Lions Defense Upset With 'Ridiculous' Performance Against Vikings

They were pushed around from start to finish.

Will Burchfield
October 20, 2019 - 7:01 pm

© Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

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On paper, the Lions' defense looked fierce this season. On the field, it's been more of a farce. 

The latest disappointment came Sunday when Detroit conceded 42 points and over 500 yards in a loss to the Vikings. That included 166 yards on the ground, another blemish on what was supposed to be a relentless front seven. 

It left the leaders of that unit shaking their heads. 

"They ran for almost 200 yards," said linebacker Devon Kennard. "That’s ridiculous." 

The Vikings pushed the Lions around from start to finish. Particularly in the fourth quarter, when a couple stops could have swung the game, the defense was out of answers. Detroit's offense put up 30 points, the most against the Vikings this season, but it didn't matter on a day that Minnesota's couldn't be contained. 

The Lions forced just two punts all game. 

"I feel like they had their way with us defensively," said Kennard. "It’s very frustrating, disappointing and nobody is coming to save us. We have to bond together on defense, figure this thing out and find ways to stop these offenses.”

Hopes were high for this defense on the heels of a great second half in 2018, followed by some splashy moves in the offseason. It had the look of a top-10 -- maybe top-5 -- unit. The potential has been squandered so far. Entering Sunday, the Lions ranked 26th in the NFL in scoring defense and 29th in total defense. Then it got worse. 

Trey Flowers, the splashiest of those acquisitions, said it's a matter of technique and fundamentals.

"It all goes back to those things. I’m not making a state of the union for the defense, but we’re just not playing that well as far as in the run game and things like that," he said. "We just have to go back to work." 

The Lions have allowed over 100 rushing yards in all six of their games. They did that just twice in the final eight games of last season, a stretch when they held opponents to an average of 66 yards on the ground. The same players remain. The results are drastically different. 

"Most certainly, it’s not where it needs to be at all," Matt Patricia said of the run defense. "I have to be better. We have to be able to stop the run and do everything we can to be consistent with that, week in and week. ... Until we get that fixed, we’re going to keep seeing it.”

Flowers struggled to explain it. 

"I wish I could tell you some key things," he said. "Obviously, tackling, sometimes they’ll seep through. We’ll have them in the backfield and we can't wrap up. Or just run fits, as far as playing techniques, things like that. We’ve got to fix it, simple as that.”

Missed tackles were a problem all afternoon against the Vikings. It was fitting that the Lions had Dalvin Cook bottled up on his game-sealing touchdown, only to watch him shake free and scoot untouched into the end zone.

"We work all week trying to get the guy down, tackling, and we work technique all the time, so it’s very frustrating when we have a day like this," said safety Tracy Walker.

If the run defense was ghastly, the pass defense -- particularly the pass rush -- wasn't much better. The Lions mounted no pressure on Kirk Cousins, who sat back and carved them up for 337 yards and four touchdowns. Detroit has struggled to get to the quarterback all season, and finished Sunday without a sack. They have 10 on the year; only four teams in the NFL have fewer. 

The Lions don't blitz often in Matt Patricia's defense, not that they had many chances to on Sunday. 

"Today there weren’t a lot of opportunities because we didn’t stop the run. ...  We have to start by stopping the run, that’s one of the big things we have to fix. We have to earn the opportunity to rush the passer," said Flowers, who has one sack six games into his five-year, $90 million deal. 

It bears mention the Lions were without Damon Harrison for a portion of Sunday's game, and Darius Slay for most of it. They lost Mike Daniels three games ago and Da'Shawn Hand has yet to play this season, two key figures on the defensive line. 

But as Kennard said, "There’s no excuse. We have a ton of talent on this defense, and we just need to play better." 

At times this season, the defense has shown what it can be. It was dominant against Arizona in Week 1, until it fell apart in the fourth quarter. It was strong against Kansas City in Week 4, but came undone in key moments. Same goes for Week 6 against Green Bay, with a little help from the refs. 

There were no such bright spots on Sunday. 

When asked to evaluate how the defense has played through six games, Kennard summed it up best. 

"Haven't played well enough," he said.