2021 NFC North preview: How do the Detroit Lions stack up?

Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell (Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)
Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell (Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press) /
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Romeo Okwara, Trey Flowers, Detroit Lions
Detroit Lions defensive ends Romeo Okwara and Trey Flowers (Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press) /

The Detroit Lions defense

The narrative here is simple for the Detroit Lions defense, “Improve from being the worst defense in franchise history and you’ll look great.” That’s not completely accurate but there’s some truth to the sentiment.

With the running back-focused offense of Lynn on one side of the ball, a lot of games will depend on the defense stopping some teams in 2021. Aaron Glenn has promised to be more aggressive with the defense, especially applying pressure to an offense, which he has stated will run primarily out of a 3-man front.

The Lions and Brad Holmes have had to purge some bad salary cap expenditures from their books, which has limited their use of free agency to address roster needs. Via the draft the Lions went defensive line with their second and third picks, selecting end Levi Onwuzurike and nose tackle Alim McNeil, respectively. They also added big cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu and speedy inside linebacker, Derrick Barnes, into the fold.

Linebacker Alex Anzalone is an under-the-radar free agent signing that should start immediately after having spent the last few years with Dan Campbell and Aaron Glenn in New Orleans with the Saints. However, a major storyline for 2021 will revolve around how Glenn and defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant can improve the play of former Top-3 pick Jeff Okudah, who did not perform up to his draft status as a rookie, though.

The biggest Detroit Lions offseason move, defensively, was signing Michael Brockers, a defensive end, away from the Rams to assist in getting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, something the Lions were extremely poor at doing under former head coach Matt Patricia.

Brockers, a healthy Trey Flowers, a re-signed Romeo Okwara, and the new draftees will still need some help from players who stayed to improve the defensive front. Da’Shawn Hand, John Penisini, Nick Williams, Charles Harris, and the two rookies will all need to step up.

The line is improved but not deep and still is behind its rivals but is closing the gap with the rookie talent on the roster.

The linebackers, headed by veteran Jamie Collins, are a work-in-progress. Anzalone, Barnes, will really now include Trey Flowers and Romeo Okwara on the edge as well as Austin Bryant and Julian Okwara outside.

The slimmed-down Jahlani Tavai and Jalen Reeves-Maybin are trying to retain spots inside with Collins, Anzalone, and Barnes. This has been the traditionally worst unit and still has the biggest gap in talent between it and the rest of the division.