Lions Defense Earns Dubious Ranking Heading Into New Season

Aaron Glenn

Getty Aaron Glenn coaching for the Lions in a 2021 preseason game.

The Detroit Lions have not been good on defense for a while, and in spite of some notable changes, that might be expected to continue into the future for the team.

Everyone in the Motor City knows the Lions must take steps to improve on that side of the ball in order to be better in the future, but many still see the defense as lagging behind in a big way heading into the 2022 season in terms of expected results.

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Bleacher Report is one such entity that is predicting some pain for the Lions come the 2022 season. Writer Ian Wharton took a look at naming the top-five worst defenses in the league for this coming season, and perhaps not unexpectedly, the Lions made the cut. The team was in the four slot in terms of the worst defenses primed to hit the field in 2022.

As Wharton wrote, the age of the team, plus the miserable stats from last season prove that the Lions could be on track to once again replicate some misery on the field this coming year on the defensive side of the ball.

“The Lions are incredibly young outside of starting defensive tackle Michael Brockers (31 years old). They were also statistically a bottom-two defense in 2021, so it’s hard to see a big leap coming already,” he wrote in the piece.

Combined with a perceived weakness at cornerback and safety highlighted elsewhere but also emphasized by Wharton, the team might be set to struggle. Wharton admits the team has some pieces in terms of pass rush that could lead to pocket pressure improvement, but the Lions will be depending on a few folks becoming stars in order to really improve.

“Barring (Aidan) Hutchinson becoming an All-Pro as a rookie and (Amani) Oruwariye becoming the next Xavien Howard, the Lions don’t have many ways to be much better than a bottom-five defense. That doesn’t mean there won’t be little successes along the way, but their bar for wins is different while still rebuilding,” he said.

Both of those options are on the table, though, as many expect Hutchinson to have an eye-opening year as a rookie while some even think Oruwariye can break out even more than he did in 2021. The success of the group may be dependent on this playing out in Wharton’s mind, however, which might mean trouble for the Lions.

Add it up and it could be another bottom five season for the Lions this year on defense in the mind of some.

Statistical History Shows Lions Defense May Struggle

In terms of recent history, the stats help show why it is never a bad idea for analysts to proclaim the Lions defense will be terrible any given year. The team had a dreadful season on the field in 2021, ranking 24th in passing defense having given up 244 yards per-game as well as 28th against the run, allowing 135 yards per-game on the ground. The team placed 29th in total defense as a result. Combined with an inability to generate sacks (30) as well as interceptions (just 11 total), the team struggled last season across the board. It was merely a culmination of years of problems, though. In 2019, the Lions placed 31st in total defense, and 32nd in 2020. That was in spite of employing supposed defensive guru Matt Patricia.

Obviously, cleaning up such a mess takes time, and the Lions showed a few strides last year in spite of all the problems. There is hope even more strides can be made, but it might take a while to get the team out of the statistical basement completely.

Lions Defense Made Multiple 2022 Improvements

In spite of all the troubles the team has had in the past and could have this season, the Lions did take some steps to try and rectify things this offseason. In free agency, the team elected to bring back some of their best players from 2021 in safety Tracy Walker, edge rusher Charles Harris and linebacker Alex Anzalone. They also made some well-placed additions from the outside in linebackers Chris Board and Jarrad Davis, cornerback Mike Hughes, and safety DeShon Elliott. Within the draft, the Lions added Aidan Hutchinson and Josh Paschal to the defensive front as well as safety Kerby Joseph to the back end along with cornerback Chase Lucas and linebackers James Houston and Malcolm Rodriguez.

Age and experience level could be a factor here, but the Lions at least tried to beef up their defense in some way ahead of this season. Whether it pays off or not immediately remains to be seen, but some folks are already sounding the alarm bells for next season.

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