There are encouraging things coming out about the Detroit Lions new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. After the years of former head coach Jim Schwartz’s insistence on running the “wide 9” defense, Austin has begun to define players roles instead of making them responsible for being versatile enough to do everything.
One of the reasons the New England Patriots and coach Bill Bellicheck have been so successful over the years is because Bellicheck allowed the players to do just what they were good at. He also schemed according to what his players could realistically accomplish. Schwartz was often trying to put square pegs into round holes. He didn’t designate either of his safeties as a strong safety or a free safety and didn’t have a strong side linebacker or a weak side linebacker. According to Schwartz’s defenses, the players had to be versatile and do it all. It obviously didn’t work.
With Austin, and presumably with new head coach Jim Caldwell, Glover Quin will be the free safety and James Ihedigbo will be the strong safety. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is. Having a more clearly defined role and expectation simplifies the game and makes the job of each player easier.
The Lions have great talent on their defensive line, and now they now that their larger defensive ends like Jason Jones will line up on the side with the opposing teams tight ends allowing Ziggy Ansah and the newly drafted speedster Larry Webster to line up on the weak side. It will take advantage of each player’s natural talents, something the Lions have failed at in the past.
Any step the Lions take to emulate the Patriots is a good one. The last time they did that was on the offensive side of the ball in 2011. That’s also the last time the Lions made the playoffs and the only time they made it this millennium. It’s encouraging for desperate Lions fans and also could make things easier for what in reality is a fairly weak defense.