Film Shows Coaches’ Lack Of Preparation And Poor Play call In Loss To Chicago.
Injury Woes Show Lions’ Lack of Personnel with Zone Coverage Ability
The Detroit Lions have one of the worst defenses in the NFL through week four. A part of that is this team has been decimated with injuries. Being without star defensive end Ziggy Ansah and linebacker Deandre Levy are tough challenges for any team. But being asked to step into these shoes with a coach who is unwilling to adjust to the opposing offenses strengths and the players’ weaknesses is nearly an impossible task.
The problem here is that with the injuries stacking up, you are asking 3rd and 4th strong linebackers to fill Levy’s gap in zone coverage. The fact of the matter is that this team does not have the linebacker talent to fill that gap in zone. Even though that is exactly what Lion’s defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is asking them to do. Austin’s unwillingness to adapt to his personnel has cost this team 3 games and is likely to lead to more if he refuses to change his play call.
Teryl Austin’s Love for Zone
The Lions have lost 3 straight games largely in part to defensive collapses. The game film displays the main issue at hand in Detroit. Teryl Austin has an undying love for zone coverage and will continue to call it in spite of what the offense is throwing at him. On Sunday, the Lions ran zone coverage a vast majority of the game. Brian Hoyer picked apart the soft zone coverage the Lions ran, to the tune of 218 passing yards and 1 touchdown. That totals 72% of his total yardage came against zone.
Despite Hoyer’s success, Teryl Austin continues to force a square peg into a round hole. After getting exposed in zone in the 1st half Austin doubled down and called zone more in the second half and the bears continued to score.
The first big play of the game came from Bears wide receiver Eddie Royal. The Lions ran a Cover 2 Zone here. This puts both safeties with an over the top and outside assignment. The linebackers are asked to cover the middle of the field and underneath routes. Offenses are taught to attack down the middle and up the seam when facing cover two. If the linebackers are able to read it in time this can be stopped, but the Lions do not have the personnel to do so.
If this play looks familiar to Lions fans, it should. It was the same play call the Packers used to get wide receiver Jordy Nelson a big game the previous week.
Here again we see the Lions hit down the middle of the field for a big gain in zone coverage versus the Packers. Jordy Nelson runs the same skinny post route that Royal ran in week four. Both plays were in zone coverage by the Lions. This presents another issue for the Lions coaching staff in terms of game preparation.
Lack of Game Preparation Evident on Film
Looking at the previous two plays mentioned it’s easy to see which coach prepared better for this game. Bears head coach John Fox saw what the Packers did with Jordy Nelson in week three and witnessed a coaching staff that was not adjusting to opposing offenses. He knew that if the Lions came out running zone he would have the skinny post for big gains in this game. Fox was right.
Teryl Austin was wrong. He did not acknowledge this glaring hole in the defense. Austin did not see that his linebackers couldn’t cover the middle of the field in zone. He refused to learn from past mistakes and failed to prepare this Lions defense for an offense to attack them in the same way. Austin let his belief in his defensive scheme and love for zone coverage cloud his judgement. Instead of acknowledging he is working with a defense that is injured and has an inability to cover the middle of the field in zone.
Teryl Austin’s inability to prepare this team for Sunday and refusal to adjust to how opposing offenses are attacking this defense is costing the Lions games.
Film Room Mentionable Players
Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was the only Lions defender that could consistently shut down the run against the Bears. He was crashing down the line of scrimmage and stopping the running game whenever they ran his way. Unfortunately, this was mostly limited to the first half as the Bears realized this and began running almost exclusively away from Ngata, behind their best offensive lineman left guard Josh Sitton,
While cornerback Nevin Lawson may have struggled in zone, he was sticky in man coverage all day. He was almost always draped on the receiver he was covering. The problem for Lawson is that he was a 5’9″ cornerback trying to cover one of the most physically gifted wide receivers in the game, 6’4″ Alshon Jeffery.
Speaking of sticky man coverage, cornerback Darius Slay was perfect in man coverage Sunday. He did not let up a single pass to a receiver he was covering in man. He even looked solid in zone coverage. Again, the Bears adjusted in the 2nd half and started attacking the middle of the field and the left sideline, away from Slay.
Offensive lineman Riley Rieff and Travis Swanson had their worst performances of the year against a very mediocre and injury riddled Bears defense. Let us hope they correct his issue quickly or it could be a very long day for Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense against a fast and talented Eagles rush this upcoming Sunday.
Wide receiver Golden Tate has had a poor showing this year. This game is the low point of his career thus far as a Lion. He consistently would break off routes before they were done and could not gain any separation against a bad Bears cornerback corps. Tate continually ran lazy routes when the play call was designed to target the opposite side of the field from him. His bad play was highlighted on the closing moments of the 1st half.
There is 0:16 seconds left in the 2nd quarter and the Lions are on the Bears 24 yard line. The score is 7-3 and the Lions have no timeouts left. They have enough time to run one play and get out of bounds to set up an easier field goal. Matt Prater prefers kicking from the left hash, so naturally they are looking to the left side of the play where Tate is lined up.
The cornerback is set back all the way to the Bears eight yard line, playing nearly 15 yards off the ball. A veteran like Tate should know that the play call here is a quick out. All he has to do is run 5 to 7 yards and break towards the sideline where Stafford will have already thrown the ball for a completion and the Lions are in much better position to score an easy field goal to make it a 7-6 ballgame.
This is not what Tate does. Tate runs another lazy route straight towards the end zone. This is a big mistake as Stafford has already thrown the ball on this timing route which is jumped by the Bears cornerback resulting in an interception and no points scored. This was a monumental play as the Lions ended up losing 17-14.