The Detroit Lions are coming off their best defensive performance of the season, holding Baltimore to just 19 points (one touchdown) and 116 total rushing yards. The Ravens were just 1-for-10 on third down. There are still things that need to improve, but it was a gritty performance against a really explosive offense that outdueled Kansas City the week prior.
There were a few good individual performances for Detroit last week, including veteran outside linebacker Charles Harris, who's had a really nice start to his fifth season.
The former first-round pick of Miami in 2017, Harris never really found his footing with the Dolphins and was traded to Atlanta before the start of last season in return for a seventh-round draft pick. He played 13 games in Atlanta last season and recorded a career-high three sacks.
But his production has hit another level here in Detroit after signing as a free agent this offseason. He's got sacks in back-to-back games to go along with two tackles for loss and three quarterback hits in three games.
Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn brought up Harris' name specifically on Thursday when asked about the production he's gotten from the outside linebacker position.
"That Charles Harris now, I really respect this player because I know what was said about this player and I understand where he was drafted, so I do have a soft spot for that player," Glenn said. "Man, he's gone out there and proven that he can play in this league and he can play at a high level."
Harris got his first start this season for the injured Trey Flowers against Baltimore, and ended up playing 78 percent of the defensive snaps. He was graded top five by Pro Football Focus among all of Detroit's defenders in that contest and the third best pass rusher.
Harris is strong and quick, and has all the physical tools to be a consistent pass rusher. He's found a scheme in Detroit that's utilizing his skill set perfectly, and he's been a real bright spot for the Lions' defense to begin the year.
Communication. Communication. Communication.
That has been the emphasis at practice all week for the Lions' defense. There were a number of defensive breakdowns against the Ravens last week that both head coach Dan Campbell and Glenn attributed to a lack of communication.
With the Lions being on the road this week in Chicago, it will be a little easier for the defense to communicate. At home, especially late in a close game, the defense has to deal with crowd noise.
Still, it's something veteran safety Dean Marlowe, who saw a huge increase in playing time last week, says has to be cleaned up moving forward.
"A lot of guys, I think, know what to do, but how to do it when it's under the lights when the bullets are flying (is important)," Marlowe said. "That's the hardest part. You just have to be composed. You have to trust your training. Today we were out there communicating, hand signals, doing everything we can, even if someone got the call, over-communicating. Making sure everyone is playing together."
DANGEROUS FRONT SEVEN
The Lions faced a pretty good defensive front seven Week 1 vs. San Francisco, but this week's matchup in Chicago might be the most talented defensive front seven the Lions will face all year, at least until they square up with Chicago again on Thanksgiving in Detroit.
Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn are a dangerous edge tandem. Akiem Hicks is one of the best defensive tackles in football, and nose tackle Eddie Goldman is a strong player inside.
Inside linebacker Roquan Smith had 100-tackle seasons in each of his first three years in the league. Lions running back D’Andre Swift called Smith the best cover linebacker in football this week.
"They are as good as it gets," center Frank Ragnow said of the Bears front seven. "I mean, Akiem Hicks, Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, Bilal Nichols, linebackers are great too. It's going to be a good test for us. They are great at rushing the passer and great at stopping the run, so it's going to be good."
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021.
OFFENSE SAYS THEY'RE CLOSE
Lions quarterback Jared Goff talked this week about feeling pretty good about where the offense is and feeling that they're close to putting a compete 60 minutes of football together, if they can just eliminate some of the penalties and turnovers that have plagued them through the first three games.
It was a sentiment echoed by offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn on Thursday.
"It just seems like over the last couple of weeks a turnover or an untimely penalty has come at the wrong time," Lynn said. "Last week it was kind of frustrating with both of those false starts (on fourth and one plays) to extend those drives. That will kill you when you only have, like, 27 plays in a half. So, I think just doing better on third down, staying on the field, will give us a better chance of getting into a rhythm."
Entering Sunday's game in Detroit, the Lions rank 17th in total offense, 14th in rushing and 14th in passing.