The offseason brings new hope that Matt Patricia and the Detroit Lions laid a good foundation in year one they can quickly build on to turn this franchise into a playoff competitor in 2019.
One very real reason for optimism is what the defense showed it’s capable of the second half of last season.
Over the final eight games, Detroit allowed 18.8 points per game, which ranked eighth in the league over that span. Also during that stretch, Detroit gave up only 77.6 rushing yards per game, the fourth fewest in the NFL.
Damon Harrison, A’Shawn Robinson and Da’Shawn Hand were one of the top defensive line trios in football over the second half of the year. All three are under contract next season.
Detroit finished the year with a top 10 overall defense (10th), and were eighth against the pass and 10th against the run. They return core players Harrison, Hand, Robinson, Jarrad Davis, Devon Kennard, Darius Slay and Quandre Diggs. Romeo Okwara is a restricted free agent, and the Lions are pretty high on the potential of second year safety Tracy Walker.
The Lions have money to spend in free agency to continue to boost their defense that way, and this might just be the strongest defensive draft in a decade, a draft in which the Lions hold the No. 8 pick.
Patricia’s schemes generated 43.0 sacks, 28.0 coming from players new to the roster in 2018, good for 65.1 percent of the production.
The Lions were one of three teams in the NFL to have five players produce a multi-sack game in 2018 and 14 players recorded at least one full sack this season, matching the most since 16 different Lions players had full sacks in the 1990 season. And that’s without an elite individual pass rusher in the bunch.
It says something about the schemes Patricia and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni have developed.
Some of the best defensive minds in the game have taken notice of what’s going on defensively in Detroit.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said the following to ESPN after holding the LA Rams to three points in the Super Bowl:
“We felt like if we make them drive it, make them earn it, similar to what the Lions did to them (in Week 13), to make them run a lot of plays and get them in third down, we felt like we have a chance to get them off the field on third down.”
View photos of the Detroit Lions 2018 statistical leaders.
Joe Philbin, then Green Bay Packers interim head coach, said this of Patricia and Detroit before their Week 17 matchup:
“I think some of the things that they do coverage-wise are some of the best. The different combinations that they have, the variation that they present to you, how they game plan to take away a certain receiver, the double coverage brackets, those types of things.
“I think those things that they do and have been doing for a while are cutting edge, if that’s the right term. I think they know it, they understand it, and you see on the film that they execute it awfully well.”
The Lions shut out the Packers 31-0 in the season finale.
Upgrading the cornerback position opposite Slay, adding an elite pass rusher on the edge and continuing to build the linebacking corps alongside Davis are three areas that if addressed this offseason could help the defense reach its full potential in 2019.
“I feel like we’ve laid a good foundation here in the last 10 months,” Patricia said after the season. “I think we all understand that we have to start over when we get back. We can’t pick it right up where we left off, but we need to understand the foundation that we laid and build upon it.”