The Detroit Lions pass defense was historically the worst in the NFL last year yet they chose to ignore this weakness in the offseason. Or did they?
The Detroit Lions set a number of NFL and team records during the 2016 season. A malleable, yielding pass defense was just one of them.
By defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars, 26-19 in Week Eleven, the Lions became the first team in NFL history to have the first ten games of their season all decided by seven points or less. They then extended that record to eleven games the following week by beating the Minnesota Vikings, 16-13.
The Lions tied an NFL record (set in 2009 by the Indianapolis Colts) for the most fourth quarter comeback wins in a season with seven in that victory over the Vikings. They set a new record of eight comeback wins two weeks later by squeaking past the Chicago Bears, 20-17.
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford completed fourteen passes in a row against the New Orleans Saints in Week Thirteen, setting a team record.
Now, that all sounds great, especially if you are a glass-half-full kind of guy. The glass-half-empty perspective would wonder why they were trailing in all of those games in the first place?
Here is where the glass gets emptier: Not all of the records that the Lions set were good.
Consider the defense allowed Quarterback Rating (QBR). Detroit gave up an NFL record QBR of 106.5 in 2016. (The higher the number defensively, the worse they played). To put that in perspective, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers finished the season with a QBR of 104.2. That means that every single quarterback that Detroit faced had more success on average than Rodgers did.
According to Football Outsiders, very little of Detroit’s pass defense was statistically even average. The worst part of the Lions pass defense came from the third receiver, passes to the right and short passes.
Teams feasted on the Lions selling out to stop the big play, essentially conceding the short pass. By and large, Detroit had success with that strategy.
Better teams however, were able to exploit that tactic and manipulate their own short game into a clock-managed, mistake-free win.
Also consider the fact that Detroit tied for 30th with only 26 sacks last year. The general consensus was that they needed to draft some serious defensive line help in order to compete.
But the draft came and went and saw the Lions choose only defensive ends Jeremiah Ledbetter in the sixth round and Pat O’Connor in the seventh. Both have good reviews but neither are expected to go to the Pro Bowl this year.
Wait a minute. So why the optimism? They picked up a few free agents, draft picks and undrafted free agents for the defensive line, none of whom are expected to make an overwhelming splash. Well, that’s a good question.