The Detroit Lions have put tons of resources into fixing their defense in 2020, and that work might soon pay off for the team. It has to in order for the team to take some giant leaps on the field.
So how good does the team’s defense figure to be when the season gets going? According to Pro Football Focus, they could be primed to have a better season than many expect. Last year, the Lions were amongst one of the worst defenses in the league, but could be primed for a major rebound in short order.
In a piece ranking every defense in the NFL, PFF had Detroit’s unit place in at 19th overall. Writer Anthony Treash said that in order for the Lions to stand a chance of an improvement, they must get great play from Jeff Okudah and Desmond Trufant at cornerback.
Here’s what he wrote:
“The Lions really could not have been in a better spot in the 2020 NFL Draft, as they were in prime position to grab cornerback Jeff Okudah. I’ve compared the former Buckeye to Michelangelo’s David because his physical tools are precisely what you want in a cornerback. He’s a lockdown player in press-man coverage — something he will be asked to do a lot of in Detroit. Okudah allowed under half a yard per coverage snap in press coverage in 2019 and didn’t allow a single explosive play. That yards per coverage snap mark is a quarter of a yard better than anyone in the draft class, and no one other than Okudah allowed one or fewer explosive plays in press. It won’t be easy to produce at a high level right away in Matt Patricia’s scheme, but if any rookie can do it, it’s Okudah.
They also brought in veteran Desmond Trufant to occupy a starting spot. In his seven years in Atlanta, Trufant really never had a bad year. We have yet to see him match his rookie and second-year seasons, but he’s never ranked below the position average in PFF grade. He handled Atlanta’s man-heavy scheme fairly well and should handle Detroit’s.”
Obviously, another big variable in this will be the play of the team’s defensive front, who needs to sack the quarterback more and generate better pocket pressure. If this is able to happen, the Lions might be in good position to have a much better season than folks project.
On the same list, the Packers and Bears placed within the top 10, while the Vikings were down the list further in the 18 spot just one place ahead of Detroit. Certainly, coming in the 19th spot is nothing to be proud of, but it is a ranking much higher than the Lions likely would have occupied at the end of last season.
Lions Weakness Called Cornerback Position
Cornerback is going to be the spot to watch, and according to some, the Lions might be in trouble there. Recently, Bleacher Report took a look at naming the glaring weaknesses for every team, and when it came to the Lions, the defensive backfield was the spot picked out by Kristopher Knox. That was due mostly to the fact that the Lions were bad in 2019 and have seen plenty of changes which might not be enough.
“Head coach Matt Patricia was supposed to help make the Detroit Lions defense formidable, but the former New England Patriots defensive coordinator has failed to do so. In fact, Detroit’s pass defense has been a relative disaster under Patricia.
Last season, Detroit ranked last in passing yards allowed, 27th in touchdowns allowed and 30th in interceptions with just seven. The Lions then traded away Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay, who had two of those interceptions and 13 passes defended.
Detroit did use the third overall pick in April’s draft on cornerback Jeff Okudah, but he is unproven at the pro level. The additions of Desmond Trufant and Duron Harmon should help bolster the secondary some, but this is still one of the shakiest pass defenses in the league.”
The Lions do have to see how everyone gets on the same page and comes together, and have a big question to answer in seeing how Jeff Okudah and Desmond Trufant play. They do have some depth on the back end, but seeing how the new players acclimate at cornerback will be a big thing to monitor. They will have to hope things can fall into place.
Until then, it’s fair to see why folks might question the team and their trajectory on the back end.
Lions Backfield Called Out for Lacking Interceptions
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.
— All NFL Stats (@AllNFLStats) June 30, 2020
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. To this end, their hopes may indeed rest on the backfield for 2020.