April 13, 2024

Inside the locker room: Lions make defensive changes, get mixed results


Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears: Week 14 gameBenjamin Raven

CHICAGO, Ill. — Change is afoot for the Detroit Lions defense. They hope the results will follow.


The Lions made some significant changes to their lineup on that side of the ball in the 28-13 loss on Sunday against the Chicago Bears. That includes benching veteran safety Tracy Walker in favor of Ifeatu Melifonwu, while captain Charles Harris didn’t suit up at all.


Detroit also sat cornerback Jerry Jacobs in favor of Kindle Vildor, who was recently promoted off the practice squad, for a few series. And after Jacobs struggled again — including getting beat on the 38-yard go-ahead touchdown catch by D.J. Moore on fourth down — it wouldn’t be a surprise to see more of Vildor in the future.


“Look, I need to see the tape,” head coach Dan Campbell said. “I felt like there were some good by all of those guys that played, but I won’t know enough until I watch everything for myself. Our guys know, we’re always looking. Guys are always competing here.”


That competition is really brewing on the defensive interior due to the loss of Alim McNeill to injured reserve. Isaiah Buggs replaced him in the starting lineup against Chicago, but Levi Onwuzurike and Brodric Martin are also in that mix, along with veteran Tyson Alualu, who started a lot of games for Jacksonville and Pittsburgh before making his way to Detroit’s practice squad last week. His debut is imminent, and could lead to more changes for the struggling front.


At the second level, the Lions said they intended to find more time for Jalen Reeves-Maybin after the veteran had an impressive outing when Alex Anzalone missed last week’s game in New Orleans. Sure enough, Reeves-Maybin was a staple in the third-down package against Chicago, briefly relieved Anzalone after the captain was flagged on back-to-back plays, and finished with a sack and pass breakup — both of which got the defense off the field on third down.


But the back end is where the Lions have struggled the most, and they continue to tinker with the pieces they have left. The Ceedy Duce and Emmanuel Moseley injuries limit their options, but they just benched Walker — who was in for Duce — in favor of Melifonwu, who finished with four tackles, one of which stoned Chicago on a fourth-down pitch to Moore.


At cornerback, Jacobs had allowed 12 of the last 15 passes thrown his way to be completed, then struggled again with his coverage in Chicago. He was beaten for a third-down pass, drew pass interference on another and was two steps behind Moore on the go-ahead 38-yarder on fourth-and-13.


With the defense ranking among the worst teams in the league since the bye, the Lions are clearly ready for changes. There were some good signs in Chicago too, where all but two of the Bears’ scoring drives began in Detroit territory. All told, the defense played better than in recent weeks. Some changes should stick, and others could be coming heading into the final month of the season.


More quotes from around the locker room:


Lions HC Dan Campbell on Justin Fields lead-extending touchdown run: “Yeah, we had a player that didn’t… yeah … Yeah, we should have had somebody outside.”


Lions EDGE Aidan Hutchinson on stunting on Fields’ touchdown run: “Yeah, I put a stunt on, and probably one where I get the slide that I shouldn’t put the stunt on, you know, because I think I put my d-tackle in a bad situation there. Yeah, I put that one on and it’s not a good one when you get the o-line sliding to you, so it’s kind of blendable to the edge. But it was just, you know, you’re in the game, you make decisions that you think are right. It’s just the price of this game. It’s the price of putting everything on the line.”


Lions QB Jared Goff on if the Bears surprised them with anything: “A couple things. Nothing that should have derailed us as much as it may have. Yeah, it a good defense. It’s well-coached. But we have a good offense. We’re well-coached. We need to play a lot better than that.”


Goff on the lost fumble: “Just a poor exchange. It’s on me.”


Bears HC Matt Eberflus on stopping the Lions on fourth-and-1: “Yeah, I mean, that’s a call where they’re on the minus field, and we just — that was a call we really liked in that situation. It’s kind of a slanting line. We actually end up slanting right into it. He made a nice play.”


Bears QB Justin Fields on the fourth-and-13 touchdown pass in the third quarter: “Just one-on-one and did a dummy protection adjustment to make it feel like a real play, and of course the second one we got somebody to jump. At that point you want to convert because I think it was 4th and 12? That’s only a five-yard penalty. Did a great job of front protecting.”


Bears TE Cole Kmet on Hutchinson jumping: “If they do jump, we all know what we’re getting to,” Kmet said. “But yeah, it was 4th and 13 around the 50. That’s kind of like prime take a delay. You know what I mean? I couldn’t believe it, but we took advantage, so good deal for us.”

Lions edge Julian Okwara on what he saw on intentional grounding play that wasn’t: “I thought it was, but it’s up to the refs to make that call. I just got to keep playing, move on to the next play … My eyes were kind of down. It was kind of a weird position. I thought I had him down. Looked up, I saw someone running with the ball, so I really thought I had a sack. But I mean, those calls are obviously up to the refs. They also have a job to do. So, I couldn’t really see much from my perspective, but just got to play the next play.”


Lions DL John Cominsky on where they go from here: “When we make mistakes, we’re going to bounce back and we’re going to take that thing one play at a time. It takes guys to remind everybody how you got here, why you’re here. We’re all great players, we’re in the National Football League, so just reminding ourselves of that. Stay disciplined and try and get that swag and that confidence back.”


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