Lions head coach Matt Patricia spent five years as a linebackers coach in New England before eventually being promoted to defensive coordinator for the Patriots. He's always valued the importance of the linebacker position.
The Lions revamped their linebacker room this offseason with the additions of veterans Jamie Collins Sr. and Reggie Ragland, but the impact hasn't been as great as the Lions had probably hoped so far in 2020. Detroit ranks 24th in total defense, 28th in points allowed and 30th in rushing defense through the first half of the season.
Among the concerns on defense is a lack of impact plays from the linebacker position. Detroit's linebacker group has just one interception (Collins). They've forced two fumbles, both by Jarrad Davis, whose role on defense has been reduced recently. The group has just two sacks and 10 quarterback hits in eight games. Detroit's linebackers are averaging just one tackle per loss per game.
"I think overall in general everyone wants to play a little bit better and play more consistent and we want to coach better," Patricia said Wednesday. "Certainly our numbers aren't where we want them to be across the board, and obviously that reflects in where our record is.
"We know if we can improve all those little things and we can do better at those details like we talked about, and those stats get better, then obviously the chances for us to win get better."
That's something Ragland agreed with when asked about that group needing to have more impact. He said it's up to the linebackers to make more plays the second half of the season for this defense to be better.
"As a linebacker I always feel like I have to make plays and be impactful on the defense because we have to do something of everything," he said. "We have to play the run. We have to play coverage. We have to do a better job as a whole of making plays. We just have to keep getting better as whole."
Washington may only have two wins on the season, but their record isn't reflective of how well they play on defense, especially upfront rushing the passer. Washington has one of the best defensive fronts in football anchored by Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, Ryan Kerrigan and Da'Ron Payne. Washington is ranked No. 1 in the NFL against the pass, limiting opponents to under 200 passing yards per game (185.6). They've generated 27 sacks, and have seven different players with at least 2.0 sacks.
"They generate a lot of pressure with those front four," Patricia said. "And I think they've got a wave of them. They can kind of rotate them in. Kerrigan is a great player, been doing it for a long time. They have a lot of young guys up front with Chase Young and Sweat on the edge, those guys are going to roll in there and go.
"Upfront they are very, very good in the pass rush they just kind of can get into the pocket and get after the quarterback."
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said Washington is probably the best defensive front they'll play all year. Detroit's offensive line certainly has a good test this week.
"I think five total first-round picks or former first-round picks up there," Lions center Frank Ragnow said of Washington. "Just a bunch of talented dudes across the board playing really hard, playing good football, really good pass rushers. Definitely a big challenge for us upfront this week, for sure."
View photos of the starters for the Washington Football Team.
The Lions were one of the best teams in the NFL last season catching the football. They finished the season fourth in the NFL with a drop percentage of just 3.6 percent, as Lions pass catchers dropped just 13 catchable passes all year, according to STATS, INC.
Through the midway point of this season, Detroit already has as many drops as they had all of last season (13). Their drop percentage has increased to 6.7 percent on catchable passes.
"Rule No. 1 for receivers is get open and catch the ball," Lions veteran receiver Danny Amendola said this week. "That doesn't change whatever league you're in, whatever game you're watching and we're professional catchers and we take a lot of pride in that.
"When that doesn't show up on film, when that doesn't show up on paper ... it's on us to take onus. We understand as professional wide receivers that we have to catch the ball. Period."
Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said it's something they're working to correct.
"We do a lot of drills to continue to focus on that," Bevell said this week. "A lot of times it does come down to concentration and focusing all the way through. We had a couple there at the end of the game (last Sunday) that were kind of uncharacteristic – and even a couple other ones during the season. Something that we're focusing on each and every day."
- Running back D’Andre Swift had 97 scrimmage yards (64 rushing, 33 receiving ) last week. He is one of only three rookie running backs (Clyde Edwards-Helaire & James Robinson) with 250-plus rushing yards (250) and 200-plus receiving yards (207) this season. He's tied for third among rookies with five touchdowns this season.