Lions LB Jahlani Tavai Playing Well in Pass Coverage

Logan Lamorandier

It's no secret that the Lions' linebackers have struggled in pass coverage -- as well as the rest of the defense. 

One Detroit linebacker has managed to stand out when asked to defend the pass, however. 

His name: Jahlani Tavai. 

According to Pro Football Focus, Tavai has been extremely efficient in coverage. 

Of all NFL linebackers that have played in at least 20 percent of coverage snaps, Tavai is first in the league in two categories: coverage snaps per target and coverage snaps per reception. 

Quarterbacks just are not looking his way, which in theory, is a good thing.

In terms of yards allowed per coverage snap, he is ranked No. 3 out of 85 qualifying linebackers.

Even with limited coverage duties, opposing quarterbacks have completed eight of 12 targets against Tavai for 97 yards. 

He's accounted for one pass breakup, no interceptions and no touchdowns allowed. It all amounts to a 91.3 passer rating against -- good for 18th-best in the league.

His 72.4 PFF coverage grade is also 21st-best in the NFL -- by far the highest mark of Detroit's starting linebackers and better than rookies such as Devin Bush, Devin White and Mack Wilson.

It's important to note, however, that Tavai's responsibilities aren't exactly the same as fellow linebacker Jarrad Davis. 

Davis, as a result of being dropped into deep middle coverage along with occasionally being tasked with manning running backs and tight ends, is put into precarious situations more frequently than Tavai. 

Despite Davis doing his best work rushing the passer, it's clear that the Lions' coaching staff still feels the most comfortable with him being the linebacker that plays in space.

Coverage percentage based on total defensive snaps:

Davis - 52%

Christian Jones - 38%

Tavai - 40%

Coverage percentage based on passing plays only:

Davis - 83%

Jones - 63%

Tavai - 72%

Much like Davis, Tavai has struggled to bring down ball carriers after the catch in the open field. 

Tavai, who does have some athletic limitations, actually has a worse tackling efficiency rate than Davis while in coverage.

It obviously says something that Detroit head man Matt Patricia prefers Davis over Tavai in coverage, but it also doesn't mean Tavai hasn't been doing his part when called upon. 

Yes, Tavai's stats may be inflated due to the circumstances. 

Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see if the Lions try to use him a little more in coverage with just four games remaining in the season.

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