Lions' Quin says instincts are lagging in new scheme

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Glover Quin doesn’t deny he’s not making the plays he’s accustomed to making, but says it’s not because his body is in decline.

Allen Park — Glover Quin is defined by his consistent and sustained excellence. Even without always earning accolades for the league, the Detroit Lions safety has played at or near a Pro Bowl level almost every one of his five seasons with the franchise.

But something is off to start this season. Quin’s best skill, his ability to anticipate something before it happens and get himself in position to make a play, it’s been a tick slow.

In the season opener against the New York Jets, he was slow to react to a designed quarterback rollout, allowing rookie Sam Darnold to get the edge and the first down on the scramble. And on Isaiah Crowell’s 62-yard touchdown run, Quin was slow to react, leaving him with a nearly impossible angle to make the stop.

Against San Francisco this past week, on the first snap of the game, Quin shuffled too far outside and whiffed on a tackle, allowing running back Matt Breida to turn a 12-yard gain into 28. And with the game on the line in the closing minutes, Quin read a post pattern run by Pierre Garçon, but drove in on the throw too late.

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What has often ended with an interception instead resulted in a 13-yard gain, giving the 49ers another set of downs to milk the clock.

Quin doesn’t deny he’s not making the plays he’s accustomed to making, but says it’s not because his body is in decline. It’s a fair question to ask, given that he turned 32 in January, but he insists he physically feels fine.

If we take him at his word — and the sample size is too small to suggest we know otherwise — there has to be another reason his play has plummeted. Last year he was graded as the fourth-best safety in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. Through two games this year, among players who have played at least 50 percent of their team’s defensive snaps, he’s checking in at 63 out of 65.

Even if he was slowing down, the performance decline wouldn’t be that precipitous.

What it boils down to, at least in part, is Quin’s instincts have been reset in a new defensive scheme, and his adjustment to his new assignments and techniques are taking a little longer to develop than anticipated.

Instead of seeing and reacting, like he did in the previous scheme, Quinn is spending a fraction of a second processing his responsibilities. He’s thinking, if only for a moment, before reacting. And that moment is, in his mind, all the difference.

“When they say games are won or lost by this much, that’s literally true,” he said holding his index finger and thumb about an inch apart. “Having to think, boom, and then go, as opposing to just going, is the difference in making a pass breakup, making an interception, or giving up a catch."

He snaps his fingers.

“Just like that.”

For the first time in his career, Quin skipped the voluntary portion of the offseason. You’d think that might put him behind his teammates in learning the scheme, but he said he’s had no trouble digesting the playbook. His first day back, during mandatory mini-camp in June, he was a full participant with no restrictions.

Knowledge and instincts are separate entities. Quin can know what he’s supposed to do and when to do it, but the ability to do it instinctively, that takes repetition.

And it’s not like he’s the only one struggling. In both loses, the entire defense has looked slow at best and lost at worst, especially when trying to stop the run.

Quin was asked how much different he anticipated the defense looking by mid-season. He noted the team, already 0-2 on the year, didn’t have that kind of time to wait for improvement.

“Well, I hope it’s not midseason,” he said. “We can’t afford eight games to get going. Hopefully Sunday, we’re all on board, ready to go.”

Twitter: @justin_rogers