HOUSTON - There has been a consensus among most of the former players and analysts asked about the Detroit Lions’ biggest needs this offseason that a better run game on offense and more playmakers on defense shoud be the top two.
The later was a particular sticking point for former Patriots linebacker/defensive end Willie McGinest, especially when it came to the lack of impact plays the Lions got from the linebacker position in 2016.
“I think the linebackers are the most important part of a defense,” McGinest said. “They’re the leaders, they’re the dogs, they’re the play callers, the guys who get people lined up, along with the safety.
View photos of the Detroit Lions linebackers in 2016.
“If you don’t have a good linebacking corps, it’s tough to have a good defense.”
Lions MIKE linebacker Tahir Whitehead finished in the Top 10 in the NFL in tackles with 132, but DeAndre Levy missed most of the season due to injury, and the Lions didn’t get a lot of the impact plays they were probably hoping for from the position. No Detroit linebacker recorded a single sack, interception or forced fumble during the entire 2016 season.
“That’s where it starts, that’s the heart of the defense,” McGinest said of the linebacker position.
But McGinest also threw a caveat into the mix. He said teams can overcome a lack of big-time playmaking ability from the linebacker position, if the defensive line picks up the slack.
“Look at the Giants,” he said. “They won a couple of Super Bowls and their linebackers were pretty good, but their best players on the field was that D-line.
“So, if you’re playing a 4-3 system (which Detroit does), and your D-line is that group, you don’t have to have super-star linebacker.
“When (Justin) Tuck and Osi (Umenyiora) and guys were playing and winning Super Bowls and dominating, they didn’t have to rush nothing but four people. They dominated upfront. It just depends on what type of system that you’re building your defense around.”
The only problem was that Detroit's defensive line was also somewhat inconsistent this past season. They were both good and bad stopping the run for stretches, and their 26 sacks for the season ranked 30th. They certainly weren’t dominant, which then magnified the inability of the linebackers to come up with game-changing-type plays.
Ziggy Ansah, A'Shawn Robinson and Kerry Hyder are nice pieces upfront, but when assessing some of Detroit’s needs this offseason, obtaining more difference makers among the front seven is on the list.