One of the primary takeaways from the Detroit Lions preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons was the rousing success the visiting Falcons had with the quarterback run. The Lions defense was consistently blistered by runs from starter Marcus Mariota and rookie Desmond Ridder, who played most of the game for Atlanta.
Mariota ran three times for 23 yards in his one series, a drive he capped off with a 6-yard touchdown run around the left end. Ridder led the Falcons offense with 59 rushing yards on six attempts.
Most of the runs came off the same basic action. Atlanta bootlegged off a play-fake and the Lions defense was woefully out of position to contain or defend it.
After the game, Falcons head coach Arthur Smith noted that none of the plays were designed runs for Mariota or Ridder.
“None of them, we didn’t have any designed runs,” Smith told reporters. “We had plays that – we’ll continue to evolve there, but it’s preseason, we’re not going to show our hand in a lot of other stuff. But, when you have athletic quarterbacks and you’re able to move the pocket, they’re going to be able to extend plays.”
And extend plays they did. Mariota and Ridder also found some wide throwing lanes off misdirection or stepping around the initial rush beyond the times when they tucked and ran, too.
Lions coach Dan Campbell showed his frustration with his defense’s inability to defend the mobile quarterbacks after the game.
“Yeah, I mean sometimes you got to see it – you to see it live full time,” Campbell said. “That’s why I say our guys don’t do that. We haven’t worried about it. We don’t run, read, run. We will mix some stuff in, but so no that hasn’t been an emphasis. And we didn’t work that for Atlanta either. And it wasn’t something they were doing read-run; it was the allusion of read-run. I talked to Arthur (Smith), but still when you’re in the gun and some of these things – no, it’s a pass, and it comes time I’m just making a play as a quarterback you got to be disciplined in the rush.”
The backside containment on the rush was often egregious from the Lions. And it wasn’t just one individual player abandoning the contain ship. Pretty much every Lions EDGE was victimized, as noted in the Twitter highlight (lowlight?) thread here:
#2 Bryant may be the worst offender. He doesn’t even realize the play is going the other way until he’s All the way across the field! pic.twitter.com/EpYRX61KRN
— John Henry Smith (@jhsthethird) August 13, 2022
As noted in the root tweet there, the Lions defense doesn’t get to practice against this sort of thing. Jared Goff is not a runner, though he too has chewed up some serious yards in practice by tucking and running when the defense leaves him a huge opening. Tim Boyle is athletic but not really a runner, and David Blough is no ground threat either.
It’s an issue the Lions need to iron out with more reps in practice and in more preseason situations. Perhaps using nifty WR Tom Kennedy or utilizing the freakish agility of rookie WR Kalil Pimpleton as a mobile practice QB can help. It’s definitely something defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn needs to work at with his EDGEs and slot corners with several mobile QBs on the regular season schedule, including Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1.