Why Detroit Lions' run defense dominated Jaguars: 'The guys played aggressive'

Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press
·3 min read

After a resounding 34-16 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said, “I think it was total team ball.”

And it was.

But what Stafford didn’t say was that the defense had mostly not been keeping up through the first four games this season.

That changed Sunday, when the Lions’ defense shut down Gardner Minshew and the Jags’ offense early, then shut the door late.

“Obviously, our defense did a heck of a job today,” Stafford said, “held them down, stopped the run, turned it over a couple times for us, and then we ran the ball really well.”

Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. is tackled by Detroit Lions cornerback Darryl Roberts during the first quarter at TIAA Bank Field, Oct. 18, 2020.
Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. is tackled by Detroit Lions cornerback Darryl Roberts during the first quarter at TIAA Bank Field, Oct. 18, 2020.

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Yep. Good, old-fashioned complementary football.

But that was made possible only by the Lions’ defense doing mostly one thing: shutting down the run game. The defense entered Sunday ranked dead last against the run, allowing an average of 170.3 rushing yards per game. They held the Jags to 44 rushing yards — and only 29 by James Robinson, who ran for 102 yards against Tennessee and was averaging 4.6 yards per carry.

“I thought the front did a good job with the linebackers and the D-line and some of the (defensive backs) down in the (tackle) box,” coach Matt Patricia said. “We have a couple of different looks, which I thought was good. The guys played aggressive. They did a good job.

“Jacksonville has a good run game. We know that, we talked about it all week. It was a big challenge for us, so I am just happy. Credit to the players because they put it on the field, which was great.”

It wasn’t a perfect game by the Lions’ defense. But it wasn’t far off, either. The defense never let the Jaguars get into the game and held them to three points until midway through the third quarter, when the Lions led, 24-3.

Detroit Lions defensive tackle Danny Shelton tackles Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. during the first quarter at TIAA Bank Field, Oct. 18, 2020.
Detroit Lions defensive tackle Danny Shelton tackles Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. during the first quarter at TIAA Bank Field, Oct. 18, 2020.

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And it could have been an even bigger rout, if the Lions’ offense had capitalized on some gifts from the defense.

Duron Harmon’s interception in the second quarter gave the Lions the ball at the Jags’ 37-yard line, but that drive resulted in Matt Prater’s missed 57-yard field goal.

Trey Flowers forced a fumble that was recovered by Romeo Okwara to give the Lions’ offense another short field at the Jags’ 43. But that drive resulted in a punt.

The Lions’ defense did a good job mixing normal pressure with some blitzes that helped keep the Jags’ offense off balance.

“They are complementary in the run and the pass game, that is true,” Patricia said of the philosophy behind building defensive pressure. “Give Minshew credit. That guy got out of some tough looks. He is a great player. He is really difficult to play against. He made some really phenomenal escapes and extended some plays.

“We have to do a better job and we missed some opportunities there. We missed some, but give him some credit for the athlete that he is.”

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Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II (15) reacts after running the ball in for a touchdown against the Detroit Lions during the second half at TIAA Bank Field.
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II (15) reacts after running the ball in for a touchdown against the Detroit Lions during the second half at TIAA Bank Field.

Minshew did a good job of escaping pressure and getting off throws before the pass rush reached him. He also scrambled for a 6-yard touchdown when he juked linebacker Jahlani Tavai, who was tracking him in the middle of the field near the goal line.

But Minshew repaid Patricia’s compliment and credited a good defensive game plan.

“They’re a very good defense and very well coached,” Minshew said. “That’s one thing that stands out. They did a good job mixing their blitzes and mixing their coverage. We never really got settled in and we just need to do a better job starting faster and getting in that rhythm a little sooner.”

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Why Detroit Lions' run defense dominated: 'The guys played aggressive'