The winless, undefeated Lions return home after a disappointing tie in Arizona to battle the Chargers. We take a look at the matchup. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Allen Park — Darius Slay might be the most confident person to ever step foot in the Lions locker room. For as long as he's been here, the joke has been Slay is the best at everything, according to Slay.
Best basketball player? Slay. Fastest? Slay. Best dancer? Slay.
Given his childlike enthusiasm for life, Slay's confidence has always come across more as playful than arrogant, drawing laughter from teammates and media members alike.
But something is different this year. During training camp, Slay conceded he might not be as fast as rookie running back Ty Johnson. And after the Arizona Cardinals wanted nothing to do with throwing his direction, Slay went out of his way to avoid the opportunity to pound his chest.
"Not really," Slay said when asked if he felt more and more quarterbacks were avoiding him. "Sometimes they probably trying to get there, but I be in good coverage. Sometimes they miss when I'm not in good coverage. It's probably a respect thing. They look one time and be like, 'Oh man, he's on him,' but a second later, (the receiver) might be free.'"
There's little question Slay is one of the NFL's top cornerbacks. He earned All-Pro honors two years ago and has been selected to the Pro Bowl twice. And while the Lions are off to a disappointing start this season, blowing an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter and settling for a tie against the Cardinals, Slay looked as dominant as ever.
In the game, Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray dropped back 59 times and Slay was in coverage on 58 of those snaps. In total, his coverage assignment was targeted just four times and he gave up one reception for six yards. That catch, by the way, he quickly notes he conceded.
"I let a catch on like third-and-16," Slay said. "I was playing at the sticks."
Slay doesn't mind quarterbacks not looking his direction. He takes it as a compliment that he's doing his job well.
"I just have fun out there, go out there and compete," he said. "If I wasn't competing, they'd probably throw it at me."
But this week, he probably won't have another slow day at the office. This week, the Chargers come to town, and that means Keenan Allen is coming, too.
The Lions aren't about to reveal their game plan, but Slay has long had a tendency of following the opponent's best outside receiver, wherever he lines up. That assignment would unquestionably be Allen on Sunday.
“This guy is an unbelievable athlete, an unbelievable wide receiver," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "The thing about him that is unique is that he has great route-running ability. His ability to cut, to release off of the line of scrimmage, to really kind of move the defenders at the line to get open, get into space. His top of the route quickness — he’s got some subtleties in there. His head turns, his shoulder leans, and some of the ways he skips off the line of scrimmage he has some unorthodox releases too that are just extremely difficult to defend against."
In short, Allen is really good.
And even though it's been a few years, given the Lions and Chargers only cross paths once every four seasons, Lions fans probably remember what Allen did the last time the two squads met.
In the 2015 season opener, Allen had a field day, catching 15 passes for 166 yards. It was a rough outing for former Lions cornerback Rashean Mathis, who was charged with checking the shifty receiver much of that afternoon.
Slay was only responsible for two of the grabs for 21 yards.
Assuming the two are matched up more often this time around, it should be one of the top battles to watch. Over the past two seasons, Allen has averaged 100 catches, 1,295 yards and six touchdowns. During the same stretch, Slay has defended 43 passes and intercepted 11 balls.