Bob Wojnowski and Justin Rogers look ahead to this weekend's game with the Bears. Detroit News
Allen Park — Play fakes and misdirection have been a problem for the Detroit Lions defense this year. That’s something the Chicago Bears exploited in the teams’ earlier season matchup — both with zone-read runs and play-action in the red zone.
Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky had success on the ground in the last meeting, running it six times for 53 yards. He would have had more had he not lost his footing on one of his zone-read runs.
“Yeah, it’s a concern,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “I mean, any team that runs it, it’s difficult for you to handle. Often, a lot of teams are not afraid to put their quarterback out there in space at risk running the football. And when you do have a team that does it, it gives you some problems.”
The zone-read was a glaring issue during a three-week stretch for Detroit, with Cleveland also having regular success utilizing it, and Minnesota unexpectedly busting it out in the red zone, with quarterback Case Keenum running for a nine-yard touchdown on Thanksgiving.
“If you base you whole game plan about the zone-read option a lot of times what will happen is the running back will run through you because you’re waiting on the quarterback to run,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin explained. “Our feeling is we’d rather have the quarterback try to beat us running the ball than the running back, and so, as always, we have to find a way to stop it. We got to figure out when they run it, when they like to run it and then hopefully we have the appropriate defense called.”
Understandably, the Lions are focused on bottling up Chicago running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, one of the NFL’s more formidable tandems.
But selling out to stop the run has also exposed the Lions to some issues with play-action, especially near the goal line. They’ve been beat for play-action in the red zone four times the past two games, and the Bears got into the end zone against the Lions last time, when Trubisky found tight end Adam Shaheen after a play fake to the back.
“It’s hard,” Caldwell said. “A couple weeks ago the same combination pattern was run in the ballgame three times, they scored on it twice, we scored on it once. It’s not an easy one, it’s flat seven, it’s been that way for the longest time. We keep working on it, keep trying to find ways, but when you’re really focusing in on trying to stop the run, all it takes is one step in the wrong direction and you’re outflanked.”