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Lions' Cory Undlin: Better coaching, execution needed on defense

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

The numbers aren’t pretty: 46 points allowed in the second half in the first two games. A league-worst 408 total rushing yards allowed. Zero turnovers caused by the defense.

Zero wins. Two losses.

Packers receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling tries to make a catch against the Lions on Sunday.

It’s still early in the season, but the way things have gone for the Lions in recent years, the first few weeks of the season can be the harbinger of things to come. With the powerful Arizona Cardinals offense coming on Sunday, fixing some of the issues on defense and finding a way to turn things around before another season starts to unravel is the priority for the Lions.

Lions linebacker Reggie Ragland vented Monday, saying that the Lions have the physical pieces they need, but the issue is with being persistent and trying to play more disciplined.

Defensive coordinator Cory Undlin reiterated the point Tuesday, reflecting on the defense giving up 259 rushing yards in Sunday’s 42-21 loss at Green Bay.

“I don't think that sat (well) with anybody — myself, the players, anybody — very well. That's a true statement. I think that's an obvious statement,” Undlin said. “We've got to do a better job coaching it and we've got to do a better job executing it. That's it.

“We could go around and talk about what's disappointing or what I saw. It doesn't really matter at this point. It's my job to get in the meeting room point it out. It’s my job to get the players to believe in it and go out and execute it better. I've got to do a better job coaching, and we've got to do better job playing. I would leave it at that.”

After giving up 21 fourth-quarter points to the Chicago Bears in the Week 1 loss, the Lions allowed 31 points in the middle two quarters and staking the Packers to a 34-14 lead, effectively putting the game away before a fourth-quarter rally even was needed.

The secondary is saddled with injuries and the front is struggling to get any pressure on opposing quarterbacks. It’s a cause for concern and changes in the game plan — and a sense of urgency before the season maybe gets out of hand.

“We're going to move forward and we're going to get it fixed. No panic right now in our room with any position group,” Undlin said. “We all are aware of the fact that we haven't played great the first two weeks and we're 0-2, so you can point to anything you want, but we're 0-2.

“It starts with me and our goal is to get it fixed this week and we're going to do everything we can starting (Wednesday) to get that fixed.”

The Cardinals (2-0) enter with a top-10 offense in the league, averaging 421 yards on offense, including 170 yards rushing.

Slow start for James

Through the first two weeks, the Lions offense hasn’t looked very much like anyone had envisioned in the preseason.

There’s the surprise absence of primary receiving target Kenny Golladay because of hamstring issues. Then, there’s the surprise addition of Adrian Peterson in the backfield, providing a needed bump in experience at that position.

The tight ends are the group that’s lived up to expectation, but that’s more with T.J. Hockenson than Jesse James. After some conversations with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell in the offense about finding balance in the passing game with the receivers, tight ends and backfield, there was some thought that James would be featured more.

In the first two games, that hasn’t come to fruition — James hasn’t even been targeted once in the passing game.

"The one thing I would say is we're trying to get everybody involved. We had plays that were designed for (James) in that game, and the way that the (Packers) defense played it — the way they adjusted to it — the read took the quarterback elsewhere,” Bevell said Tuesday. “We're going to continue to read it and take what the defense gives us. I said it, I talked to Jesse in the offseason as well, wanted to make sure he knew that I want to make sure he's involved with us on the offense. We’ve got to get him involved really everywhere — red zone included — and we'll continue to try to find ways to do that.”

On one hand, it’s only two games.

Moreover, it’s two games without Golladay, which has to impact the variety of offensive play-calling at least a little bit. It’ll take more time to incorporate all of the pieces, with Peterson, rookie D’Andre Swift and a healthy Kerryon Johnson finding their way. Establishing a good run-pass mix may take some time, too.

James said having a reduced role from what he had with the Pittsburgh Steelers for four years takes some getting used to as well.

“(Last season) wasn't a great year. Toughest year I've had as a pro, for sure. A lot of learning, just worked as hard as you could all year and nothing ended up working out for me personally,” James said before the season. “It's just a part of the job and I wouldn't change the way I approached the work week. I learned a lot, got better and I feel like I've improved a lot since then.”

rod.beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard