Detroit Lions fans have been clamoring for an aggressive, blitzing, in your face kind of defense for years. The kind of defense that gets after the quarterback and plays tough-nosed man defense behind it.
What Lions fans have been waiting for is the kind of defense new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin says he’s brought over with him over from Baltimore.
Austin, who’s been the defensive backs coach in Baltimore the last three seasons, wants to be versatile with his sets and emphasize limiting big plays and generating turnovers.
The Lions allowed the most points in the NFL last season (187) on big plays outside of the red zone and ranked only 21st with 22 takeaways.
“You want to have a good mixture of four-man and some pressures,” he said. “It’s like anything, you can’t pressure all day and you can’t just play four-man all day.
“So, we’ll try to mix those things up and I think what it will do in the end of it, it will give our four-man guys a little bit better rush because they know it’s not always four and they won’t be getting chipped all the time because there’s a threat of somebody else coming.”
Detroit blitzed 23.3 percent of the time last year on second down and only 17.7 percent on third down, according to STATS, LLC. An explanation to why the Lions didn’t blitz as much as some other defense around the league might lie in the fact that opposing quarterbacks had a 90.94 passer rating against them when they did blitz, which ranked 20th in the league.
There’s an art to blitzing. Not only does a defense have to employ players who can do it properly, but they also have to be able to cover behind it.
“If we are going to pressure, we’ve got to be able to cover them in the back and give our guys some time to get home,” Austin said. “So, we’ll work on those things. We’ll kind of iron those things out and see what’s best for us as we move forward, but I can promise you this. We won’t be blitzing every play and we won’t be four-man rushing every play.”
The team’s ability to cover in the backend has been a concern for a number of years now. There's hope that unit could see the biggest impact from Austin’s arrival with his expertise coaching cornerbacks and safeties.
“My feeling is this. In the NFL, you can’t have enough corners,” Austin said. “We had three pretty good corners (in Baltimore) last year and we had our work cut out for us. So, I think that obviously, that would probably be an area that we would want to make sure we strengthen up.”
That’s not to say the Lions don’t have some young pieces back there they can build on.
The team spent a second-round pick last year on Darius Slay, who Austin sees as an ascending player.
“You know, as we watched the tape, one of the young guys, (Darius) Slay, I looked at him and you go, ‘Boy, he had his ups and downs,’” Austin said. “You know, he some things, he had some growing pains. There were some times he didn’t look very good and there were some times he looked outstanding.
“Our goal is to try to get him to be consistent, to be a consistent player. That way, that talent will start to take over, but I think he’s a guy that has the ability out there and we probably want to try to improve. But we want to improve in all areas.”