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Lions notes: Pass rush looking toothless once again

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — In an issue that's lingered from the previous regime, the Detroit Lions are continuing to struggle pressuring the passer. After teasing a turnaround early in the season, only the Atlanta Falcons currently have fewer sacks than Detroit's 14. 

The Lions haven't sacked the quarterback in each of the past two games. Steelers backup quarterback Mason Rudolph dropped back to pass 52 times last Sunday, and not only was he not sacked, the Lions failed to hit him in the pocket. 

Detroit hasn't recorded a sack since early in the third quarter against the Los Angeles Rams on Oct. 24, when Julian Okwara got home against Matthew Stafford. That was the team's only sack of that game and they've failed to record more than two since their Week 3 matchup against Baltimore. 

Outside linebacker Julian Okwara had the Lions' last sack against the Rams.

After tallying eight the first three weeks, including four against the Ravens, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said offenses have committed more resources to slowing Detroit's front on third downs, where they were having much of their early success. 

"I’ll tell you what, when you look at the film, teams are really trying to max things up on us (in protection) because they know how we pressure in that situation," Glenn said. "We just have to figure out some ways to be able to overcome some of the max protection, and then some of these guys are checking the ball down trying to get run-and-catch situations on us."

More: Lions OC Lynn: I'd be a hypocrite to not agree with play-calling change

In addition to any potential schematic shifts, Detroit has been hurt by some personnel issues. Romeo Okwara, the team's most consistent pass-rushing threat, suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 4. And Trey Flowers, who has steadily pressured the pocket his entire career, has been battling a knee injury that's limited his effectiveness much of the season. 

That's left Detroit lo lean more heavily on young edge defenders, such as Julian Okwara, Austin Bryant and Charles Harris, to mixed results. Harris notably had a four-game sack streak earlier in the season, but he hasn't managed to get a hand on the quarterback the past four games as he's seen a more steady stream of double teams. 

The team also isn't getting any help from its interior. Detroit traded for Michael Brockers and drafted Levi Onwuzurike to help alleviate the lack of inside push, but according to Pro Football Focus, the two have combined for just five quarterback pressures all season. 

To add some perspective, Brockers averaged 33 pressures the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Rams. 

Heading into Sunday's game, the Lions are averaging 1.56 sacks per game, barely ahead of the 1.5 they averaged a year ago. But the Browns offer an opportunity to get back on track. They've allowed 30 sacks this season, ahead of only the Bears. (33). 

Impending debut

It's still unclear who will start at quarterback for the Lions this Sunday, but whether it's Jared Goff or Tim Boyle under center, they'll get the boost of having wide receiver Josh Reynolds in the lineup. 

Claimed off waivers a week ago, Reynolds has been picking up the playbook and is ready to contribute this Sunday against the Browns. 

"Josh has looked really good in practice," offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said. "He's still learning the offense, but I can tell you the times he's been in there, he's looked really good. ... He's shown strong hands. He's pretty sharp, he's picking up the offense pretty quickly."

Reynolds hadn't been doing much in his first season with Tennessee, prior to asking for his release. Last year, paired with Goff in Los Angeles, the veteran receiver posted the best numbers of his career, catching 52 passes for 618 yards. 

"Look, he’s a long, linear guy," Lions coach Dan Campbell said. "He has length, he’s got speed and he’s kind of a build-to speed guy, but you see when he can get a step into his route, he’s pretty good. And he’s pretty fluid downfield, tracks the ball pretty well. So, I think he can help us in some of our one-on-one matchups, get a ball out there and let him go attack a corner one-on-one. That’s kind of how we’ll try to use him a little bit, as well."

At 6-foot-3, Reynolds brings some much-needed size to the table for the Lions, who lost big-bodied targets Tyrell Williams and Quintez Cephus to injury early in the year. 

"It's a bigger target for the quarterbacks, and he has strong hands," Lynn said. "I thought coming out of college that he was one of the better 50-50 (ball) guys, and I kind of compared him to (Chargers receiver) Mike Williams a little bit. Mike might be a little stronger, but I kind of see Josh that way. If the ball is in his area code, he's going to come down with it."

Half man, half fish

Lions running back Jamaal Williams missed the past two weeks with a thigh injury, but is on track to play this Sunday against the Browns. 

Sitting out with injury is never easy, but it was particularly difficult for Williams to miss last week's game against the Steelers. Not only was Detroit's game plan built around the ground game, but Williams loves playing in inclement conditions. 

Two years ago, when he was still with the Packers, the always-amusing Williams provided a colorful explanation about why he loves running in the rain. 

"I think the rain slows everybody else down,” Williams said in 2019. “… I feel like I’m a mermaid, and then everyone else is just like dogs swimming. You know what I mean?"

According to the current forecast, which calls for a high chance of precipitation, Williams should get another chance to feel like a mermaid against the Browns this weekend. 

With Williams out, the team got strong performances from young backups Godwin Igwebuike and Jermar Jefferson, but the veteran's consistency was missed. Through the first seven games, he had been averaging a career-best 4.4 yards per carry. 

Beyond the production, the Lions have been missing Williams infectious energy in the huddle and on the sidelines. 

"You know when he's not there," running backs coach Duce Staley said. "You don't see anyone dancing, joking, playing jokes, you know? You never know what he could be doing. He's setting you up for something, you best believe it.

"It was just good to have him back out there (in practice)," Staley said. "He's a leader. He's leader on the field and off the field. He leads by example and he speaks it, he talks it and he goes do it."

Injury update

Goff missed his second consecutive practice with an oblique injury, further putting his status for Sunday's game in doubt. Flowers (knee) and Jefferson (knee/ankle) also missed their second straight day. 

Surprisingly, offensive tackle Taylor Decker also wasn't practicing for the Lions. He fully participated on Wednesday, but popped up with an elbow injury on Thursday.

Decker made his season debut against the Steelers after missing the first eight games with a broken finger, playing all 71 offensive snaps in the tie. 

Backup tackle Matt Nelson (ankle) was back on the practice field for the Lions after sitting out a day earlier. 

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers