ALLEN PARK — In the Lions’ first three games, the defense is hardly recognizable from last season although the cast of characters is familiar.
In 2016 they finished with seven interceptions in 16 games. They’ve matched that number in just three games with Glover Quin and Miles Killebrew each returning interceptions for touchdowns.
“I think our guys are doing a good job flying around to the ball and taking advantage of opportunities,’’ defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said on Thursday. “I think that’s the one thing in this league, anytime that ball gets tipped, anytime you have an opportunity to make a turnover, you’ve got to make it and I think we’re taking advantage of it this year.”
Five things to know about the Lions defense:
1. Austin had them working on creating turnovers prior to the season and it has paid off. “Sometimes you are able to get it done, sometimes you’re not. We really made an effort in the offseason because we know how important turnover are and how they can keep you in games when you’re not playing your best, and if you’re playing really well and you get turnovers you’re able to extend the lead,’’ Austin said. “And so, we’ve made a really conscious effort of getting our hands on balls, and finishing plays and it’s showing out for us right now the first three games and we just hope it continues.”
2. One way they’ve created more turnovers is through drills. Seems obvious but maybe not. “Whenever we have an opportunity to strip the ball from our offense, or whenever we have an opportunity to catch it, it’s been a very big deal for our guys to make sure they finish the play,’’ Austin said. “Sometimes maybe we didn’t emphasize it enough as coaches that, ‘Hey, look, those plays have to be finished,’ and I think looking what’s happened the last two years in terms of when our turnovers have come down, I put that on me. Hey listen, that’s my job for emphasizing enough, because I think like anything in coaching, whatever you emphasize, that’s what you’ll get from your players.’’
3. The Vikings’ starting quarterback Sam Bradford sat last week with a bum knee and backup Case Keenum performed well in a 34-17 win over Tampa Bay. The Lions won both games over the Vikings in 2016 when Bradford was the quarterback. Keenum was with the Rams in 2016 when he completed 19 straight passes in a loss to the Lions. “They both have different styles in terms of how they do, but one thing they both are, they’re very accurate passers. They can get the ball to the right guy, they know where the ball’s going. Sam’s obviously a little bit bigger, maybe a little bit more arm strength, but in terms of how they quarterback and how they run the team, they both do a really good, efficient job of it,’’ said Austin who is preparing for both.
4. Having more options has made Austin’s job easier and the defense better overall. “I think when you have the depth we have, and you can mix and match and you don’t feel over-matched at a position, I think that really helps you,’’ Austin said. “You’re not hamstrung, you’re not afraid to play some certain coverage because you know there’s a big mismatch out there, and I think we match up well with just about anybody we play.’’
5. The core is back from last year but a few changes have made a difference: “We’ve talked about our depth, we’ve improved our depth. And so, I think when you improve the depth, you improve the competitiveness of the guys in the room, so they play better and I think that’s what we’ve done,’’ Austin said.