The Lions defense was quite frustrating to watch. They executed the bend but don't break strategy very well for most of the year. Perhaps the biggest achievement of the year was the timely turnovers. Having a dismal total number of turnovers forced (10 INTs and 4 FUM), the Lions accumulated five of their interceptions in the final two minutes of the fourth-quarter.
As a whole, they may not have been great, but they usually played well enough to keep the Lions in the game. The week 16 Dallas Cowboys game was the only real game that got out of hand.
The Lions defense was 18th in yards-per-game, 13th in points-per-game, 19th in passing defense, 18th in rushing defense, and 31st for third-down conversion rate. Middle of the pack in just about every category.
This was a very disappointing group. Many expected DE Ziggy Ansah to take that next step into superstardom and Devin Taylor to also become that dangerous second fiddle. Unfortunately, they had a combined 6.5 sacks. Ansah struggled with a nagging high ankle sprain all year while Taylor disappeared and squandered his golden opportunity. The unheralded Kerry Hyder led the team with 8.0 sacks, five of them in the first four weeks.
Moving inside, Haloti Ngata was the best defensive tackle on the team and looked like his former pro-bowl self from time to time. Second-round rookie A'Shawn Robinson progressed nicely as the season went on and settled in as a solid run-stuffer. Outside of these two, the overloaded position to start the season became a weakness. Often times the Lions were forced to bring defensive ends (Hyder, Armonty Bryant, Anthony Zettel) to the inside on passing down to get pressure up the middle.
Tyrunn Walker, Khyri Thornton, and Stefan Charles had a total of one sack between the three defensive tackles. Sacks are not the best way to judge a DT's value, but it is a decent indicator of their lack of pass rush ability. The entire defensive line only took the QB down a whopping 26 times. Good teams always can bring pressure with four and that was not the case with Detroit.
- MID-SEASON GRADE: D+
- FINAL GRADE: D
— Logan Lamorandier (@LLamorandier) December 22, 2016
This was the Tahir Whitehead show as he accumulated 132 total tackles in 15-games played. Important to note, making a bunch of tackles is not always a good thing. Before the arrival of a healthy Josh Bynes and DeAndre Levy, Whitehead was seemingly making every stop. He had eight games with ten or more tackles and finished the year with the 8th most tackles in the NFL.
The departure of Kyle Van Noy was addition by subtraction to this defense. Tight ends were giving the Lions fits the first half of the season (8 TDs in first eight games) but the issues magically disappeared after Van Noy moved on.
There were no big plays outside a few tackles for loss from the linebacker unit. Whitehead, Bynes, Levy, Antwione Williams, and Thurston Armbrister had a total of ZERO interceptions, sacks, or fumbles. It's tough to have a good defense when the linebackers struggle to make any type of game-changing impact.
When healthy, the Lions had a dependable cast of thumpers.
- MID-SEASON GRADE: D+
- FINAL GRADE: C
— DetroitSportsNation (@detsportsnation) January 6, 2017
In a league that sets defensive backs up to fail, the Lions secondary made the best of a difficult situation. To make matters worse, the Lions anemic pass rush frequently couldn't get to the quarterback (30th in sacks) leaving the DBs out to dry.
Both CB Darius Slay and FS Glover Quin played at a high level consistently. The severely underrated Quin didn't miss a defensive snap and Slay was one of the two Lions to at least received a vote to be an all-pro. Slay definitely lived up to his new contract and his “Big-Play” name.
The ancillary players such as Nevin Lawson, Quandre Diggs, Tavon Wilson and Miles Killebrew all did their part when called upon. They shouldn't be building blocks of the future (maybe Killebrew down the road), but the lack of big plays allowed on defense is a testament to the solid back end.
The Lions allowed 33-passing touchdowns–second worst in the league to only the Cleveland Browns. Another scary stat is the fact that the defense allowed quarterbacks to complete 72.7% of their passes with a 106.5 QB rating. Both of those stats were dead last in the NFL.
You have to take into account that a lot of linebacker breakdowns and no pressure upfront were the cause of the aforementioned stats. Obviously, there is a lot of room to get better, but that will not happen until a formidable pass rush is developed. Thier saving grace was reliable tackling and the knack to make a play when it was needed.
- MID-SEASON GRADE: C+
- FINAL GRADE: C
— DetroitSportsNation (@detsportsnation) October 27, 2016