With a new defensive coordinator at the helm, the Detroit Lions secondary could see the biggest difference from his presence this upcoming season.
When the Detroit Lions hired Matt Patricia as their new head coach in 2018, most figured, at the very least, that their defense would improve. After all, Patricia had spent the previous six years leading the New England Patriots’ defense to six-straight conference championship appearances and two Super Bowl victories as their defensive coordinator.
Yet, the Lions’ defensive performance under Patricia has been less than ideal as the third-year head coach and general manager Bob Quinn continue to build a winning culture in Detroit. Last season, Detroit’s total defense ranked 31st in the league allowing 400.4 yards per game from opposing offenses.
The Lions’ defense was the worst in the NFL against the pass, allowing a league-high 284.4 passing yards per contest. And they ranked 21st against the run (115.9).
This offseason, Paul Pasqualoni stepped down as defensive coordinator and the Lions hired Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive backs coach Cory Undlin in his place. With a herald defensive-mind in Patricia pulling the strings, the role of defensive coordinator in Detroit figures to be little more than a title. But Undlin’s presence figures to boost at least one area of the defense in 2020.
Here’s what ESPN’s Michael Rothstein wrote recently about Undlin’s potential impact on Detroit’s secondary, specifically the safeties, in his first season in the Motor City.
"“The Lions’ secondary will be most affected by Undlin because that’s where most of his experience comes from — be it in Cleveland, Jacksonville, Denver or Philadelphia. Undlin worked with Pro Bowl safeties in Philadelphia and Denver and his specialty is within that unit, and it seems like the logical place for him to benefit Detroit since it’s unknown if he’ll be calling plays.”"
Ranking dead last in the league last season, the secondary in Detroit will not need to do much to show improvement. And Undlin’s presence should help as just this past season the Eagles’ defense ranked 19th against the pass (241.6).
That might not seem all that impressive until you consider that Philadelphia didn’t have a single 16-game starter at cornerback as that position was decimated by injuries. In fact, only one corner started in more than six games for Philly last season, and that was Ronald Darby with 11 starts.
Luckily for the Eagles, who actually won their division despite posting a dismal 9-7 record, the combination of starting safeties Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins was able to lift the play of the secondary. That’s surely something the Lions are hoping to replicate with their talented safety tandem of Tracy Walker and Will Harris, both of whom being recent third-round selections.
During Undlin’s 16-year NFL career so far, he’s coached under some of the top defensive minds in the league. That list includes Romeo Crennel with the Cleveland Browns and Jack Del Rio with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Denver Broncos. Over the past four years, Undlin’s been under former Lions’ head coach Jim Schwartz in Philly.
Cory Undlin is also a two-time Super Bowl winner. He won one as the defensive backs coach with the Eagles in 2017. And the other as a coaching assistant with Patriots in 2004. Yet, with the Detroit Lions, this is the 48-year old’s first defensive coordinator gig in the NFL.