In just two short years Lions Defensive-Coordinator Teryl Austin has completely changed the culture surrounding Detroit’s defense.
Before Austin arrived in the Motor City, the Lions had finished 15th or below in total defense 13 years in a row. In 2014, Detroit finished 3rd in points allowed and 2nd in yards allowed. While the Lions’ defense in 2015 has taken a step back, it was bound to be a tough season with the losses of starting defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley to free agency. With that being said Detroit did manage to win six of its last eight games, where the Lions held five of its opponents to 20 points or less. According to ESPN’s Josina Anderson, Austin is one of the top candidates for a head coaching position this off-season with the Dolphins and the Browns both expressing interest. Let’s take a look at how the defense performed in 2015 under Austin’s leadership.
2015 saw the emergence of play makers in the secondary with third-year cornerback Darius Slay and rookie nickleback Quandre Diggs both showing they could be important pieces in the secondary for years to come. With veteran corner Rashean Mathis going on injured reserve due to a concussion in week 7, Slay became the Lions top shutdown corner.
Another piece of the Detroit defense that was sorely missed in 2015, was all-pro outside linebacker DeAndre Levy who only appeared in one game before being placed on IR due to hip surgery. With Levy missing nearly the whole season, younger linebackers Tahir Whitehead and Josh Bynes had to step up and perform. Bynes, in his second season in Detroit since being picked up from Baltimore in 2014, finished the season second in total tackles with 82.
Probably the biggest question facing the Lions’ defense heading into 2015 was how the front four would perform without Suh and Fairley. Defensive end Ezekial “Ziggy” Ansah broke out in his third season since being taken with the 5th pick in 2013. Ansah finished third in the league in sacks with 14.5 on the year. He also forced four fumbles and had two fumble recoveries this season. On the other side, Jason Jones had another quality season with 4.5 sacks. One of the new faces in Detroit this season was former-Raven defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who came over in a trade in the off-season. While Ngata didn’t perform at his usual Pro-Bowl level, he did free up space for other players such as Ansah to rush the quarterback. The decision whether or not to retain Ngata, who becomes a free agent after this season, will be vital to how the Lions defense looks in 2016.
It was truly a tale of two halves when it comes to the Lions’ season. The defense struggled for much of the first half, giving up an average of 30.6 points per game. However, the unit stiffened up in the second half, only giving up 19.3 points per game.
With young up and coming talent in the secondary and pass-rushing phenom Ziggy Ansah, the Lions defense could be a force to be reckoned with in 2016. A lot of that will depend on who is calling the defense in 2016 with Austin more than likely on his way out.