Reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week, Justin Fields is on a roll, can the Lions pull the rug from under the young quarterback?
This Sunday the Detroit Lions take on their division rival Chicago Bears.
In week nine against the Miami Dolphins, Fields had his first legit breakout game. He threw for 123 yards and three touchdowns on 17-28 passing, but the most impressive stat was his rushing. Fields ran for 178 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. He broke an NFL record for the most rushing yards for a quarterback since Michael Vick in 2002.
Unfortunately for the Bears, even with Fields production, they still lost against the Dolphins.
While it took a nearly half the season, it seems like Chicago’s offense is beginning to cater to Fields game. It has yet to be perfected for the young quarterback, so the Lions still have a chance.
At the end of the day, a chance is still only a chance and Detroit’s defense has been unremarkable at stopping quarterback scrambles.
In week one against Philadelphia, the Lions allowed Jalen Hurts 90 rushing yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Carson Wentz had an 18-yard run against them in week two, Geno Smith had 49 rushing yards and a touchdown in week four and Tua Tagovialoa had an 18-yard scramble in week eight. Last week, 38-year-old, Aaron Rodgers extended play after play with 40 rushing yards on four carries.
If the opposing team is showing a pass, Detroit’s linebackers and defensive backs tend to drop back in coverage to prevent a large gain in the air. If the defensive line spends the entirety of that snap attempting to sack the quarterback, it opens gapping holes in the offensive line. Any quarterback with healthy legs and field awareness will take advantage of that situation. Nine weeks in, opposing quarterbacks have, extending their drives and wearing down an already underwhelming Lions defense.
The Lions defense gives up the most yards per-game (417.3) in the entire NFL, the fourth most passing yards per-game (268.5), and the second most rushing yards per-game (148.8).
It’s well documented that Detroit’s defense in 2022 is historically and remarkably bad. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t improving.
Last week they allowed the Green Bay Packers a lot of yards, but they were able to make game-saving stops for their second win of the season. Unfortunately most of those game-saving plays were all made in the air. If there’s one thing that’s known about Chicago, they aren’t pass friendly offense.
Fields has only thrown for over 200-yards once the entire 2022 season. Chicago prefers their attack on the ground. They rank first in total rushing yards (1,759) and in rushing yards per-game (195.4). The numbers aren’t even close with the Baltimore Ravens behind them with 1,513 total rushing yards (246 yards less).
Even if Detroit can limit Fields scramble attack it doesn’t guarantee a win, but if they can things could get interesting.
The most important Lions factors to limit the young quarterback are on the defensive line and the linebacking core.
Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn hinted towards moving rookie Aidan Hutchinson on the inside of the defensive line. If implemented correctly this move could cause for holes in the line to close. It could force Fields to run to the outside rather than the middle of the field. It’s not a sure-fire plan for success, but it’s a start.
The most important group, for the Lions defense, are the linebackers. With rookie phenom Malcolm Rodriguez questionable for Sunday’s game, it’ll be up to the others to make plays.
Second-year man, Derrick Barnes is coming off his best game in his career against the Packers. He had 12 total tackles, one sack, a pass defense and stuffed the line of scrimmage all game. If Barnes can bring that same energy, filling up holes and causing chaos, it’ll play big for the Lions.
Outside of Barnes the other linebackers on Detroit will have to spy Fields the entire game. There will most likely be multiple spies watching Fields every snap, but the middle of the field is most important. Fields is an elusive runner, so it’s imperative that Detroit’s linebackers are able to stop him before he gets into open space.
A tall order for one of the worst performing defensives in the league, but if the Lions want to continue to win that’s what needs to be done.
Photo Credit: Jamie Sabau – USA TODAY Sports