Lions' rebuilt secondary still showing cracks: "We gotta play more together"


The Seahawks' final drive Sunday mirrored their first -- plenty of time for Geno Smith and open targets on almost every snap. How fitting that he kicked off overtime with a 17-yard pitch-and-catch to tight end Noah Fant, who had found another soft spot in the Lions' defense. How fitting that he escaped third down three plays later with a 16-yard completion to DK Metcalf, who had worked his way free over the middle.

The Lions allowed 11 passing plays of 15-plus yards on a deflating day for their defense, which looked out of sync from the jump. A lack of push up front was one culprit, against an offensive line missing both its starting tackles. A disjointed and sometimes overmatched secondary was another. That includes Detroit's linebackers, who were exposed in coverage by Seattle's tight ends. The not-so-terrific trio of Fant, Will Dissly and Colby Parkinson caught nine of 10 passes for 132 yards.

"Great job by (coordinator) Shane (Waldron) calling the game, getting those guys open because they were running clean a lot," said Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll. "Really a fantastic part of the game plan.”

That game plan called for tons of quick passes by Smith, who was hardly touched while going 32 of 41 for 328 yards and two touchdowns -- which makes him 55 of 71 for 648 yards and four touchdowns (and no picks) in his last two games against Detroit's defense. As former Lions safety Glover Quin wondered aloud Sunday, "Why do the Lions always make Geno Smith look like a first ballot Hall of Famer?" Helped that he had open receivers almost every time he dropped back to pass.

Detroit's secondary is significantly improved from last season. With three new starters in Cam Sutton, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Brian Branch, and a fourth on the mend in Emmanuel Moseley, it's also still learning to play as a unit. That was evident in Kansas City when breakdowns in coverage led to both of the Chiefs' touchdowns, and it was maybe even clearer against the Seahawks when the secondary struggled to communicate in a deafening atmosphere at Ford Field.

"Gotta play more sound, play more together," said safety Kerby Joseph. "When we can't communicate, we gotta use the signals and we just gotta talk better. We gotta find a way to get the calls and the communication together."

Joseph, one of only two returning starters in the secondary alongside Jerry Jacobs, stopped short of calling the communication errors "an issue." But he acknowledged it cost the Lions on Sunday, and it burns a whole lot more after a loss. Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba are a strong trio of receivers, but they made far too many uncontested catches, hauling in 19 of 22 targets for 168 yards and two touchdowns.

"It’s a wake-up call," said Joseph.

A wake-up call to what, you ask?

"The mistakes," said Joseph. "Can’t have mistakes. ... Noise is going to block out sound, that’s why we gotta use signals. We gotta get on-point with each other, we gotta get the communication down, we gotta get on the same page. If we’re not on the same page, that’s how mistakes happen."

This is a rather pressing matter, with the Lions set to play in front of another raucous home crowd in Week 3 against the Falcons. And while Atlanta has a run-heavy offense, isn't that what Glenn's defense expected out of Seattle? Instead, Smith passed the ball almost twice as often as he handed it off. And the Falcons have a variety of pass-catching weapons, including top-10 picks in the last three drafts in tight end Kyle Pitts, wide receiver Drake London and running back Bijan Robinson -- who, by the way, went off in Week 2 for 172 yards on 23 touches, which is how many touches Jahmyr Gibbs has through two games with the Lions, but we digress.

"You always want to protect home and make the ball come through your city," Sutton said after Sunday's loss. "We got another opportunity next week with Atlanta coming in. We just iron out the mistakes and come ready to fly around next Sunday."

The biggest splash of the Lions' offseason spending spree, Sutton has been ... fine through two games. He has not been a difference-maker. The Lions need more than that for $33 million over three years. Jacobs and Branch were overmatched against Seattle, both surrendering a touchdown to Lockett and allowing completions on 10 of 11 targets for 104 yards. Getting Moseley on the field should help, but his recovery from a torn ACL was slowed last week by a hamstring injury.

Asked about the challenge of defending the Seahawks' offense, which has piled up 84 first downs and 1,445 yards in the last three games against Glenn's defense, Jacobs said, "It’s really not challenging, we just put it on ourself. We missed tackles, busted coverages, stuff like that, so we just made it harder on ourself."

By the same token, Waldron, who has been Seattle's OC for each of those three games, makes it easier on the Seahawks by doing "a hell of a job studying their defense and putting us in the perfect position to succeed, so all we gotta do is go out there and run the plays to the best of our abilities," said Metcalf.

The other headliner of the Lions' rebuilt secondary was Gardner-Johnson, who called his own performance "sh*tty* against the Chiefs and who wasn't all that noticeable against the Seahawks. He said after Sunday's setback that the defense needs to improve "all around, from top to bottom."

"We gave up 300-something (passing) yards, not good enough. We gave up 37 points, not good enough. We’ll never win a championship that way. That’s on us, as players, to go in (this week) with that best taste in our mouth like, this is what it feels like," Gardner-Johnson said.

Again, maybe we're not dissecting the secondary today if the defensive front had taken advantage of a vulnerable offensive line. The Lions managed one sack of Smith, courtesy of linebacker Alex Anzalone on a well-covered play on the Seahawks' last offensive snap of regulation. And the defense, as a whole, deserves credit for stopping the run.

But the talent in the backend has some gelling to do. We've heard Jared Goff call Detroit's secondary "stickier" compared to last year. While true from an individual standpoint, the collective is still missing glue.

"The only way is up," said Joseph. "We already been down. … We just gotta know, man, this burns. We just gotta soak the feeling in and learn from it."

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