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Detroit Lions 2022 Report Card: Defense

The Detroit Lions defense played a huge role in the team’s success and struggles. To start the year, the defense was putrid, ranking dead last in the league and wasting great offensive performances. After a 1-6 start, Aaron Glenn simplified the scheme leading to a huge improvement. The defense still was not perfect, but with their improvements, the Lions won eight of their last ten. Let’s see how each group graded out in the improved year.

Detroit Lions Defensive Report Card:

Defensive Line

The defensive line was the catalyst for the improvement of the defense. Early on, the defense could not stop the run at all giving up 200 rushing yards to the Eagles and Seahawks. After the bye week, the Lions were much stingier against the run outside of the Carolina game thanks to their defensive line.

Unheralded free agents, Isaiah Buggs and John Cominsky were critical, savvy additions. Buggs emerged as a force against the run and a leader in the locker room. While Cominsky had a big role in doing a lot of dirty work to free others. Alim McNeil also looked much better. He was stout against the run and even flashed ability as a pass rusher. With his athleticism, he can become a three-down force for years to come.

The tackles were not the only ones who improved on the year. Rookies Aidan Hutchinson and James Houston were huge as pass rushers down the stretch. Hutchinson looked just okay to start the year, but he continuously improved over the span of the year. By the end of the year, Hutchinson was a force against the run and pass leading all rookies with 9.5 sacks. In second place, Houston was the most efficient pass rusher in the entire NFL with eight sacks in only seven games. If he can improve in the run game, the Lions will have a special combination off the edge for a long time.

The Lions will need to improve their depth going into next year, particularly on the inside. The Lions only rotated three players at defensive tackle, resulting in Hutchinson and Cominsky spending more time on the inside. If they add one or two more bodies on the interior, the defensive line should be versatile and skilled next year.

Report Card Grade: B+


Expectations were not high for the linebackers entering the year. They struggled the year previous and the only addition was sixth-round pick Malcolm Rodriguez and special teamer Chris Board. However, Malcolm Rodriguez proved he is not a normal sixth-round pick. The rookie was immediately thrust into the starting lineup. Despite being undersized, Rodriguez used his speed and smarts to upgrade the defense from day one.

Next to him, the Lions returned Alex Anzalone. After a mediocre 2021, expectations were low for Anzalone. However, Anzalone had a much better year where he emerged as a solid starter and leader on the team. Finally, Derrick Barnes also flashed some. The converted edge rusher is still raw, but he has shown improvement in his two years despite having bad injury luck.

This group is far from spectacular, but for the first time in a long time, they weren’t holding the rest of the defense back. They played solid against the run, but if Rodriguez or Barnes can improve in coverage, this linebacker corps can be good for the first time since D’Andre Levy.

Report Card Grade: B


The secondary did show improvement, but still was the weakest group by far. The group took a huge hit to start the year when their leader and best player, Tracy Walker ended his season with an Achilles tear. His loss led to serious struggles, especially with communication. However, after some time, they were able to look much more respectable as they adjusted.

In Walker’s absence, rookie Kerby Joseph entered the starting lineup and immediately started making plays. Joseph recently moved to safety, so there were growing pains against the run and in man coverage, but when he was playing deep, Joseph was a great playmaker intercepting four passes and forcing two fumbles. As he gets more comfortable at safety, Joseph’s playmaking should only get better, and he should surrender fewer chunk plays.

With Joseph and DeShon Elliot, the safeties played well, but where the group really struggled was at corner. Jeff Okudah started off the year great, limiting top receivers and playing great against the run. However, as the year went on, he seemed to regress against the run and pass. The year was still positive for the former top pick, but he needs to show consistency in 2023.

The Lions were even worse at the opposite corner. Amani Oruwariye looked completely lost and lost his starting job very quickly. Replacing him, Mike Hughes was tough against the run, but like Oruwariye struggled in coverage. Luckily, Jerry Jacobs returned from injury in Week 7. The undrafted second-year player brought toughness and swagger on the outside that allowed him to play well to the end of the year. With Okudah’s late-year struggles, Jacobs ended the year as the Lions’ best cover corner.

In the slot, the Lions did not have many answers either, Will Harris and Hughes split time. Harris is tough and physical, but he struggled with speedier slot receivers. With Harris entering free agency, the Lions should look to upgrade in the offseason.

The secondary should be the focus for the team going into the offseason. They should be set on the backend with Walker and Joseph, but the corners could really use an infusion of talent. The Lions should at least add one starting-caliber corner and depth at both positions.

Report Card Grade: C+


Aaron Glenn came under a lot of fire during the defense’s horrid start to the year for good reason. There were far too many breakdowns, and the defense really did not do anything well. But, Glenn and the rest of the coaching staff deserve a lot of credit for the team’s improvement.

The team relied on a lot of young players and nearly all of them improved. Young players like Houston, Joseph, McNeil, Hutchinson, etc. were all put in a position to succeed and all looked much better as the season progressed. The numbers might not look the best, but the staff developed a young core that could pay dividends for years to come.

Report Card Grade: B-

Stats from Pro Football Reference


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