Better utilization of players could be the difference
The 2019 Detroit Lions were bad in every phase of their defense. But while they were horribly inconsistent against the run, they were flat out awful against the pass. Something that was less reflective on the play of the secondary, than it was the abysmal pass-rush.
Plain and simple the Lions couldn’t put pressure on opposing quarterbacks if the enemy had suited up five random fans out of the stands to protect their passer. Even bad quarterbacks look pretty good when they have all day to find a receiver.
This will probably be the biggest key to the 2020 season; the pass-rush. The one area that all Lions fans have wondered aloud whether Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia have done enough to fortify.
While I also wished for more help on the edge, I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that there is some potential talent on the Lions roster that could surprise all of us this fall.
The key will be utilizing the talent that the Lions do have. That means being more aggressive and willing to blitz.
Matt Patricia doesn’t like to blitz. He prefers his defensive line to create pressure, but he has to be willing to give his defense a chance and take some risks in order to make a play and get off the field.
While Trey Flowers did take the field every week last year, he did so while recovering from injury in the first half of the season. The early returns weren’t impressive and certainly weren’t worth the money he was being paid. However, the second half of the season as he got healthier, his game noticeably improved and he started to become the player the Lions wanted him to be.
But he got little to no help. Romeo Okwara who was tied for the team lead in sacks in 2019 was missing in action. Rookie Austin Bryant missed most of the season due to injury, but he was a productive pass-rusher at Clemson. Even when injured.
Da’Shawn Hand followed up a terrific rookie campaign in 2018 with a season lost to injury himself. Given the clean bill of health, Hand could single-handedly boost the pass-rush.
So while the pass-rush was anemic last year, there are reasons why it could take a big step forward. The addition of Julius Okwara, Romeo’s younger brother, was a big pick up in the draft and he has tremendous speed off the edge while also possessing outstanding athleticism.
Jamie Collins excelled at blitzing off the edge for the Patriots last year. Collins is an athletic freak who could certainly give the pass-rush some help and quite frankly despite his inconsistencies, Jarrad Davis has proven to be effective in the limited opportunities he has been asked to blitz.
There is no one answer to the pass-rush, but when you break down the roster, Matt Patricia does have options that could certainly help give the Lions rush a jolt this fall. He just has to be willing to be flexible and utilize what he has.
With an offense that could be very good and a defense that does have the potential to make some big strides this season, it will all come down to how well they are managed. Shrewd in-game adjustments and a willingness to be diverse on defense instead of clinging only to the ‘Patriot Way’ could give the Lions a chance to make a run in the NFC North.
The truth is that the Lions are much closer to contending that many of the media or even fans believe. Is there still work to be done? Absolutely. But this is definitely the most talented roster that Matt Patricia has had in his short time here in Detroit. Now all he has to do is take advantage of it.