Detroit Lions defense has a personnel and talent problem as much as anything

Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn talks with reporters before OTAs on Thursday, May 26, 2022 at the team practice facility in Allen Park.Lions Ota S
Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn talks with reporters before OTAs on Thursday, May 26, 2022 at the team practice facility in Allen Park.Lions Ota S /

Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn deserves ample blame for his unit’s woes, but he’s also not the general manager.

Matt Patricia was a supposed defensive guru from his time as Bill Belichick’s defensive coordinator. He of course tore down the Detroit Lions’ defense to its inept nubs over less than three seasons as head coach, leaving an epic building job behind.

Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn was hand-picked by head coach Dan Campbell, taking him with him to Detroit from the New Orleans Saints coaching staff. The results in Glenn’s first season as a defensive coordinator weren’t great, but Glenn showed himself as a future head coach.

In theory, the Lions’ defense could only be better this year. No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson, second-round pick Josh Paschal, the (hopeful) health of Jeff Okudah and even sixth-round pick Malcolm Rodriguez had things looking better.

But the league’s worst scoring defense entering Week 4 was even worse against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. The Seahawks had 41 offensive points and 555 yards of offense in the game, putting Glenn’s stock as a future head coach in limbo and leading an opposing player to call out the predictability of the Lions’ defense.

Detroit Lions defense also has a talent problem

Brad Holmes just couldn’t do a lot in his first offseason as Lions’ general manager. The dead money from trading Matthew Stafford was notable, and making big splashes in free agency was neither possible or practical as another rebuild started.

There was a little more room to operate in free agency this past offseason. But the Lions re-signed a bunch of players, with only a few notable outside signings (wide receiver DJ Chark, cornerback Mike Hughes, linebacker Chris Board).

The draft was an opportunity to address some defensive needs. Hutchinson was the obvious pick, but going with another defensive lineman (Paschal) in the second round was less clear after taking Levi Onwuzurike in the second round in 2021. Neither has played yet this season, and Onwuzurike entered the league with a back issue that has never really gone way.

This piece from Will Burchfield of 97.1 The Ticket outlines the Lions’ second-round pick woes, which to be fair pre-date Holmes.

No offense to Rodriguez, who looks like a sixth-round steal and has been a bright spot to this point. But linebacker was arguably the weakest spot top-to-bottom on the Lions’ defense last year, as any unit where Alex Anzalone is playing nearly every snap when he was healthy might be. But Board, a potential find but a special teamer and backup to that point in his career, was the only outside free agent addition and the unit lost Jaylen Reeves-Maybin. Devoting an earlier draft pick to the position might have been nice.

The safety spot opposite Tracy Walker was also an area of need for Detroit. DeShon Elliott looks like a good player, but he has been injury-prone and came cheaply in free agency. Rookie third-round pick Kerby Joseph had one year as a full-time college safety under his belt before the draft. With Walker out for the season with a torn Achilles, and after not playing any defensive snaps in the first three games, Joseph started and played all 70 defensive snaps against Seattle.

Glenn obviously has work to do as a defensive play caller, and injuries are not an all-encompassing excuse for how bad the Lions’ defense has been through four games. As the public face of a horrible defense, Glenn deserves plenty of blame.

But there’s a point where Glenn can only work with what he has, and better scheming won’t cover up all deficiencies. Those deficiencies, talent and depth, fall on Holmes and what he hasn’t quite done, or seemed inclined to try to do, to more aggressively fill needs on defense.

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