The Detroit Lions have done a decent job to address some of their biggest flaws this offseason, but what needs do they still have on the roster?
It’s a question that’s fairly easy to answer if you’re a fan of the Lions considering the biggest problem the past few years has been rushing the passer and stopping the run up front. That points to a familiar need for the team that may have still yet to be filled. That could remain the case this offseason.
Recently, Conor Orr of Sports Illustrated took a look at naming all the biggest needs still left for teams in the NFC. When it came to the Lions, there was a familiar spot of the defensive line
“This includes the Lions’ pass rush, which accumulated a league-worst 24% pass rush win rate and a less than ideal 21st in rushing yards surrendered. The Lions also parted ways with Damon Harrison, quite possibly the single most dominant run stopping force in the NFL over the past 10 years. This is not a team that can be fixed with the addition of one player, though the Lions’ coaching staff is certainly drafting that way.”
Detroit added Danny Shelton this offseason and drafted Julian Okwara and John Penisini, but in the mind of Orr that’s not enough to get the Lions over the hump. The Lions still have options on the market like Everson Griffen and Jabaal Sheard which could add some punch to the front, and they are hoping for a bigger season out of Trey Flowers.
Still, it does feel there is a little something left to be desired here.
Analysts Not Sure Lions Defense Fixed Enough
Many fans and pundits would think the team’s defense would have improved, but it might not be the case if Bleacher Report is to be believed. Recently, the site power ranked every team’s defense following the biggest moves of the offseason, and the Lions didn’t place highly whatsoever. Detroit’s defense was bad last season, but according to Martin Fenn, the improvements they have made have been minimal.
The Lions placed 29th on the list, with only 3 defenses in the league worse at this point.
Here’s a look at what Fenn wrote about why:
“The Lions made the best decision for their defense by staying at the No. 3 spot in the draft and selecting Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah, who was dominant during his tenure with the Buckeyes. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed first downs on just 20 percent of all targets at the outside corner since 2018. He also dominated in press coverage, making him the perfect replacement for Darius Slay.
Detroit also signed former Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant earlier in the offseason while acquiring ball-hawking safety Duron Harmon from the New England Patriots.
The problem is, the secondary figures to see a ton of action due to a relatively lackluster pass rush. The Lions cut edge-rusher Devon Kennard and defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison, but the only move they made to upgrade the line was signing former Pats defensive tackle Danny Shelton.
Shelton was a run-stuffing machine for New England last year, and perhaps the Lions are counting on the additions of linebackers Jamie Collins and Reggie Ragland to help against the run as well. Still, they don’t have much of a pass rush outside of Trey Flowers, which does not bode well for the overhauled secondary. Collins did have seven sacks last season, but he will be 31 in October, and the Lions might need him to be more of a cover backer.
Third-round draft pick Julian Okwara might be able to help set the edge, but the Lions ranked 29th in passing DVOA last year, and the relative shortage of pass-rushing threats will test Detroit’s secondary once again.”
Detroit has added plenty to the mix in both free agency and the draft but clearly not enough to move the needle as Fenn is concerned in terms of a turnaround. Obviously, the Lions need to prove such rankings lists wrong considering how important 2020 is for everyone on the team.
Lions Defense Upgraded This Offseason
One side of the ball that needed the most change was the defense. After a horrible pair of seasons under Matt Patricia, there’s already been some big changes on that side of the ball. How will that impact the team when all is said and done? The returns will be very positive according to a different piece.
In a piece breaking down some winners and losers of free agency, Pro Football Focus and writer Ben Linsey took a closer look at what the Lions have done, and found them to be a winner. Here’s a look at what he wrote on that:
“The spotlight is on Darius Slay, particularly after he publicly acknowledged last night that he wants out of Detroit, and as of Thursday morning, a deal has been put in place to send Slay to the Eagles. That is not ideal for the Lions. Despite the down year from a grading standpoint in 2019 (56.4 PFF grade), Slay remains one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. During the five-year stretch from 2014 to 2018, he ranked eighth among qualifying cornerbacks in overall grade, and he routinely draws shadow assignments against the opposing team’s best wide receiver, making those results all-the-more impressive.
As all that trade speculation took place, the Lions went about improving their coverage to soften the blow of his inevitable loss. They signed former New England Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins, a player who has been outstanding in coverage and as a blitzer for New England over his career but struggled when traded to the Cleveland Browns. He’s an intriguing option for a Lions team that needed an injection of talent into their linebacking corps. The hope is that the transition to Matt Patricia’s defense is smoother than the one Collins made four seasons ago in Cleveland.
Detroit then addressed the secondary with two more moves, trading for Patriots safety Duron Harmon (shocker, I know) and signing former Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant. Both players were drafted in 2013, and neither has recorded an overall grade of 65.0 or lower over the course of their NFL careers, rarely dipping below 70.0.
Harmon has been a rangy playmaker on the back end of the Patriots’ defense at free safety. He is one of just eight safeties with 10 or more regular-season interceptions over the past three seasons. Trufant is a 6-foot cornerback who came into the NFL with sub-4.4 speed, and he figures to fit well into a Lions defense that plays a lot of press-man coverage. He’s not quite the same player as Slay, but he has shown in Atlanta that he is fully capable of being the No. 1 guy on the outside. Both players, along with Collins, should improve the Lions coverage in 2020 despite the loss of their top player.”
Detroit made some draft picks to aid the spot with Jeff Okudah and Julian Okwara coming into the mix along with John Penisini. That group figures to play a role and could be better than many think.
Lions 2019 Defense Finished Statistically Horrible
Detroit had nearly the worst defense in the league by most metrics in 2019. As a whole, the Lions allowed too much yardage, giving up 6,406 yards on the year. As was pointed out, to put up numbers like that, it means the team has been giving up over 400 yards of offense a game.
Additionally, Detroit’s pass defense bottomed out as a league-worst outfit in 2019. The team allowed nearly 300 yards a game through the air, which is a miserable total.
Certainly, injuries helped complicate matters for Detroit’s defense, but that’s not an acceptable excuse for such awful numbers. Expectations were high for the Lions in 2019 given how they finished the season, and the team has taken steps to reconstruct things in the meantime.
It’s possible the Lions could need one more player to turn things around completely up front.