Why Lions' Secondary Must Play Zone Defense

Daniel Kelly

To be or not to be. 

The question of man vs. zone coverage is a philosophical one.

However, it is not a question when it comes to the Detroit Lions.

Play Zone. Play Zone. Play Zone.

Despite coming from a man-heavy background in New England, Lions head coach Matt Patricia just does not have the same personnel in Detroit that is capable of consistent success in a man scheme. 

He does not have the corners who can track it, and he does not have the pass rush to support it. 

Currently, the Lions rank 30th in the league in terms of sacks, and are averaging 1.2 per game. 

Not to mention, when you take a closer look at the 2-3 Lions, you will easily notice the difference in the amount of zone coverage played in Week 1 compared to last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. 

Per ESPN Stats & Info, 

Week 1 (loss to CHI): 82.1% man, 17.9% zone

Week 2 (loss to GB): 81.8% man, 18.2% zone

Week 3 (win over ARI): 55.6% man, 44% zone

Week 4 (loss to NO): 63% man, 37% zone

Week 6 (win over JAX): 39.1% man, 60.9% zone

There is a commonality here. 

The two weeks the Lions played more zone coverage, they won. 

Man coverage does not make sense. It does not make sense in terms of analytics, and it does not make sense in terms of personnel. 

Despite the Lions' defense looking like a jailbreak rushing the quarterback against Jacksonville -- my real question is where has that been all season long -- that has not happened the rest of the season, and it's why Detroit has gotten killed in man coverage. 

It just does not work if you are not getting to the quarterback and corners are expected to endlessly cover receivers in man. 

Eventually, coverages break down, and big plays happen, which is how this past September could be summarized for the Lions. 

And now on top of it all, the Lions will be without rookie DE Julian Okwara (IR) and possibly without star DE Trey Flowers -- held out of practice on Wednesday with a wrist ailment. 

© Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

And subsequently, it looks to now be even more important to focus on playing primarily zone coverage against Atlanta. 

You also have to add Falcons veteran quarterback Matt Ryan and receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley into the equation. 

Play Zone. Play Zone. Play Zone.

I see it week after week with team after team -- and in Detroit -- where no matter how fast or agile players are in coverage, they just cannot seem to make a play on the ball fast enough in reactive man situations. 

Receivers, tight ends and running backs are just faster, and can change direction more quickly and crisply.

Quarterbacks are getting rid of the ball faster, too - - sometimes in less than two seconds. And as a result, we see man coverage becoming more of a recipe for losing.

Add in the fact that some offenses are throwing in new and creatively-designed routes -- outside of the old traditional and well-trained routes on the route tree -- and it makes it even more challenging for those in man coverage to react in time. 

And that is why we see defensive players being lucky to just be able to make the tackle after the catch is made. 

Advantage offense. 

Not to mention, the rules are more geared toward the offense.

Defenses have to evolve further and not just in terms of some new exotic blitz -- but instead, in terms of look and scheme. 

We have seen offenses run everything from the wildcat to New Orleans and Baltimore having two quarterbacks on the field at the same time. 

But, defenses look basically the same way they did 40 years ago, in terms of base alignments and schemes. 

It is either mostly a 4-3-4 look -- four down defensive linemen, three linebackers and four defensive backs (usually two corners and two safeties) -- or a 3-4-4 look -- three down defensive linemen, four linebackers and four defensive backs (usually two corners and two safeties). 

Of course, sometimes there is an extra corner or two thrown in to make it either a nickel or dime look. But, it is usually the same standard looks, with man or zone concepts. 

And with Detroit having a 2-3 record and everyone's job believed to be on the line, it just may be time to throw caution and the point spread to the wind and to evolve defensively. 

But, regardless, even if Patricia and Detroit defensive coordinator Cory Undlin are not bold enough to change it up on defense, at the very least, it is proven they have a better chance of winning by keeping things in front of them, especially with the way rookie defensive back Jeff Okudah can close. 

Play zone, play zone, play zone. 

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Comments (3)
No. 1-2

All of these numbers are skewed by Jax being horrible. Both of their lines are worthless. So stopping the run was easy, opening up everything else.


Tbh, not certain Lions secondary can play either man or zone consistently