Detroit Lions 2019 final report cards: Defense and Special Teams

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(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

With the Detroit Lions 2019 season in the books, we hand out final report cards to each position group. Today, we grade the defense and special teams.

With the conclusion of the Detroit Lions’ 2019 season, it’s time to hand out our final report cards of the season. As to be expected with any three-win team, the grades aren’t great.

For this evaluation, we grade each position group separately, and today we look at the defense and special teams:

Defensive Line

It looked so good on paper. Prior to the beginning of the 2019 season, the Lions looked like they were ready to field a deep, versatile and dangerous group along the defensive line. Four months, countless injuries, and a 3-12-1 record later, those expectations now seem way off-base.

Bringing in Trey Flowers, despite his sky-high price tag, seemed like a perfect fit, considering his strong development under Lions head coach Matt Patricia, when both were with the New England Patriots. Flowers was easily the strongest performer on the Lions’ defensive line all season, despite a slow start to the year recovering from an offseason shoulder procedure.

His 7.0 sacks on the season came just short of a career-high, and he was undoubtedly the best run defender of the group. But he can’t do it alone; his multifaceted responsibility on the Lions’ defense prevents him from completely dominating games in the pass-rushing department.  Flowers is a rock-solid player and should continue to perform well for the Lions for years, but his debut season in Detroit was a tad underwhelming.

Opposite Flowers is where the problems really began. A year after posting a career-high 7.5 sacks, Romeo Okwara was an absolute ghost this season. Honestly, how many times do you recall him making a big play this year? He finished the season with a paltry 1.5 takedowns and 14 solo tackles and proved he likely isn’t the answer opposite Flowers moving forward, a serious miscalculation by the Lions brass.

Things also went awry in the middle. Damon Harrison was such a transformative player for the Lions after being acquired in a midseason trade in 2018, particularly with his noted run-stuffing prowess. 2019 was a different story, as nagging injuries seemed to slow him down significantly, and he simply didn’t make the same kind of impact. Unhappy with his inability to perform to his high standards, the respected veteran is considering retirement.

Next to him, the Lions lacked any consistency, sustained health or playmaking. Mike Daniels turned out to be a poor $8.1 million investment, as injuries limited him to nine games, a single sack and just ten tackles. The Green Bay Packers may have been on to something when they surprisingly released him last summer.

A’Shawn Robinson enters free agency after a ho-hum fourth season in Detroit, which was very similar to his first three. He’s an above-average interior lineman who at times can be a productive run defender in a two-gapping system. He offers very little in the way of pass rush though; he has just 5.0 total sacks over those four years. It’s probably time to move on.

Da’Shawn Hand‘s injury-plagued sophomore season was possibly the most frustrating element from this unit. He brimmed with potential after a fine rookie year, but a series of physical ailments has limited his availability. He has appeared in just 16 games over two campaigns, including just two this year. He’s a talented player and will be back in 2020, but the jury remains out.

Overall, this unit underperformed to a shocking degree, and major changes are likely in the cards. 28 sacks – second from the bottom in the league – just won’t cut it, much of that lack of pressure falling on this unit’s shoulders..A defense’s overall effectiveness often is dictated by its front line, and the Lions just didn’t bring it this year, yielding its low grade, as well as a trickle-down effect on the rest of the defense.

Grade: D

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