Detroit Lions defensive line team’s biggest weakness

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 3: Tight End Nick Boyle
BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 3: Tight End Nick Boyle /

The Detroit Lions weakest positional group appears to be their defensive line. Will Matt Patricia’s scheme make up for a lack of talent?

Despite fielding the sixth best passing attack in the league last season, the Detroit Lions went about the business of shoring up their offense during April’s NFL draft. Four of their limited six draft selections were dedicated to that side of the ball.

Thus, leaving their underwhelming defense … well, underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong. The Lions certainly have some nice pieces for new head coach Matt Patricia to mold. Playmakers like Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay, safety Glover Quin, linebacker Jarrad Davis and pass rusher Ziggy Ansah.

But this was a unit that struggled last year, especially when veteran defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was lost for the season in Week Five due to a bicep injury. Ngata has now bolted to Philadelphia and the Lions did little to replace him.

Instead, it appears as if Detroit is relying heavily on the defensive scheme Patricia is bring over from the New England Patroits, the team he spent the past 14 years with. The last six seasons spent as their defensive coordinator.

But this is a defensive front seven that is sparse on talent. Detroit added veterans like defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and linebacker Devon Kennard to the roster this offseason, but neither were considered top-shelf free agents.

And the only rookie defenders selected in the draft were Louisiana-Lafayette defensive back Tracy Walker in the third round and Alabama defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand in the fourth.

The Lions’ current depth chat at defensive tackle features former second round pick A’Shawn Robinson, a likely starter who has yet to live up to his draft status. Along with Ansah at defensive end is Kerry Hyder Jr.

The veteran pass rusher led the Lions with 8.0 sacks in 2016, but suffered a season-ending Achilles’ injury in Detroit’s first preseason matchup last year. Hyder will likely split time with third-year defensive end Anthony Zettel, a former sixth round pick who stepped up to post 6.5 sacks in 2017.

Major questions surround each member of this defensive line. Is it any surprise that this positional group is turning out to be the biggest weakness on Detroit’s roster this offseason?

"“While it’s tough to judge any line play during unpadded practices, the defensive linemen have not been standing out at all through the practices the Lions have opened to the media,” wrote Michael Rothstein for “It’s still early, but the defensive front continues to be the biggest question mark Detroit has.”"

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The Detroit Lions are clearly putting all their chips behind Matt Patricia and his exotic defensive scheme to turn this underwhelming defensive line into a Super Bowl-caliber unit quickly. If the first-time head coach is unable to do so in Year One, the Lions might have to try and outscore opponents to the finish line in 2018 rather than stopping them.