Packers' Philbin: Lions' coverage looks are 'cutting edge'

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Aaron Rodgers

Allen Park — Joe Philbin knows Matt Patricia's defense well. As the head coach in Miami from 2012-15, Philbin led his Dolphins against Patricia-directed units in New England four times. 

While watching the film of what Detroit is doing defensive, Philbin can see Patricia's hallmarks shining through, particularly with some of the Lions' coverage looks. 

"I think some of the things that they do coverage-wise are some of the best," said Philbin, the Packers' interim head coach. "The different combinations that they have, the variation that they present to you, how they game-plan to take away a certain receiver, the double coverage brackets, those types of things. I think those things that they do and have been doing for a while are cutting edge, if that’s the right term. I think they know it, they understand it, and you see on the film that they execute it awful well."

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Statistically, the Lions have struggled defending the pass this season. The team deceptively ranks in the top-10 against the pass, largely because opponents have had to attempt fewer throws. Digging deeper into the numbers, Detroit is allowing a league-worst 8.2 yards per attempt, while ranking 31st in opposing passer rating and interceptions. 

But the Lions have shown improvement as the year has progressed, holding teams under their season average in yards per attempt each of the past five games, and under 6.0 yards per attempt three times during that stretch. 

And, as Philbin notes, the Lions have often shown a knack for taking away an opponent's top weapon in the passing game, dating back to Week 3 against New England, when tight end Rob Gronkowsi was held to four grabs for 51 yards.

Or when Detroit snapped Vikings receiver Adam Thielen's streak of eight consecutive 100-yard performances to start the year, limiting him to 22 yards in Week 9. 

Detroit's defense has also been solid on third down. The 37.6 percent conversion rate allowed ranks 12th in the league. And that's dipped to 31.7 percent that past three weeks. 

So while the overall numbers haven't been great this year, Philbin is seeing those defining characteristics of Patricia's defenses in Detroit. That could be viewed as reason for optimism going forward, given New England's opponents averaged fewer than 20 points per game four straight years with Patricia at the helm.