Over the summer, Detroit defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham set a goal of blitzing on about 40 percent of the Lions’ defensive snaps this season. We discussed their progress last month, and now it’s time to update them at the midpoint of the season.
ESPN Stats & Information tracks blitzing figures based on the total number of players who wind up rushing the quarterback, using four pass-rushers as the standard formation for all defenses. Among other things, this eliminates some zone-style blitz calls, where a defensive end might drop into coverage while a linebacker or safety rushes the passer.
The Lions are without question a blitzing defense, and it’s one of the first things Minnesota coach Brad Childress brought up about them during his Wednesday briefing with reporters. But when you count up how many times they’ve brought at least one extra pass-rusher for “added pressure,” you’ll find a surprisingly small number.
Based on video study, the Lions have sent “added pressure” 26.7 percent of the time this season. That’s the sixth-lowest percentage in the NFL. To your right is a chart of all four NFC North teams and where they rank in the NFL.
These figures tell us a few things. First, Cunningham is relying on deception as much as pure numbers when it comes to pressuring the quarterback. Even a casual viewing of Lions games suggests there is plenty of scheming occurring beyond the basic four-man rush from a defensive line.
Second, Cunningham probably is limited by the constant state of flux in his secondary. In eight games this season, the Lions have started seven different combination of defensive backs. If you devote more players to get added pressure on the quarterback, you leave an inexperienced secondary particularly vulnerable.
In terms of the rest of the division, it’s interesting that Minnesota’s figure dropped sharply after the first month of the season. Could that be a function of losing cornerback Antoine Winfield, who hasn’t played in almost a month?
The Bears, meanwhile, are holding steady near the 50 percent mark. That should tell you the frequency, or the lack thereof, they’re playing in their traditional Tampa-2 base.