Malcolm Rodriguez: Breaking down the Lions rookie LB in Week 2

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Malcolm Rodriguez is quickly making a name for himself in Detroit. The sixth-round rookie has earned the starting role at linebacker and rolled with it. “Rodrigo” led the Lions in tackles in the team’s Week 2 win over the Washington Commanders and earned acclaim as one of the league’s “Secret Superstars.”

As I did with cornerback Jeff Okudah in Week 1, I went back and charted every single rep from Rodriguez against the Commanders. Rodriguez played 54 of Detroit’s 74 defensive snaps in the win.

I reviewed all 54 of Rodriguez’s reps on defense. Even playing linebacker in the middle of the field, Rodriguez was only actively involved in 23 plays. On those plays where Rodriguez directly mattered in the outcome, I assigned either a plus for a good play or a minus for a bad one. The tally: 15 plusses, eight minuses.

Some of the plusses were obvious ones. The second defensive snap of the game was a great example. Rodriguez attacked a Commanders run, picking off the outside blocker and pushing him into the way of RB Antonio Gibson, who was quickly gobbled up by Will Harris and Alex Anzalone for a minimal gain. If Rodriguez doesn’t do what he does, Anzalone doesn’t get there on the scrape in pursuit from the other LB spot.

Two other first-half plusses resulted in major positives for the Lions defense. Rodriguez helped create an intentional grounding penalty against Commanders QB Carson Wentz with a delayed A-gap blitz. No. 44 was integral in the Charles Harris sack of Wentz that produced the safety, too; Rodriguez was in coverage on Wentz’s desired target and locked up TE Logan Thomas on the play, forcing Wentz to hold the ball long enough for the cavalry to get the huge play.

Rodriguez also contributes on special teams, and he earned a plus on the very next rep, the free kick after the safety. He made a textbook seal block that helped spring Kalif Raymond for a 52-yard return.

The minuses primarily came in the second half and in open field or coverage situations. He was exploited in coverage on two big plays by the Washington offense on the touchdown drive that closed the score to 22-15. The first was a deep crossing pattern where he couldn’t keep up with WR Curtis Samuel, a very nice play design by the Commanders. Two plays later, Rodriguez didn’t get enough depth in his cover drop, allowing Wentz to hit Thomas for a TD before safety DeShon Elliott could close from his high-coverage role. It appears Pro Football Focus hung this TD on Elliott’s ledger, but Rodriguez is of at least equal culpability.

It was a frustrating minus to give on the TD pass because Rodriguez earned a plus one drive earlier for getting great positioning in coverage on Thomas and forcing Wentz to throw the ball too high to his giant TE, resulting in the tip-drill INT by Will Harris. Another coverage plus came later when Rodriguez nearly snatched an interception while staying in lockstep coverage.

There was one missed tackle, a play where Wentz juked a diving Rodriguez on a scramble up the middle. He had another arm tackle that failed but was quickly cleaned up by Harris, and Rodriguez at least held his leverage so I didn’t give him a minus there.

Three minuses came on run plays where he was devoured by blocks on the play side of the run. But Rodriguez earned several plusses in the run game, notably a huge stuff tackle on 3rd-and-2 at the end of the third quarter. Three plays later he initiated a tackle-for-loss in tandem with DT Isaiah Buggs, a big plus for No. 44.

Overall it was a very impressive performance for Rodriguez’s second NFL game. The minuses in coverage were primarily more of a schematic issue than mental failures by Rodriguez. The instincts and quick reactions that made Rodriguez appealing as a draft prospect and rocketed him up the Detroit depth chart were validated in the win over the Commanders.

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Lions vs. Commanders: Game notes from the Week 2 film review

Story originally appeared on Lions Wire