Detroit Lions: Defensive line could be a strength in 2019
By Zack Moran
The Detroit Lions might turn one of their biggest weaknesses, the defensive line, into one of their biggest strength come next season.
Coming into the 2018 season, it was evident the defensive line was going to be a problem area for the Detroit Lions. Between the health of Ezekiel Ansah, the potential draft bust of A’Shawn Robinson, and the questionable free agent signings. Also, considering general manager Bob Quinn decided to make the run game a priority instead of the defensive line this past draft.
Beginning of the season, all those notions turned out to be correct. Ansah did not even make it out of the first game before he injured his shoulder. Robinson was a healthy scratch to start the season after an unimpressive preseason. Between Ricky Jean-Francois, Kerry Hyder, and Sylvester Williams the results were underwhelming.
The shining light on the line wasn’t a flashy free agent signing or a first round pick. Da’Shawn Hand, the former fourth-round pick, stepped up and turned into the Lions’ best defensive lineman at the time. On a consistent basis, Hand showed everyone how talented and versatile he is. He can line up inside and outside and his production never lost a step.
Quinn was seeing the defensive line was not getting the production he wanted. So he made a couple of savvy moves to shore up the line. The first of which was releasing defensive end Anthony Zettel and picking up defensive end Romeo Okwara off of waivers. After Ansah got injured, the Lions needed someone to take his spot and that is where Okwara came into play.
Okwara was not expected to produce the same numbers as Ansah would’ve, but he has stepped up big. He has set a career high in sacks with 5.5 and has recorded 29 tackles alone this season. Before then, he only had one sack and 24 tackles when he used sparingly with the New York Giants. The change of scenery is exactly what Okwara needed. He has thrived in head coach Matt Patricia’s system. If his play continues, the Lions should resign him next season.
The second move Quinn made was the brilliant trade to bring in defensive tackle Damon Harrison from the New York Giants. The Lions traded their fifth-round pick next year for the services of Harrison. In the process, they released struggling free agent signee Sylvester Williams. Most people would say Harrison is their best defensive player since he arrived in the Motor City. Since he has been Detroit, he has completely transformed this defense.
The Lions run defense was terrible. They were allowing big runs on a consistent basis. Something needed to get done and this is where Harrison comes in. Before Harrison, the Lions were allowing 5.3 yards per carry, worst in the league. With Harrison, that have allowed a paltry 49.3 yards per game on the ground. Turning offenses one dimensional having to rely on the pass. The Lions have turned into one of the best run defenses in the league with the help of Harrison.
Harrison has a recorded a career high in sacks with 3.5, leads all NFL defensive tackles with 64 tackles, and has caused two forced fumbles. Harrison has been a complete game changer for the Detroit Lions. He fits coach Patricia’s system to a T. He has sound gap discipline, holds his ground against double teams, and he is quick of the ball. Harrison has a tendency to make others around him look good. One of them being A’Shawn Robinson.
Robinson didn’t start out so hot when he was a healthy scratch the first game of the season. Since then, he has stepped up his game. Especially when Harrison came aboard. Harrison took Robinson under his wing and it’s mind blowing how much Robinson has improved. Robinson was on the verge of being a draft bust, but learning under Harrison has revived his career. This dynamic duo has been a breath of fresh air to this defense and really fun to watch.
With Robinson, Harrison, and Hand they have turned into a one-two-three punch along the line. Because of these three, they have made the defensive line go from a weak link to a complete strength. They have been able to control the line and tempo; stifling opposing running games in their place.
The combination of Harrison, Robinson, and Hand should make everyone excited for the future. These three will be on the line next year and hopefully continue their dominance. With another year to learn from one another it’s only going to make this line stronger. On top of the potential free agents and draft picks for the line, this once weakness could be a big strength for the Detroit Lions next year.