The Detroit Lions have a defense that has struggled in a big way in recent seasons, and part of the reason could be their approach on the field.
Recently, while joining a segment with Brian Baldinger, Green Bay Packers wideout Davante Adams claimed that the Lions don’t disguise their coverages on the field. In watching tape, Adams revealed he could pick out what the team was doing simply by watching who Darius Slay would follow on the field. The answer would tell Adams whether the Lions were playing a zone coverage or a man coverage.
Obviously, this isn’t the first time this story has surfaced. Detroit’s defense has had problems recently, with teams claiming they knew what was coming before it was happening. This is yet another allegation of that playing out on the field with an opposing team.
Interestingly, the Packers needed a pair of miracles to beat the Lions in both games last season, getting bailed out by questionable hands to the face calls at Lambeau Field and also needing a last second field goal in Detroit to edge their rivals in the season finale.
Regardless of that, it might be worth Detroit’s while to spend some extra time on disguising coverages in 2020 so these stories don’t keep coming up.
Lions Struggled With Interceptions in 2019
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. Perhaps if they did a better job with disguises they would have a chance at more interceptions.
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.
Perhaps their next goal should be to find a way to fix things internally in terms of coverages.