Lions' Campbell: Communication breakdowns led to open Ravens receivers
Allen Park — The Detroit Lions did an excellent job keeping the Baltimore Ravens in check during Sunday's 19-17 loss, holding them under 20 points for just the third time in quarterback Lamar Jackson's 40 regular-season starts.
But if there was one glaring concern about Detroit's defensive performance, it was the number of open receiving options Jackson had throughout the contest. There's a reason he attempted more deep passes (traveling 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage) than any quarterback on Sunday, connecting on five for 162 yards and a touchdown.
And any talk of the Lions holding Jackson and company under 20 points would be moot had receiver Marquise Brown been able to corral any of these three would-be touchdowns that hit him in the hands.
After reviewing the film from the performance, Lions coach Dan Campbell pinned the issues with open receivers not on the defensive scheme, but a steady stream of communication lapses between the team's defenders.
"We have to get much more demonstrative, very clear and concise, loud and pass it along," Campbell said. "It's the communication between players, between our back end and our linebackers. Man, we've gotta clean it up. That was the errors that showed."
The fact that the Lions have a lot of moving pieces in their back seven didn't help, particularly with the overall inexperience of some of those players. Cornerback Bobby Price and linebacker Derrick Barnes were making their first career starts, while nickel cornerback AJ Parker, an undrafted rookie, had played fewer than 100 snaps coming into the day.
Campbell said improved communication is something that will be hammered home during the upcoming week of practice.
"That will be a major point of emphasis this week is our communication," Campbell said. "We're not going to allow it to go any other way. If I have to stop practice and I have to see demonstrative hand signals and screaming and everything it takes, we're going to do it."
Campbell noted there were plays, when the Ravens shifted alignments, that some defenders stayed in man coverage when they were supposed to be in zone, leading to the blown coverages. It's one of the reasons he called timeout before the Ravens attempted, and converted, a fourth-and-19 snap that set up Justin Tucker's game-winning field goal.
"Yeah, well, what I was hoping to gain was to get everybody settled and get everybody on the same page," Campbell said. "And we did, we everybody on the same page but one person and it hurt us. It hurt us."
Taking a pass
Another coaching decision Campbell discussed was settling for a field goal before the Ravens' game-winning drive.
After scoring touchdowns on the team's previous two possessions, the offense found itself on the move again after cornerback Amani Oruwariye intercepted Jackson with a little more than five minutes remaining.
But after securing first-and-goal from the Ravens' 14-yard line simultaneous with the two-minute warning, the Lions handed the ball off three consecutive plays, losing 3 yards.
Why, after three big pass plays to get into the red zone, didn't Campbell keep the foot on the gas?
"I've said this before, I feel like you have to take each game as it comes and I loved where our defense was at," he said. "I loved the way they were playing and, man, I wanted to put it in their hands. I felt like we were going to shut them down. We knew we would get the field goal, I wanted to drain their timeouts, and make (Jackson) beat us with his arm. And look, he did that. The odds say he doesn't. We didn't make the play, they did. Kudos to him and they made the kick. No, I don't second-guess it."
The plan nearly worked to perfection. The Lions did force the Ravens to use all their timeouts, and the defense had Jackson on the ropes after sacking him twice on three plays to set up the fourth-and-19 at their own 16-yard line with 26 seconds remaining, prior to the aforementioned defensive breakdown.
The Lions have three players eligible to return this week, but aren't expecting left tackle Taylor Decker or defensive lineman Da'Shawn Hand to be ready for Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears.
Decker suffered a finger injury ahead of the season-opener, requiring surgery. He's still in a cast, but was seen warming up with the team before the game with the Ravens.
"I would say, as of right now, no, we don't expect him back," Campbell said. "I can't totally rule him out, but I would say it would be very slim for him to be back."
Hand, who has been out with a groin injury since the middle of training camp, has recently been running on the side with a trainer during practice, but he's still "a bit away" from returning, according to Campbell.
The Lions are looking forward to finally getting defensive lineman Jashon Cornell in the mix this week. A seventh-round pick a year ago, he missed all of his rookie season after tearing his Achilles. He was then suspended the first three games this year after a DUI last summer.
Cornell played 58 snaps in the preseason, recording two tackles and four quarterback pressures. Campbell said it's premature to say whether the young lineman will be part of this week's game plan against Chicago.