At 7-2, the Lions have leaned heavily on their top-rated defense to keep them in games. Sunday’s 20-16 victory against the Dolphins furthered that trend.
The Lions knew that the red-hot Dolphins would pose a unique challenge. They entered this week one spot outside of the league’s top-10 in total offense. Their 365 yards-per-game average was buoyed by a rushing attack that ranked fourth in the NFL. The Lions recognized that and shut it down.
"They were a hot team, they were 3-0 (three game winning streak)," said defensive end Jason Jones. "They have a potent running game and (Ryan) Tannehill is a great quarterback. We came out with the aggression knowing that we had to start early. This defensive line we have is something special because we can roll different people in and out and get going, it was a good test for us."
The Dolphins had leveraged the read-option as a key cog in their offensive playbook. It is the reason why quarterback Ryan Tannehill entered the week with 245 rushing yards and an average of 7.9 yards per carry.
“We put a lot of emphasis on (stopping the read option) because that’s what they were doing the best,” said linebacker Tahir Whitehead. “They were able to capitalize off of running that this year, we realized that if we were able to hone in on it, and everybody did their job, we would be able to stop it and force them to pass.”
That’s just what the Lions did, they forced Miami to pass by shutting down the run, namely the read option. The Dolphins ran variations of it throughout the game but failed to have any real success with it. Tannehill, who entered the game having ripped off a 20-yard rush in each of the last four weeks, had 0 total rushing yards with a long of three.
Since the ground game was ineffective, Miami was forced to put the ball in the air. The result was a pedestrian 5.3 yards per attempt with one touchdown pass against one interception.
“Knowing that (the read option) is a staple in their offense and that, if you’re not disciplined in your reads and alignments, it can really hurt you. We really placed an emphasis on that and it faired out well for us,” said defensive back Don Carey
The Lions are 7-2 and their defense has perhaps been the biggest reason for that. The success of the defense has been being able to identify and stop the strengths of other teams. Today, that was Miami’s read option.