Opposing offenses are catching up to Lions

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Play after play, series after series, the Chargers picked apart the Lions defense Sunday with short passes that quickly turned into longer gains.

Perhaps, after a year in which the Lions ranked No. 2 defensively, San Diego has already given the Lions' future opponents a blueprint for how to beat their talented defense.

Things started well for the Lions defense as it forced a three-and-out on the opening series with defensive end Ziggy Ansah posting a tackle for loss and fellow end Phillip Hunt notching a third-down sack on the next snap. Ansah and Devin Taylor split a sack early in the second quarter, but after that, the Lions couldn't reach Philip Rivers as his quick strikes neutralized the defensive line.

"All I can say is we just need to get there a little bit faster," defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker said.

Walker actually had a strong debut for the Lions. In 58 snaps, he had seven quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. No other defensive tackle had more than four.

Rivers ensured much of Walker's pressure was for naught, and the combination of quick passes and well-timed runs helped the Chargers accumulate 483 total yards.

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"It kind of takes the defensive line out of the game a little bit," defensive end Darryl Tapp said.

Obviously, having linebacker DeAndre Levy in the lineup will help combat the short passing attack as he has the speed to contain running backs and tight ends, but the Lions actually had similar issues a couple of times last year.

Against New England last season, the Lions didn't sack Tom Brady, and short passes to Julian Edelman, Shane Vereen and others helped the Patriots gain 439 total yards, the most the Lions allowed in 2014.

In the playoff game against the Cowboys, Tony Romo started to use quick throws to Cole Beasley and Jason Witten in the second half, and Dallas eventually overcame a 14-0 deficit.

"We've just got to communicate the underneath crossers and continue to work through that," strong safety James Ihedigbo said after Sunday's game. "They executed and we need to execute ourselves."

Many of Rivers' passes — 17 for 15 completions — went to wide receiver Keenan Allen as he racked up 166 yards and exploited the cushion the Lions too frequently gave him. Fellow receiver Stevie Johnson took advantage of his matchups against the Lions' nickel cornerbacks and finished with six catches for 82 yards.

Backup tight end Ladarius Green, who started in place of the suspended Antonio Gates, added five catches for 74 yards and a touchdown as he found openings against the Lions' linebackers and safeties.

According to Pro Football Focus, the Lions missed 11 tackles Sunday — three each by Walker, Ihedigbo and Tulloch — which helped make the Chargers' short passes more effective.

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"You've just got to correct the mistakes that we made and move forward," Ihedigbo said. "We've got a great group of guys here."

Rivers completed 83.3 percent of his passes, and next week, the Lions will have to face another accurate quarterback in Minnesota's Teddy Bridgewater, whose 64.4 percent completions as a rookie is just slightly worse than Rivers' 64.8 percent in his 12-year career.

And while cornerback Darius Slay was one of the few bright spots Sunday, he's dealing with an ankle injury and his status for Week 2 is unknown. If he can't play, the Lions could become more susceptible on deep passes in addition to the short ones.

"It's hard to win in this league anywhere on the road," Tapp said. "It's hard to win games period. We definitely had our chances, definitely had opportunities so we're going to have to look at this film and make sure this thing doesn't snowball and it stops with this game.

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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