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Defense starting 'ahead of the curve' with Austin back

Players and coaches talk all the time about continuity being an important factor in winning football.

In Detroit, general manager Bob Quinn and his staff are entering year two of their regime after taking over last January and using their first few months molding the personnel department to how Quinn wants things to run.

Jim Caldwell, who is 27-21 in the regular season the last three years, is back for his fourth season at the helm, and returns most of his staff, including defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.

View the best stylized images of the Detroit Lions' defense this season by team photographer Gavin Smith.

Austin interviewed again this offseason for some of the league's vacant head coaching spots, but didn't get an opportunity to run his own program somewhere else. So, Austin returns for a fourth season to run Detroit's defense.

"Anytime you can have continuity that's always good," veteran safety Glover Quin said down at the Super Bowl last week of Austin's return as defensive coordinator in 2017. "I feel like you're starting steps ahead. For us, we're starting four years ahead.

"We've had TA for three years now, this is our fourth year, so, guys that have been here the whole time, the system, you know it in and out. You can just get better at it."

The Lions have finished 2nd, 18th and 18th in total defense the last three years under Austin.

Over the last two of those seasons, Pro Bowl linebacker DeAndre Levy has played just six games total.

Also, after leading the NFC in sacks (14.5) in 2015, Pro Bowl defensive end Ziggy Ansah was hampered by a high ankle sprain all of this season and recorded just two sacks.

Inconsistent is probably the best word to describe Detroit's defense in 2016. There was a stretch of eight games in the middle of the season where they didn't allow an opponent to score more than 20 points. The team was 6-2 over that stretch. They finished in the top half of the league in scoring defense (22.4 points per game).

But, on the flip side, opposing quarterbacks also set an NFL record for both completion percentage (72.7) and passer rating (106.5) against Detroit's defense. They allowed their last four opponents (all losses) to rush for a combined 608 yards.

Levy, Ansah and Darius Slay (missed three games) coming back healthy, and staying that way, is a big key for next season. So is the development of some of Detroit's young players on defense that got significant playing time. Quinn and his staff will no-doubt try and add some playmakers to that side of the ball this offseason, too.

If Detroit can achieve most of that, Austin has proven he can lead a top-notch defense in this league, and because Austin is back for a fourth season, Quin expects to hit the ground running when the players report back to Allen Park in April.

"I'm pretty sure he was disappointed (not getting a head coaching job)," Quin said of Austin. "We play this game to be the best. And I'm sure he coaches to do the same thing. Getting a head coaching (job) is a great sign for that. I'm sure that's what he wanted to do.

"He's back in Detroit and so (we) have that same staff. So, like I said, you're always starting ahead of the curve."

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