Detroit Lions: Which positional group has struggled the most?

Through eight games, the Detroit Lions have underwhelmed this season. But which positional group has struggled the most?  We’ll make our case.

Most of 2019 has been a season to forget for the Detroit Lions. Entering his second year as head coach, Matt Patricia was supposed to change the culture in the Motor City. Yet, all Patricia’s done is made a downtrodden fan base long for the days under former head coach Jim Caldwell.

Chalked up to growing pains, Patricia’s first season in Detroit ended with a disappointing 6-10 record. The man he replaced, Caldwell, never posted a record worse than 7-9 during his four-year stint. In fact, three of those seasons the Lions had winning records along with two playoff berths.

Patricia inherited a 9-7 team following the 2017 regular season. And the arrival of the New England Patriots’ highly-touted defensive coordinator was supposed to improve on that record, not make things worse.

The defensive genius who led his squads in New England to six-straight conference championships and three Super Bowl appearances was supposed to revitalize Motown’s defense. And after a midseason trade for New York Giants’ defensive end Damon Harrison, the defensive unit in Detroit was on the rise.

Despite the win/loss column, the Lions’ defense ranked in the top ten in yards allowed in 2018 (10th – 5,360 yards). Detroit’s passing defense ranked eighth allowing 224.9 yards per contest. While their rushing defense ranked 10th allowing 110.1 yards per game through the air to opposing offenses.

After an offseason full of high-priced free agent acquisitions and the introduction of yet another talented draft class, the Lions as a whole figured to be much-improved. Yet, Detroit has struggled. Particularly, on the defensive side of the ball.

That’s very strange based on the fact defensive game planning is supposed to be Patricia’s bread and butter. Through the first eight games of this season, Detroit’s defense has been horrible.

Even with the additions of defensive end Trey Flowers and cornerback Justin Coleman via free agency, and the early round draft selections of linebacker Jahlani Tavai and safety Will Harris, Detroit’s defense ranks 31st in offensive yards allowed per game going into this weekend (424.1). The Lions are 31st against the pass (288.4 per) and 27th against the run (135.8 per).

The defense’s poor play through the first half of the regular season seems to be an indictment against Patricia, who has clearly failed to reproduce the success he found under Pats’ head coach Bill Belichick. And the unit most responsible for the current situation in Detroit appears to be the defensive line.

Here’s what Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press recently wrote about the Lions’ defensive line after giving them the grade of D-plus (along with the linebacker corps) as the worst positional unit on the team.

“No unit came into the season more hyped than the Lions’ defensive line, and no unit has been more disappointing through eight games. The Lions have the worst pass-rush win rate in the NFL, according to ESPN, and while that’s not just the defensive line, that front has struggled both in that department and in its strength, defending the run.”

A defensive line that includes Flowers, Harrison, second-year sensation Da’Shawn Hand, A’Shawn Robinson, Romeo Okwara, and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Mike Daniels should have been the envy of the entire league. Instead, underwhelming play and injuries have absolutely devastated this unit.

The Lions’ defense has recorded a total of 14.0 sacks in eight games, which is tied for the fifth-lowest amount in the NFL. Half of those sacks have come from the linebacker corps. And this is a defense that has blitzed the quarterback a league-low 41 times in 2019 so far.

Next: 5 potential coaching replacements for Matt Patricia

The biggest reason the Detroit Lions hired head coach Matt Patricia in the first place was undoubtedly due to his success as a defensive mastermind in New England. And though it could be argued it takes more than two seasons to change a culture, Patricia inherited a winning team and has promptly ran it into the ground. And this season, the most damage is being done by the very unit he was brought to Detroit to improve.