glover Quin drops at the snap, suggesting that he was either the one-high safety or the Lions were in a cover-2 situation. It’s a bit hard to tell considering what Bush does on the play. Before the snap, he draws closer to the line, but he doesn’t exactly appear to be on a specific man. TE Rodgers runs a route right at him, but I’m not convinced Bush was in man-coverage on him. However, Bush does not pay any attention to the route at the top, suggesting this is definitely not a cover-2 look.
As for the linebackers, your guess is as good as mine. At first, it seems like the linebackers are in man-coverage. Both Whitehead and Van Noy pivot to the left side of the defense once Lacy breaks that way and TE Rogers runs his route toward them. If they are truly in man-coverage, then Van Noy took the wrong man and should have been covering Lacy in the flats. Although that man may initially be Whitehead’s assignment, when the routes between RB and TE cross like that, typically in true man, Van Noy would release from Rodgers and take on Lacy.
More importantly, though, if the Lions are in man-coverage, who is Bush supposed to be covering and why is there no one on Perillo? Either Bush is on the wrong side of the field and should have taken on Perillo, or the Lions coverage should have shifted to the right and Whitehead should have taken Perillo, while Bush is assigned Rodgers and Van Noy sticks with Lacy. If that’s the case, Whitehead really messed up by sending the blitz and not compensating for it.
The other possibility is that the Lions are in zone-coverage. But two things are wrong with this hypothesis. If this is true, then either Gooden was not supposed to blitz or a linemen was supposed to drop back into coverage. The other problematic player in a zone-coverage scenario is, again, Bush. If Gooden was supposed to blitz and a no linemen was asked to drop into coverage, then that shallow zone to the defense’s right would either be Bush’s responsibility or Whitehead should have shifted coverage and taken that area himself.
So who messed up? Who is to blame? It’s not exactly clear. However, this all falls back on Teryl Austin. It’s clear his players are not on the same page and don’t know exactly what is expected of them. They aren’t communicating effectively with one another. Of course, if Austin had it his way, he’d have players out there more prepared than guys like Zaviar Gooden, who has already been released since this game, or Rafael Bush, who was filling in for an injured Tavon Wilson. Still, it is Austin’s job to have the players available to him prepared each week, and it’s clear they weren’t ready against the Packers.