Week 2 was the first time the Lions used middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch in a part-time role, and in Week 3, his new role became a bit clearer.
Tulloch played 30 of 64 snaps in Sunday’s 24-12 loss to the Denver Broncos and did not play a single third down. Based on a look at the coaches film on NFL Game Rewind, the Lions are trying to avoid using Tulloch in strictly passing situations.
If the Lions’ planned to use Tulloch in run-first situations, they were successful as 14 of the Broncos’ 18 handoffs came with him on the field. Denver averaged just 2 yards per carry on those runs — 28 total yards — but the Lions defense showed overall improvement, allowing just 41 yards on 19 total runs, including quarterback Peyton Manning’s kneeldown.
While Tulloch’s role is now a bit more apparent, it’s still hard to say what kind of player he is. He finished the game with 11 tackles, including seven solo, and showed a good nose for the ball, but he didn’t have any splash plays.
Tulloch undoubtedly played better in Week 3 than in the Week 1 loss to the San Diego Chargers when he was a full-time player. However, he still lacked the explosion necessary to be more than a mediocre player.
Whether Tulloch can regain his form from his first three games in 2014 or earlier in his career remains to be seen, but the film showed some examples of why the Lions are trying to avoid using him in passing situations — at least right now.
On plays where the Broncos targeted the man Tulloch was covering, Manning was 5-for-5 for 28 yards. To Tulloch’s credit, he made the tackle on four of those passes to limit the gains. The longest completion against Tulloch was a 9-yarder to tight end Owen Daniels in which Tulloch missed the tackle.
In coverage, Tulloch was often a step late or a bit slow to recognize the play. He allowed a 6-yard pass in the fourth quarter to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who stopped his route right in front of the linebacker. In the first quarter, the Broncos picked up 6 yards on a similar play to receiver Bennie Fowler.
On another play where Tulloch made the tackle, a 13-yard screen to Fowler, he showed great awareness, but lacked the angle and footspeed to stop him for a short gain.
Against the run, Tulloch was just OK. There were a few plays where he made a tackle despite being engaged with a blocker and a few where he was blocked completely out of the play. A lowlight was being pancaked by Sanders on a 2-yard run by C.J. Anderson.
In addition to the Lions taking Tulloch out on third downs, he also missed three drives completely. One was the Broncos’ drive at the end of the second quarter, another was the one that leaked from the first quarter into the second and the final one was the Broncos’ field-goal drive in the fourth quarter.
For now, it looks like Tulloch is still the best middle linebacker option the Lions have, but Tahir Whitehead likely will continue to spell him on passing downs due to his superior speed and coverage ability.
Blocking doesn’t help Bell
Running back Joique Bell has struggled mightily to start the season with just 22 yards on 20 carries, but the game tape showed that his issues in Week 3 weren’t completely his fault, which coach Jim Caldwell said Monday.
Including a failed 2-point conversion, Bell had 11 carries, and his blockers allowed a Broncos player to hit him at or behind the line of scrimmage on six of them. And when he wasn’t hit immediately, there was a defender just ahead of the line, too.
The run blocking woes can be spread among all of the offensive linemen. Right tackle Cornelius Lucas allowed his player to tackle Bell for a 1-yard loss on the first carry. Guards Laken Tomlinson and Manny Ramirez couldn’t hold their blocks long for a no-gain on Bell’s second carry. Bell gained a yard on his third carry, but couldn’t make safety T.J. Ward miss for a longer gain.
Even on Bell’s 1-yard touchdown, he would’ve been tackled behind the line by the linebacker center Travis Swanson was supposed to block had Bell not leapt for the goal line.
Left tackle Riley Reiff and tight end Eric Ebron were beat on another no-gain, and the Broncos stopped Bell for zero yards after right tackle LaAdrian Waddle, who replaced Lucas, and fullback Michael Burton failed to create much push.
Even though Bell doesn’t look as fast or powerful as last year, most backs would struggle with the opportunities he had against Denver.