The Detroit Lions have bolstered their safety position the last two offseasons. First, signing Glover Quin in 2012 and then nabbing James Ihedigbo this offseason after Louis Delmas left for the Dolphins.
While a lot of teams are trying to create interchangeable pieces with their safeties, the Lions safeties will align in a more traditional setup. Quin will take over the free safety spot and Ihedigbo moving into a traditional strong safety role. And although underrated, these moves cannot be diminished.
Despite a solid team ranking against the run (the NFL’s 6th ranked run defense in 2013), the Detroit Lions safeties’ need to improve in this season. According to Pro Football Focus, not a single safety for the Lions had a positive run grade last season. That’s where Ihedigbo will come in and should play a big role.
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Ihedigbo is a much better player against the run than he is against the pass. Last season he was Pro Football Focus’ top rated safety in terms of Run Stop Percentage. Ihedigbo had a run stop on 12.2% of his in-the-box-snaps (within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage). Here’s a quick overview of the metric via their website:
"Stops are what we judge to be tackles that prevent an offensive success (defined as gaining 40% of required yardage on first down, 60% on second down, and the entire required yardage on third or fourth) and making more of them per run defense snap will bump you on this list. Note: for safeties, these numbers are also shown in splits for when they’ve lined up within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage."
In 2013 James Ihedigbo played over 37% of run snaps within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage at the snap. That’s not the highest percentage in the NFL by a long shot, but I could see that number going in Detroit this season. One key strength that Ihedigbo brings is his ability to blitz and rush the passer. With Teryl Austin likely to dial up more blitzes this season this is an underrated aspect of his game. In 2013 Ihedigbo had 10 pressures on 38 pass rush attempts last season, ranking him 4th in pressures out of all NFL safeties in 2013.
While Ihedigbo will play the in-the-box role for the Lions next season, Glover Quin will transition into the free safety role. My guess is you’ll see Quin playing in the deep middle of the field a lot in the upcoming season. Being a former cornerback, it’s not a stretch to assume Quin should naturally slide into his new role. Last season he was one the NFL’s top rated coverage safeties according to Pro Football Focus. Quin had the best QB Rating allowed of any safety in coverage in 2013. Opposing quarterbacks only had a 30.7 rating while he was in coverage.
The Detroit Lions’ secondary has been the subject of a lot of chatter this offseason. I assume that the national talk will continue to remain grim until the Lions take a cornerback in the first round of the NFL draft. Putting that narrative aside, there are reasons to be excited about the secondary, and the safeties have a lot to do with it.