Did Lions do enough to improve their defense?
By Matt Urben
Following an impressive 2014 season, the Lions’ defense took a big backward step in 2015, falling from the 2nd-ranked defense to the 23rd. The decline was largely a byproduct of losing both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in free agency. Not having star linebacker DeAndre Levy for most of the season played a big role in the drop off as well.
This off-season, the team added safety Rafael Bush in free agency and traded for linebacker Jonathan Bostic from the New England Patriots. In the draft, they grabbed defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson in the 2nd-round and strong safety Miles Killebrew in the 4th.
While none of these moves are earth shattering, they all filled important needs. The question remains, however, did the Lions do enough to improve on last year’s mediocre defense?
It’s hard to say for now, but according to most mainstream media, the answer is no. The lack of faith in Detroit’s off-season is reflected by many analysts picking the Lions to finish last in the NFC North.
Now it’s not completely shocking, seeing how Calvin Johnson retired and they haven’t had that dominant interior pass rush since losing Suh and Fairley last year. Detroit’s Haloti Ngata is a good player, but nowhere close to the level at which Suh was playing at in 2014.
Last season, many expected the defense to take a step back, but the thinking was that the team would be okay because of what was anticipated to be a high-powered offense. As we all know, the offense never took off and offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi was fired at mid-season, along with general manager Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand.
Things changed in the following weeks, primarily because the offense came alive under interim offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. The Lions won six of their final eight games, finishing 7-9, after a 1-7 start to the season. What gets lost in the team’s strong finish is the fact that the defense played significantly down the stretch.
Haloti Ngata finally looked comfortable in the system and Ziggy Ansah blossomed into a pro-bowl caliber defensive end. The question remains, though, did the defense gain enough momentum down the stretch to get back to the level of their dominant unit of 2014?
On paper, it’s hard to say they improved all that much, especially with their main additions being a couple of rookies who may or may not even start next season. Add that to losing one of the greatest receivers to ever play the game, and there’s not a lot of faith outside of Allen Park.
So while the team will have to prove they are a better unit than last year, they still have one of the best defensive coordinator’s in the game, in Teryl Austin. On paper, they do not appear to be much better. But with a healthy DeAndre Levy, up-and-comer Darius slay and Ansah returning as one of the best young players in the game, there are elite pieces and every level of the defense.