The other place these Lions have shown progress is against the run. They started the season playing run defense like they were the Red Sea; they seemed to part for any walk of life that carried a football.
It wasn’t even just giving up so many yards on the ground, but the assortment of long runs they were giving up was inexplicable. They were sloppy, undisciplined and hopeless.
Yet over the last three weeks, the Lions run defense has been the best in the NFL as they have allowed a paltry 49.3 yards rushing a game.
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We all knew that the learning curve was going to be steep for this new defense, but none of us expected it to take half the season to figure out how to stop the run. Personnel was one of the issues and the acquisition of Damon ‘Snacks’ Harrison was a huge upgrade they needed in the middle of the defense.
When they are lined up in a 3-4 front, the nose-tackle is the key position for stopping the run and allowing the middle linebackers to flow to the ball. Harrison has pretty much hit the ground running, if you will, here in Detroit and his arrival was one of the major reasons they have been able to turn around their run defense.
Plus the fact that he is equally as effective in a 4-3 front has made him an incredibly valuable asset already.
Having Ezekiel Ansah back in the lineup each week hasn’t hurt either. We tend to think of Ansah as a dominant pass-rusher when healthy, but he is an underrated run-stopper. Having him in the lineup with ‘Snacks’ has made a difference.
Another reason is that the light seems to have finally gone on for Matt Patricia’s defenders. They are now playing the concepts and principles of his defense with precision and discipline.
At least against the run.
Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia will still need to add talent to the front seven this offseason, especially since it is almost certain that Ezekiel Ansah will not be back, but it doesn’t stop there. The secondary which certainly seemed to be a strength heading into the season is now ready to hang a ‘help wanted’ sign out.
For all intents and purposes, this season is over, but while Lions fans may be cheering for a higher draft pick, they shouldn’t ignore the importance of this team making progress down the stretch.
If these players can actually show the ability make plays at the line of scrimmage, which is what running the ball and stopping the run is predicated upon, then that would be an incredibly important first step towards building a contender.
Whether the Lions win out or lose out is not as important at this point as the ability to continue to make progress and create something they can build on for next season.