Lions' banged-up secondary rises to occasion against Chiefs' high-flying attack

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News
Lions' Justin Coleman forces the fumble on Chiefs' Sammy Watkins during the third quarter on Sunday.

Detroit — Trying to slow down Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs is an order that few teams in the NFL have figured out how to fill.

The Lions on Sunday attempted to do it without the services of Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay, who was inactive after battling a hamstring injury suffered in last week’s win at Philadelphia. And then they lost veteran safety Quandre Diggs in the first quarter of Sunday’s 34-30 loss to Kansas City, again to a hamstring injury.

One might imagine that the back end of Detroit’s defense was poised to be taken advantage of by Kansas City's potent passing attack, but they’d be wrong.

The Lions’ secondary, with second-year corner Mike Ford and rookie safety Will Harris taking over for Slay and Diggs, respectively, held Mahomes to zero touchdown passes for just the third time in his career. The Lions also held Mahomes to a passer rating of 81.0, his third-lowest mark of 21 games started.

"We were just physical on the receivers," second-year safety Tracy Walker said. "We just didn't let them run. We didn't let them run clean and through.

“Will Harris, Mike Ford, those guys stepped up and made a few plays.”

Mahomes, who finished 24-for-42 passing for 315 yards, said afterward that he felt the Lions did a good job in executing man coverage and doubling tight end Travis Kelce, which helped Detroit in coming up with a handful of red-zone stops.

“I felt that we moved the ball well, kind of down the field between the 20s. We just couldn’t execute in the red zone,” Mahomes said.

One of the reasons Mahomes failed to find the end zone was Justin Coleman. He led the Lions with two pass breakups — including a touchdown-saving play on Chiefs receiver Sammy Watkins in the first quarter to preserve a 10-0 lead. In the third quarter, Coleman stripped Watkins before landing on the ball to spark a drive where the Lions would eventually take the lead.

Alas, Mahomes did win his team the game — though it wasn’t through the air — and Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said afterward that it was a result of the man coverage that’d benefited the Lions all game long. On fourth-and-8 at the Kansas City 34 and 1:55 on the clock, Mahomes waited for the secondary to drop back and took off for a gain of 15 on the ground to keep the eventual winning drive alive.

“They had doubles on, so when they start doubling people there are going to be some lanes, and (Mahomes) knew that,” Reid said. “He had the big fourth-down play, so that’s as big as they come right there. That’s one of those things, if you are going to double people, you have the chance of giving that up and rushing three.”

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.