Allen Park — Although there's nothing small about Damon Harrison, the nose tackle's performance has been microcosm of the woes that have plagued the Detroit Lions' defense six games into the season.
Harrison is a known commodity. His reputation as a dominant run stopper has been firmly established. Because of that, he was expected to be the anchor of a unit that was supposed to be pretty good, but thus far has fallen flat.
Harrison, the definition of a consistent performer the past several years, knows he's part of the problem.
"Obviously, it’s very disappointing, especially having the guys we have in the room," Harrison said. "It really starts with me up front. I have to do a better job in the middle in getting some of the those plays I’m used to making that I’m not making this year. It’s a lot of things I can blame it on, but the only thing I can do at the end of the day is just throw effort at it during the practice week and try to perform on Sundays."
Harrison declined to get into specifics, but said offenses aren't blocking him any differently so much as they're game-planning for him and taking advantage of some areas where he's been struggling this season.
He went on to say this has been the most frustrating stretch of his career.
While it's difficult to quantify the impact of a single interior lineman, there's been a sharp decline in Harrison's tackle numbers this season. After averaging 83 stops the past three campaigns, he has just 15 through six games this year, a 40-tackle pace.
On the whole, the Lions' vaunted defensive line has failed to deliver on lofty expectations following the high-priced additions of Trey Flowers and Mike Daniels. The Lions rank near the bottom of the league in both yards per carry allowed and quarterback pressure rate.
It's likely not a coincidence that Flowers, Harrison, Daniels and second-year defensive tackle Da'Shawn Hand all missed extensive time during training camp. Daniels has also been sidelined multiple games with a foot injury, while Hand has yet to debut this year after suffering an elbow injury the first week of training camp.
"I think it’s probably a really good observation," Lions coach Matt Patricia. "Obviously, I have to make sure that when those guys miss those reps, I have to coach it properly to make sure that they understand exactly what we’re doing. That is one of the things I talk about all the time, how important training camp is — those reps in training camp. The cumulative amount of reps that we get in camp far outweigh the Wednesdays or every other Wednesday kind of repetition that we get. It makes it really difficult to catch up and unfortunately, we have to do it every single way we can possible."
Fundamentals, which are typically established and built up through training camp, continue to plague not just the front four, but Detroit's entire defense. The unit has allowed the past three opponents to rack up 1,388 yards and more than 90 points.
"It’s not really a scheme thing," Patricia said. "We can play any scheme we want. I’ve coached more defense probably than anybody in the league, as far as scheme is concerned. We have to start somewhere, and you start with your foundation, and your foundation has to be good fundamentals. If you don’t have that or you’re not consistent with it, then it becomes really hard to fix everything else."
The Lions defense will look to get on track this week against the New York Giants, led by rookie quarterback Daniel Jones and star running back Saquon Barkley.
The Giants rank 25th in points per game, but have been slightly better since replacing quarterback Eli Manning with Jones. In the rookie's five starts, the team has averaged 20.2 points.