Lions' third-down defense a bright spot amid poor opening performance

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — The Detroit Lions have plenty of things to fix defensively going into Monday night's matchup with the Green Bay Packers, but it's helpful to have a starting point, a foundation of something you know you do well to build upon.

For first-year coordinator Aaron Glenn, one of the areas he's hanging his hat on from Detroit's Week 1 loss to San Francisco is his unit's performance on third down. 

In the 41-33 defeat, the Lions stopped the 49ers on six of their nine attempts. And if you're asking Glenn, it should have been even better.

A swarm of Lions defenders bring down 49ers' Elijah Mitchell during last weekend's season opener.

"If you take it a step further, the seventh one, it should have been seven of nine because we got the fumble (recovery)," Glenn said Friday. "So we’re actually seven of nine, and you take the two that we lost, it was a third-and-10, we crushed the quarterback. We crushed him and he throws up a duck. Jeff (Okudah) has gotta make that play, and he does and he usually makes those plays, and I look forward to him coming back and making those plays for us.

"The second one was on another one (where) we hit the quarterback. Romeo (Okwara) was right at the quarterback, unblocked, great pressure, quarterback gets it out and then we’re not in the right place in coverage. Our guys understand that, and that happens to a team that’s really getting to understand the scheme."

Obviously, the sample size is small, but if the Lions could manage to maintain that level of success of third down, they would likely end up among the league leaders in the category. In 2020, opponents converting just 33.3% of the time would have ranked second, behind only the Miami Dolphins at 31.2%. 

More importantly, third-down success is often a barometer of overall defensive success. Four of the top five teams on third down last season also finished in the top six in points allowed. 

Obviously, even if the Lions were able to maintain, there are plenty of other issues they must clean up after allowing San Francisco's offense to rack up 442 yards and 34 points (the other seven was the result of an interception return for a touchdown).

On Friday, Glenn emphatically promised that improvement would continue to steadily happen over the course of the season. 

"I do know this, it’s a hard game, and every time we go out here and practice and every time we play, man, expect progress every time," Glenn said. "That’s what I can tell you, right? Expect progress, because we will have that."

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers