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NOTEBOOK: Lions need to get back to basics in run defense
November 22, 2017 06:30 PM | Tim Twentyman
The Detroit Lions' defense has really struggled to stop the run the last couple weeks.

Cleveland racked up 201 yards, Chicago went for 222 and the Lions now rank 19th against the run, allowing 114.2 per game on average.

The Lions still won both contests vs. Cleveland and at Chicago, but the Browns and Bears have three wins between them. If the Lions allow 200 rushing yards to Minnesota on Thanksgiving or Baltimore in their next contest Dec. 3, the likelihood of them escaping with a victory is slim.

So, what's been the problem, and how do the Lions fix it? Head coach Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin have blamed poor tackling and bad run fits. Those two issues have certainly been problems the last two weeks. But why?

Veteran safety Glover Quin offered a bit of an explanation in his weekly session with the media on Tuesday.

"You say it like it's just, 'Oh a misfit' or 'Oh, it's just a mistackle,'" Quin said. "The thing about football in general, and that's why it's the greatest team sport, is because a lot goes into it, and when you see great defenses, you see great chemistry. You see guys trusting the next guy. Guys are on the same page.

"When you play a couple games where you see a couple guys may have a couple misfits, then it's kind of like, 'OK, can I trust the guy? Do I need to do more?' Now you get out of your gap."

Quin said his teammates on defense need to continue to hone in on everyone just doing their job in the run game. If they do, he thinks plays will start to be made.

"It may not be your play to make the tackle," Quin said. "But if you hold that edge, the linebacker is going to make the tackle, because on the next one, he's going to shoot the gap and the o-linemen are going to have to come off and block him and then you're going to make the tackle.

"It's all going to work together and there's enough to go around for everybody. We just have to make sure we're trusting the process, trusting the calls and executing at a high level."

Lions middle linebacker Jarrad Davis hasn't been around long, but even he knows that once a player starts worrying about anything more than his job, bad things happen.

"When you get to a point where you're doing so much to kind of make a play, that's when you get out of position and big plays happen," Davis said.

"Just coming down and fighting for our gaps and making sure we're doing exactly what we need to do and being physical and getting off blocks and making plays on the back."

The Lions have played the run well at times this year. The held Carolina to 28 yards on the ground. Arizona had just 45 rushing yards Week 1. The Giants and Steelers were held to under 75 yards on the ground.

Defensively, the Lions just need to get back to basics, and it sounds like everyone has to focus on doing their job, and not the job of the player next to them.

RETURN GAME

Jamal Agnew missed his second straight practice Wednesday with the knee injury he suffered Sunday. His status for Thursday is very much in question now.

Agnew currently leads the NFL in punt return average (min. 10 returns) at 16.8 yards per return and return touchdowns (2).

Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said either TJ Jones or Golden Tate, or a combination of both, could return punts against the Vikings Thursday. Tate's returned 89 punts in his NFL career for an average of 10.6 yards per return. Jones has an average of 8.4 yards on seven returns.

Ameer Abdullah could fill in as a kick returner. Abdullah was one of the best kick returners in the NFL as a rookie in 2015.

LOOKING TO BE BETTER


The Lions are a team that passes the football to set up the run. That's just the way they're built and where their strengths lie.

The run game still needs to be more consistent than it's been. It's shown flashes, but has been far too inconsistent this season, and really the last four seasons under Caldwell. The Lions' rushing average per game has gone down each of the last four years from 88.9 to 83.4, 81.9 and 80.8, which is where it currently stands.

"It comes down to guys just saying, "Hey, I'm going to be better than the next guy this week,'" Abdullah said.

The Lions have had their starting offensive line together for just one game this season, so that may help down the stretch, but Abdullah said he has to be better, too.

"I want it to be better," Abdullah said of the rushing attack. "I just got to be better. That's the thing I keep telling myself. Just trying to do better."

Abdullah set career highs in attempts (20) and yards (94) and also scored a touchdown in the first meeting vs. Minnesota in Week 4 this year.

CAPTAINS

The Lions captains for Thursday's nationally televised Thanksgiving Day Game are: Quarterback Matthew Stafford (offense), safety Glover Quin (defense) and safety Don Carey (special teams).

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