Detroit Lions’ defense creates turnovers by having ‘a party at the ball’

Lions tied for NFL lead with 11 takeaways

ALLEN PARK — Last season, one definite shortcoming of the Detroit Lions defense was in creating turnovers.

So in the offseason the coaches emphasized it, the players worked on it and after four games, it is working.

“It’s a lot of fun. Eleven turnovers in four games, it’s a party at the ball, that’s the way we see it,’’ said weakside linebacker Tahir Whitehead who has one interception and two fumble recoveries.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Coach Jim Caldwell wouldn’t go so far as to say turnovers are contagious.

“Usually the more people that you have around the ball when the ball is loose, the better off your chances are at getting it. If you got guys hustling, tipped balls don’t typically hit the ground in this league,’’ Caldwell said. “If people are moving in the right direction at the right speed, then we should be able to get our fair share of them, things of that nature, but, contagious? No, I’ve certainly never been able to see that kind of virus going around a locker room.”

Next time the Lions create a turnover, take a close look and you’ll see plenty of Honolulu blue swarming the ball.

The Lions are tied with the Baltimore Ravens for most takeaways in the NFL with 11.

They are leading the NFL in the takeaway/giveaway category with a plus-nine. The offense has lost one fumble and Matthew Stafford threw an interception. So they are doing their part too.

Whitehead says it’s a mindset.

“If you don’t talk about it then it’s not going to happen. If you don’t work at it, if you don’t work at forcing a turnover, getting the ball out, if you don’t work at ‘OK how to recover the ball when it’s on the ground and make sure the offense ends up with the ball at the end of the play.’ Then it’s not going to happen. It’s been a topic of conversation this year and it’s ongoing,’’ Whitehead said.

Safety Glover Quin and cornerback Darius Slay each have a pair of interceptions while Whitehead, Miles Killebrew and Tavon Wilson each have one. They also have four fumble recoveries. In 16 games in 2016, the Lions had a total of 10 interceptions and seven fumble recoveries.

“Everybody wants a piece of the pie, they’re like, ‘I’m next in line, it’s my turn,’’’ Whitehead said.

“You definitely get guys that pushing each other, challenging each other to get to that ball. It’s like OK I’m going to get the opportunity this time, and that’s the way the defense, that’s how we’re made that’s how we practice,” Whitehead said.


Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin have specific drills and methods to use.

“We have a period of time during the spring where receivers or any ball carrier that’s going back to the huddle running with the ball is free game to try to strip the ball out of their arms, all the way up to them handing it to the manager,’’ Caldwell said. “No. 1, it gets us in the mindset that we’re trying to get it out. No. 2, it makes certain that the guys that have the ball in their hands are concentrating, I mean they could be crossing the line of scrimmage with that ball and there’s a defensive guy that’s trying to knock it out of their arms. Now, we have to put certain restraints on certain guys because there’s certain guys a little bit too strong for their own good, and the quarterbacks are off limits obviously, which I think you would quite understand. But nevertheless, I think that part of it.

“But then also, we had defensively in particular, had set up circuit training, just to work on a little bit of what we’ve been talking about and preaching. And I think the emphasis in itself (is important). There’s an old Bo Schembechler term, I think he used to always say, ‘You achieve what you emphasize.’ And I think in this particular case, we gave it a little bit more emphasis, and hopefully it’ll pay off for us for the entire year,’’ Caldwell added.

In other words, it’s not pure luck. It’s hard work that leads to creating turnovers.

“Bottom line. If we get an interception, it’s because we’re running to the ball. We’re in the right spots. So, I won’t ever qualify any turnover as well it’s something that they did. It’s something we did,’’ Austin said. “So, we’ll keep going until something does change. But I think we got a chance to be a pretty good defense we just got to continue to improve each week.”





Author: Paula Pasche

Paula Pasche, a veteran sports writer, covers the Detroit Lions for her Lions Lowdown blog. She has written two books, "Game of My Life Detroit Lions" and "100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die" which are available at bookstores and on She won first place for column writing from the Society of Professional Journalists in Detroit (Class B) in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and was The Oakland Press 2010 Staffer of the Year.

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