The defense under Matt Patricia regressed in 2019, but is it the Detroit Lions’ biggest weakness?
After posting two back-to-back 9-7 seasons, the Detroit Lions were looking for someone who could get their franchise over the playoff hump. Despite the previous success under former head coach Jim Caldwell, which included three winning seasons and two playoff berths, Detroit opted to make a change.
At the end of the 2017 regular season, the Lions parted ways with Caldwell. In his place, Detroit hired former New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. The proclaimed defensive guru who help to lead the Patriots to two Super Bowl victories during his six seasons as DC, Patricia figured to upgrade the Detroit defense from day one.
Instead, the Lions have struggled to replicate the team’s success under Caldwell with Patricia’s teams posting a 6-10 record in 2018 and a lowly 3-12-1 record last year. And the most surprising thing of all has been the fact the Detroit defense has regressed under the former Super Bowl winner.
In 2019, the Lions finished the regular season with the second-worst defense in the NFL allowing 400.4 yards per game to opposing offenses. Detroit fielded the worst passing defense in the league (284.4 passing yards per game) and the 21st rushing defense (115.9 rushing yards per contest).
Will the Detroit Lions offense be forced to carry the team in 2020?
Here’s what Peter King wrote in his weekly column for NBC Sports, Football Morning in America, after ranking the Lions the 26th team in the NFL in his recent power rankings.
"“Patricia’s D needs to show progress after allowing a gaudy 24.5 points a game in his first two years, not the kind of performance the Lions expected when they hired the Belichick disciple two years ago. … I won’t be shocked if Detroit contends, because the Lions will score. The big question is the D.”"
The Lions’ defense showed flashes of potential at the end of the 2018 regular season rising to become the NFL’s 10th ranked defense. And a midseason trade for defensive tackle Damon Harrison was tabbed as a big reason for that turnaround.
Heading into 2020, the Lions were once again forced to churn their defensive roster. Gone are key defensive playmakers like Harrison, cornerback Darius Slay, and linebacker Devon Kennard. They’ve been replaced with former Patriots in defensive tackle Danny Shelton and linebacker Jamie Collins, plus the Lions’ 2020 first-round selection, Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah.
Combine those various roster changes with a new defensive coordinator in Cory Undlin, and the Lions’ defense has many more questions to answer than the offense. This season will be the second under offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, after a successful first year. And a healthy Matthew Stafford under center is primed to take advantage of a talented trio of veteran wide receivers, a 2019 first-round tight end, and 2020 second-round rookie running back.
Yet, the fact the Detroit Lions’ defense could be viewed as the team’s biggest weakness is a shocker with someone like Matt Patrica at the helm. And heading into a pivotal season for the third-year head coach, Patricia will need to prove that 2019 was a fluke and the defense in Detroit is much better than their dismal record and low rankings indicate.