Lions' DC Glenn shoulders blame for late-game coverage breakdown against Bears
Allen Park — It's been a week, but the wounds of the Detroit Lions' most-recent blown opportunity to get a victory are still fresh.
The Lions had a chance to close out the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving, but instead of holding on to their narrow lead in the fourth quarter, the Lions allowed the opposition to drive the length of the field for a game-winning field goal while simultaneously draining the final eight-and-a-half minutes off the clock.
The frustrating series culminated with the Lions calling back-to-back timeouts, a 5-yard penalty, before surrendering a conversion on third-and-4 out of the second break. That allowed the Bears to drain the remaining time before attempting their kick.
Detroit's reasoning for second timeout has already been explained: There was confusion throughout the defense, and the coaching staff was convinced the Bears were going to convert without another reset, even if it meant taking the penalty.
But until this Thursday, no one had elaborated on the third-down call, which saw the Bears easily convert, essentially ending on the game.
Ahead of the snap, Detroit's cornerbacks were playing off coverage, giving the Bears receivers between 7-10 yards cushion. Once the ball was in play, safety Will Harris, playing out of position as a nickel corner due to an injury to starter AJ Parker, dropped back a couple steps, conceding a quick throw to slot receiver Damiere Byrd for the needed yardage.
Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn fell on the sword for the failure, saying he should have recognized Harris' limited experience operating in the slot and emphasized playing tighter coverage pre-snap.
"I wish I would have told Will Harris to challenge in that situation," Glenn said. "I should have told him that. But we called pressure (blitz) and he was just playing off. Again, that's what, his second time playing nickel a whole game? Sometimes we put so much blame on players, but man, listen, that guy is just now learning. I told him, 'That wasn't your fault, man, that was my fault. Because I put you in that situation as a new player playing that position.' So I've got to make sure I help that player, as far as how to operate in those situations."
Earlier in the conversation, Glenn praised the overall job his defense did in the game. For the past three contests, the Lions have held opponents to 14.3 points per game, a significant improvement from the first half of the season.
The team's other defensive assistants have recently praised Glenn's ability to put players in position to maximize their skill sets. That's a trait the defensive coordinator takes pride in, but he also said he counts on players to bail him out when he inevitably makes a subpar play call.
"I tell our guys, ‘Listen, we’re in this thing together. It’s not coaches on this side and players on this side. We’re all in this thing together,'" Glenn said. "When things happen with those guys, I feel about certain things or if I have a bad call, I expect them to get me out it just like I expect to put them in positions to make plays."
But in the case of Harris, or undrafted rookie Jerry Jacobs, who was also playing 10 yards off his coverage assignment on the third-down play, Glenn feels he needed to be clearer communicating responsibilities.
"It's up to us to teach," Glenn said. "I get it, but still, to me, every player's failure is my failure. I'm just built like that. Every player's failure, I have to teach that in that situation. I will say this, Will won't make that mistake again. Because I'm going to make sure that I teach, as far as that situation is concerned."
Lynn displays rare discontent
Since having his play-calling duties yanked by coach Dan Campbell, Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn has been diplomatic about his demotion. But on Thursday, there was a hint of discontent when he was asked how the adjustment was going three weeks into the transition.
"You know, three weeks going into this thing, knowing what Dan wants, (I'm) trying to assist him the best I can," Lynn said. "I'm very comfortable with the role. Don't mistake comfortable for liking the role, but I'm very comfortable with the role and I want to help and assist Dan the best I can."
Campbell has shown no sign of relinquishing the duties back to his coordinator, despite the offense's continued struggles. While the ground game has taken off (473 yards on 81 attempts) in recent weeks, Detroit has thrown for a paltry 362 yards during that same stretch.
Through 11 games, linebacker Alex Anzalone has already played a career-high 732 defensive snaps. He's on pace to more than double his previous peak workload, 525 snaps with the Saints last season.
Asked if he has been feeling the effects of the added reps, the veteran linebacker and defensive captain credited the team's coaching staff with keeping him fresh as the season has progressed.
"Our coaches do a good job of getting us the rest we need," Anzalone said. "They keep track of all our distance ran and explosive movements and all that stuff. They do a really good job of dialing back practice and whatnot."
Coming out of the University of Florida in 2017, one of the big question marks with Anzalone was his durability. He missed extensive time due to injury three of his four college seasons. He also missed 14 games his second season with the New Orleans Saints due to a shoulder injury.
But after playing all 16 games last season, and adjusting to any even larger workload this year, he's well on his way to putting the injury-prone label in the rear-view mirror.
"I think that just sticking to my routine (has been key)," Anzalone said. "Even when you have days where you don't necessarily feel like doing it, or you feel like your body's good — for example, this Monday, when we had the long weekend, I was still in getting my massage and my work that day, just to get ahead rather than play catch up."
The Lions got Penei Sewell back on the practice field on Thursday after the rookie offensive tackle missed Wednesday's session with an illness. Wide receiver and special teams standout KhaDarel Hodge also returned after a brief bout with an illness.
Running back D'Andre Swift (shoulder), outside linebacker Trey Flowers (knee), linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin (shoulder) and cornerback Bobby Price (shoulder) all remained sidelined.