The Lions defense has been quite the enigma. Somehow they have made a few big plays to seal games, but outside of that, they have struggled to be reliable. They make average quarterbacks look like Pro Bowlers and no-name tight ends transform into Tony Gonzalez. They have allowed the sixth most yards per play, committed the fifth most defensive penalties, and have given up the 11th most points in the NFL.
Three of the last four games have been statistically against bottom-five offenses too. The lack of competition has skewed the data in the D’s favor to look more respectable than they really are. Lucky for us, the Lions continue their play of offensive offenses as they face the struggling Minnesota Vikings in the next two of three games. Minnesota averages the least amount of yards per game outside of the San Francisco 49ers. The 26th rank offense, Jacksonville Jaguars, will come to Detroit to split the two games against the Vikings. In short, the Lions have a schedule conducive to defensive dominance yet they have been anything but.
Yes, Ziggy Ansah has struggled with a high ankle sprain, but he has been non-existent since his return. In order for the defense to get back on track, he must regain his 2015 form. He has no sacks on the season and is regularly being stifled by opposing tackles. Opposite of Ansah, Devin Taylor has picked up a few clean-up sacks but has failed to routinely force pressure. Taylor was being counted on in preseason to basically be what Kerry Hyder has turned into this year.
Not only has Hyder racked up the 5.0 sacks, his high motor has allowed him to make plays all over the field from both defensive end and tackle. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has turned to a four DE front on passing downs to create pressure. All of the Lions DTs have underwhelmed when pushing the pocket. Haloti Ngata’s run-stuffing ability has been sorely missed during his recovery from injury. A’Shawn Robinson has had some nice splash plays but has been below average overall.
In what looked to be a strength at the beginning of the season, the defensive front now appears to be one of the biggest weaknesses.
- FIRST-QUARTER GRADE: D-
- MID-SEASON GRADE: D+
DE @Ziggy_Ansah: "I've been making good progress"
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) October 14, 2016
To be fair, no team could probably come away with raving reviews after the of injuries Detroit has racked up at the LB position. DeAndre Levy has dressed for the opening game and has basically been shut down. No one truly knows what exactly his injury is, but his lengthy absence only strengthens the narrative that he is just being overly cautious. Top reserves Josh Bynes and Jon Bostic are just now getting healthy which left Tahir Whitehead, ex-Lion Kyle Van Noy to keep the boat afloat. That metaphorical ship was more like a submarine because it was often fully submerged.
After struggling early, Whitehead has improved in terms of gap responsibility and coverage, but he isn’t that go-to guy that makes everyone around him better. There was a good reason the Lions traded Van Noy. He followed the opposite path of Whitehead as he started out looking like he at least belonged on an NFL roster but eventually regressed into his former soft, and lost self.
Outside of the missed tackles and poor angles, the biggest issue every backer has struggled with is coverage. Below average tight ends have run wild on both the safeties and the LBs. If Levy were to return sometime around the bye, which is the rumor, he could instantly make everyone’s life a lot easier on D. As of now, the LBs have somewhat improved since the start of the season, but it may just be a product of the easy offensive schedule. Trading Van Noy was addition by subtraction.
- FIRST-QUARTER GRADE: D
- MID-SEASON GRADE: D+
— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) October 2, 2016
The trio of Darius Slay, Nevin Lawson, and Quandre Diggs were expected to continue where they left off at cornerback last year. The issues in the front seven have made that goal nearly impossible. Slay was playing like a top-10 corner in the league before going down with a hamstring injury. As all corners do, he has had a couple of slip-ups, but he also has been able to redeem himself with huge game-clinching plays.
Diggs and Lawson have cleaned up their mistakes in the second quarter of the season, but they still occasionally blow a coverage or get outmuscled by receivers. Johnson Bademosi played decent against the Texans after looking very out-of-place in the two weeks prior. You have to have a short memory as a corner.
In regards to the safety position, not much new to say about Glover Quin. He doesn’t get burned, he doesn’t miss tackles and has a nose for the ball. At the strong safety spot, the Lions have a three-man rotation (Tavon Wilson, Rafael Bush, and Miles Killebrew). None have played well enough to really separate themselves from the pack. A three safety defensive package has become standard on passing downs to help cover the tight ends–it hasn’t helped.
- FIRST-QUARTER GRADE: C
- MID-SEASON GRADE: C+
— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) October 28, 2016