The Detroit Lions have a ton of problems they need to fix on the defensive side of the ball, and possibly one of the biggest is their ability to wrap up and tackle.
Recently, Pro Football Focus took a look at naming the teams that had the fewest missed tackles last season. Predictably, the Lions were nowhere near that list in 2019 after having a solid showing in 2018. Detroit had an ugly 120 missed tackles last season which was way down the list compared to the competition.
Putting things in perspective, only 3 teams had fewer than 100 missed tackles in the league, but obviously, the Lions need to get back to where they were in 2018, when they were a far better team in terms of wrapping up ball carriers.
Detroit’s secondary has seen a ton of change, so it’s possible this problem can be alleviated by rotating in a few new players and changing things around. Often times, tackling well is a mindset, with players having to rally to the ball to support teammates and being focused to wrap up.
It’s more than possible that in the second half of a lost season, effort waned. This year, however, with new players and a new mindset, the pressure is on the defense to find a way to wrap up more consistently.
Lions Defense Also Struggled With Interceptions
It wasn’t just the secondary’s inability to wrap up that doomed them a year ago. As the stats show, Detroit hasn’t generated close to enough interceptions on the back end. Their squad only put up 7 picks in 2019, which was tied for the lowest total in the league. By comparison, some of the better and more aggressive teams collected 20 interceptions and well above on the season. Most teams at the very least were in the teens in terms of picks.
Obviously, the Lions have other defensive problems like low sack totals and letting teams push them around in the running game. Interceptions, however, offer the team a shot at a sudden change and a potential game changing play. This offseason, the Lions subtracted lock down cornerback Darius Slay but added Desmond Trufant, Jeff Okudah and Duron Harmon. That’s a ton of playmaking potential on the back end for the team to help aid in an improvement.
Safe to say the whole group could use a boost, but if the Lions could find a way to simply intercept the ball more, they would likely improve their whole defense.
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.
Getting the secondary to tackle better should be a huge goal for the team whenever training camp starts. It could be something which