The Detroit Lions (7-3) visit the New England Patriots (8-2) in a matchup of NFL division leaders, bringing with them the NFL’s stingiest defense. The Lions front four have Detroit at the top of the league in fewest rushing yards allowed and sacks recorded. Mark Schofield looks at how the Lions front four has been so successful.
The strength of Detroit’s defense is their front four. This group is talented and deep, and the Lions often generate pass rush with only the down linemen. To talent, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin adds scheme. Using creative alignments, stunts/twists, blitzes, or even all three, Austin places his talented players in position to consistently collapse the pocket.
In the first part of this week’s Passing Preview, we will outline how the Lions use stunts, alignment, and blitzes. In the second, we will demonstrate how Austin combines the elements to create mass confusion in an offensive line.
This first play illustrates one of Detroit’s favorite defensive concepts: the Double Stunt. On this snap from last week, Arizona puts Drew Stanton in the pocket with 11 personnel on the field. Both Andre Ellington (#30) and tight end John Carlson (#89) are in the backfield to aid in pass protection, giving the Cardinals seven players to block four. The Lions have both Jason Jones (#91) and Ndamukong Suh (#90) inside, each head-up on a guard in a 2 technique. Outside George Johnson (#93) and Andre Fluellen (#96) utilize wide 9 techniques:
Each pair of defenders will cross on this play. The interior players (Jones and Suh) will twist outside aiming for the C gaps, while the edge players (Johnson and Fleullen) angle inside for the A gaps:
Off the snap, left guard Ted Larsen first makes contact with Jones, but the defensive tackle disengages on his route outside. This leaves the LG off-balance and unprepared to handle Fleullen. The DE angles inside and beats Larsen with a bull rush:
Fleullen forces an early throw from Stanton and the pass falls incomplete.
Detroit is not afraid to blitz and their execution on this play forces an early throw from the quarterback. The Bills face 1st and 10 near midfield with Kyle Orton under center and 21 personnel on the field. The Lions counter with their base 4-3 defense, but they’re bringing it:
The target for Detroit is left tackle Cordy Glenn. First, outside linebacker Ashlee Palmer (#58) walks up to the line of scrimmage and he will attack the B-Gap, aiming for Glenn’s right shoulder. Next, safety James Ihedigbo walks towards the line of scrimmage and at the snap he will blitz to the outside of Glenn. Finally, inside linebacker Tahir Whitehead (#59) joins the party. After a brief delay he will follow Palmer through the B Gap:
Glenn executes a perfect “look out” block, meaning he tries to scream loud enough so Orton knows to simply throw the ball away:
The LT isn’t helped by the fact that both running backs seem disinterested in blitz pickup. All three rushers break the pocket forcing the QB to drill the football into the turf.
The Lions also use creative alignments to create confusion in an offensive line; this play from their game against the Dolphins is a fine example. Detroit has their nickel personnel on the field for this play to counter Miami’s 11 grouping. Rookie right tackle Ja’Wuan James is probably thinking today was a bad day to get out of bed:
Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah uses a 7 technique, lining up to the RT’s outside shoulder. Suh moves outside, and the DT lines up in a wide 9 technique well outside of James. Both defenders will crash inside on the snap:
James is able to ride Suh inside and away from the QB. Ansah, however, uses his athleticism to beat the right guard one-on-one and he trips Ryan Tannehill in the pocket for the sack:
With creative alignments, timely blitzes, or their double-cross stunt, the Lions front four successfully attacks the opposing quarterback. As we will see in Part 2, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin likes to dial-up the pressure by combining some, or all, of these three concepts on any given play.
All video and images courtesy NFL.com and NFL Game Rewind.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.