Lions must try to contain another mobile QB in Wilson

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — The Lions couldn’t do it last week and it cost the team a division title and home playoff game. They get another opportunity this week, with even higher stakes.

The goal: Keep one of NFL’s more mobile quarterbacks confined to the pocket.

The Lions failed that mission last week against the Packers. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers routinely escaped to the perimeter and did significant damage with his feet. If he wasn’t dancing around in the backfield, buying time for a receiver to come open, he was scrambling, gaining more than 40 yards on seven rushes.

The script will largely be the same this week in Seattle, where Detroit will be tasked with limiting quarterback Russell Wilson.

The numbers, at first glance, might lull you into a false sense of hope. Wilson finished the year with 259 rushing yards, by far the fewest in his career. But the figure is depressed by a first half that saw him fighting through multiple injuries, including a high ankle sprain.

“Yeah, he’s way better,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “At one point he had a high ankle sprain and a knee sprain at the same time. It was really hard for him, really difficult for eight or nine weeks of the season, he just kept getting through it. As he came back to his health he became way more active and became a bigger part of what we’re doing.”

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Over the final eight games, Wilson ran 44 times for 205 yards. That’s still a tick down from his career numbers, but proves he’s still a threat to bolt when things break down. And with an offensive line that surrendered 42 sacks and 111 quarterback hits, it’s not an uncommon situation.

“I just finished watching a whole bunch of games and he may be judicious with how much he runs, but he’s still running and he still can run,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “I know maybe the stats show that, but I’m watching the film and I know what I see. I see a guy that’s still very, very capable. He can hurt you inside and outside of the pocket. He’s very effective.”

Like Rodgers, Russell is also highly efficient with his arm, whether it’s out of a three-step drop or rolling away from pressure. His passing numbers were slightly down this year, but the track record is there. He led the NFL in passer rating and was third in completion percentage in 2015.

The Lions are an attacking defense with the goal of getting into the backfield in a hurry and wreaking havoc, but defending an elusive passer dictates a more cerebral approach. The edge rushers can’t be bulls in a china shop, they must be more attuned to the movements of the quarterback.

“It can be frustrating,” defensive end Kerry Hyder said. “There are certain rushes you have to take out of your repertoire because you don’t want to get run by or risk him stepping up and finding a seam. You just change up your style a little bit.

“We just have to be more disciplined,” Hyder said. “There were times where we were trying to make plays and dipping out of our gaps (against Rodgers). As a defense, we have to be disciplined and do our job.”

Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin feels the changes are subtler. He’s shouldering much of the blame for the team’s inability to contain Rodgers and has put it on himself to construct a better plan of attack for Wilson.

“We have to be able to put together a rush plan that’s better, better than I did the last week because we didn’t get it done,” Austin said. “We didn’t keep him in the pocket and this week when we put that rush plan together, all intents and purposes are to keep him in the pocket.”

Caldwell isn’t delusional. He knows you’re going to lose some of those battles on the edges and that Wilson is going to escape at times. The goal is limiting the damage.

“You just have to get them down enough times,” Caldwell said. “You’re not going to completely stop Russell Wilson. No one has at this point throughout his career.

“So you’ve just got to get him down enough times to be able to stall the drives and be able to answer with points.”