Lions rookie linebacker Jarrad Davis has had a pretty impressive debut. Through two games, he leads Detroit’s defense with 15 tackles, has a fumble recovery, got his first career sack in the Monday Night game against Eli Manning and the Giants, and even received a fine from the NFL.
Then he took this hit from New York receiver Odell Beckham, Jr.
Davis hasn’t been back on the field since. He was immediately taken to the sideline, and placed in the NFL’s concussion protocol. As of Thursday, he hasn’t been allowed to practice, making it unlikely that he will play Sunday when the Lions host the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons.
If Davis is indeed unable to play, it is going to affect the Lions’ defense in a number of ways.
Tahir Whitehead will likely take Davis’s spot at middle linebacker. It is a spot he is familiar with, having led the Lions in tackles playing that role last season.
Moving Whitehead from outside to the Mike position opens the door for another rookie to break into the starting lineup: Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who the Lions selected in the fourth round. Reeves-Maybin was inserted into the Giants’ game after Davis’s injury and had one solo tackle and one assist.
Unfortunately, this move is going to weaken the Lions’ defense in both the run and the pass.
It is nice that Detroit has an experienced middle linebacker ready to go in Whitehead, but the defense last year was 18th against the run, and 19th against the pass, so I am not sure that is anything to hang your hat on. Whitehead showed last week his shortcomings in pass coverage when he let New York tight end Evan Engram get wide open for the Giants’ only TD on the night.
Reeves-Maybin has basically been used as a pseudo-safety in Detroit’s nickel package. That is the formation they were in when he got his tackles in the last game. He is completely unproven as an outside linebacker against the run, and that is what the Falcons are going to try to establish on Sunday. Atlanta running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 126 yards rushing against Green Bay.
If the linebackers and defensive ends start crashing to stop the run, the first thing the Falcons will do is use Freeman and Coleman on screens and wheel passes. They had six receptions for another 58 yards against the Packers. That will also open a lane between the front seven and the secondary, which Matt Ryan and tight end Austin Hooper must be chomping at the bit to take advantage of.
When the safeties start creeping up to take away the underneath routes, Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu will be ready to take advantage of the single coverage on the outside.
Davis was drafted in the first round for a reason. One of Detroit’s biggest defensive weaknesses last year was their linebacker corps, and if he misses Sunday’s games, the lack of depth will rear its ugly head again. As each domino falls, the Falcons will expose that weakness to the world.