Lions claim defensive woes are correctable

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — The Lions knew Vikings running back Adrian Peterson would have plenty of opportunities in Week 2. But any preparation to stop him didn’t work, as the three-time All-Pro ran for 134 yards in Minnesota’s 26-16 victory.

After allowing 199 rushing yards, the Lions know they have to improve their run defense.

“Any time a team runs like that it questions your manhood,” defensive end Phillip Hunt said Thursday. “And I think this week is going to show a lot about our character and how we overcome adversity and come back from a game like this.”

The Lions had the NFL’s top run defense in 2014, allowing 69.3 yards. The unit was so solid, the Bears attempted eight runs in one matchup last season.

Two games into this season, though, that strength is lacking as the Lions are tied for 28th in run defense, allowing 147 yards. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, now with the Dolphins, and linebacker DeAndre Levy, who missed the first two games with a hip injury, were key reasons for that success.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell said defensive tackle Haloti Ngata “hasn’t been perfect” replacing Suh, even if he’s not as effective as a pass rusher as the former All-Pro.

Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin explained the line as a whole hasn’t played well based on the 0-2 start, and he provided an assessment of why the defense struggled to stop the Vikings.

“It’s very simple to see last week we didn’t hold the edge of the defense,” he said. “And no edge, no chance.”

Hunt, among the culprits of that issue after losing the edge on a 29-yard reverse by wide receiver Jarius Wright, agreed.

“Just be more physical at the point of attack and not peak inside whenever the running back commits because you never know when he’s going to bounce back outside,” he said. “Holding the edge is going to be our main focus this week and getting the job done.”

The Broncos, who visit Ford Field on Sunday night, struggled running the ball their first two games, averaging 65 yards. C.J. Anderson is averaging 2.3 yards per carry.

With quarterback Peyton Manning and receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, the goal for the Lions is to make the Broncos one-dimensional by stopping the run, safety James Ihedigbo said.

Denver runs a zone-blocking scheme that worked well when coach Gary Kubiak was in Baltimore last year, so being technically sound will be critical to stopping Anderson and Ronnie Hillman.

“They’re not going to juke around, they’re not going to shimmy and shake,” Austin said. “They’re going to get positive yards. And so if you get cut out, you overrun, you get cut off, whatever it is, they have an opportunity to break the big play because they are going to hit that hole real fast and they’re going to hit it downhill. They’re not going to fool around”

The Lions defense has experienced a number of issues.

■In Week 1, they struggled tackling and chasing receivers and tight ends on short routes.

■In Week 2, they couldn’t contain the run.

Yet, Austin believes the issues are correctable.

“I think effort-wise, strength-wise or physicality, we play hard and we play tough and we’re physical enough to win the battle,” he said. “We just haven’t played smart enough football yet consistently to win a game.”

Playing a team that doesn’t have the fast and powerful Peterson could make it easier to improve. But ultimately, playing with good fundamentals is the best way for the Lions to return to last year’s form.

“It doesn’t matter what running back is there,” Hunt said. “We have to make sure we hold a point of attack on the edge and hold the edge because anybody could get back there and run around the edge that’s not set very well.”