The Detroit Lions defense has gotten off to a rocky start.
They are a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of yardage against, yielding an average of 345.3 yards per game but they are sixth worst in the league with 31.3 points against per game.
Making matters worse, the Lions haven't faced a highly regarded offenses thus far, with their three opponents -– the St. Louis Rams, San Francisco 49ers and the Tennessee Titans -– all ranking in the bottom third of the league in total offense.
Looking at the most recent example, last Sunday's loss to the Titans, can paint a misleading picture. The Lions gave up 44 points but 21 of them came off of special teams and defensive scores.
"You know, altogether on defense I think we gave up 23 points. Well, 14 of those came in two plays," said head coach Jim Schwartz. "The rest of the time, you know, there were a lot of good things. We didn't get a very good pass rush. You know, we had no sacks in the game. We only had a couple pressures in the game, but if we don't give up the long plays regardless of pass rush or anything else then we have a much better chance. And that's, you know, just like allowing special teams scores or allowing a defensive score.
"You know, we take a lot of pride in not allowing big plays and that came back to haunt us in this game."
The pass rush is a good place to start. As Schwartz mentioned, the defensive line registered no sacks against the Titans – although they had recorded seven sacks in the first two contests.
Not only did the Lions fail to register a sack against the Titans, they registered only two quarterback hits, not satisfying their own expectations.
"I am totally disappointed when you never get to the quarterback and make a big impact," said defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who recorded one of the team's quarterback hits. "In my personal eyes, why we put this type of defensive line together is to affect the quarterback, affect the run and make big plays. We obviously didn't do that, I have a big part in that, as me being a starter and one of the main guys looked at on the defensive line, we definitely didn't get our job done and I definitely didn't get my job done."
Part of the reason the Lions defensive line wasn't able to get to the quarterback was the Titans' desire to move the ball quickly.
This can often be beneficial to the defensive back seven but places pressure on linebackers and defensive backs to make quick reads and sure tackles.
"It's ultimately good," said safety Erik Coleman. "We need to make our tackles and stay sound fundamentally, don't allow the receivers YAC. We just got to get better and make tackles and stay fundamentally sound."
According to Profootballfocus.com the Lions missed nine tackles against the Titans, which contributed to the big plays against.
One play that epitomizes the struggles the Lions had was Titans tight end Jared Cook's 61-yard touchdown catch early in the second quarter of last Sunday's game.
Cook ran a post pattern in the middle of the field and quarterback Jake Locker, who suffered little harassment in the pocket, was able to shift to his left and fire a pass down the field.
Coleman had decent coverage but Cook had body position. Coleman attempted to jump in front of the big-bodied tight end and break up the pass but he missed and failed to drag Cook down before he ran 25 yards to the end zone.
"I was playing Cover-Two but instead of ensuring the tackle by grabbing one guy, I went to knock the ball down and didn't knock it done," said Coleman. "He caught the ball and continued on. I have to get the ball down and keep the ball from progressing after they catch the ball. I'm the last line of defense and when I make a mistake, it's going to be a touchdown. It's not a mistake I can continue to make."
The Lions realize the big plays must stop.
"The biggest thing is if teams are doing that you can't give up big plays and that was our problem last week," said Schwartz. "Not as much to do with the pressure. If somebody goes into the game with the objective not to take the sack, they can accomplish that, but they have a hard time moving the ball without a big play. The two big plays were the difference in that one."
This is something the Lions continue to work on and something they have always prided themselves on.
Only three weeks into the season, much can still change. However, if the Lions hope to reach their full potential, they can make the most strides with improvements on the defensive side of the ball.