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Twentyman's bye week report: Defense

The Detroit Lions hit their bye week coming off a 31-23 victory over the Green Bay Packers that improved their record to 2-3 on the season and gets them right back into the thick of the NFC North race.

The bye week gives the players an opportunity rest their bodies, heal up and recharge their batteries. For the coaching staff, it's a chance to do some self-reflection from the past five weeks, and also get a head start on future opponents.

It's an opportunity for us to take a look back over the first five games and look at the good, and the bad, that's taken place. We took a look at the offense on Thursday. Today let's shift the focus over to the defense:


The good: The Lions have had their best defensive player upfront for a grand total of a quarter and a half this season. It was in the second quarter of the Week 1 loss to the Jets that Ziggy Ansah injured his shoulder. He hasn't been back since.

Still, the Lions have gotten some pretty good individual performances from players up front, most notably rookie Da'Shawn Hand and veteran Romeo Okwara.

Hand, the Lions' fourth-round pick, has been steady all year and is currently one of the highest graded rookie defenders by Pro Football Focus.

Okwara, who was claimed off waivers Sept. 5, has three sacks, a forced fumble and has also made some plays in the run game.

A'Shawn Robinson has also been steady since being a healthy scratch Week 1.

The bad: Detroit has 17 sacks this season, but only six have come from the defensive line. Some of that is missing Ansah and being more of a gap control defense upfront, but the Lions could use more production in that regard from their guys up front.

Detroit's rushing defense ranks last in the NFL, as they are allowing on average 145.7 yards per game on the ground. Teams are averaging 5.3 yards per rush against the Lions. Detroit's only forced seven negative runs on the year, the third lowest in the league. The defensive line has to take some of the responsibility for those totals.


The good: This revamped Lions linebacker corps has really shown an ability to get after the quarterback through the first five games. Outside linebacker Devon Kennard, who the Lions targeted early in free agency as a good fit for their multiple defense based off his skillset, leads the team with 5.0 sacks. Linebackers Eli Harold (3.0), Jarrad Davis (2.0) and Christian Jones (1.0) have also gotten to opposing passers this year. The 17 sacks by the Lions this year are the third most in the league.

Davis is currently the top graded inside linebacker in terms of pass rushing productivity. He's rushed the passer just 17 times in five games, but has generated seven hurries and two sacks in those limited rushes.

The bad: Big plays happen in the run game because of bad fits, missed tackles or slow reaction time. The bad fits and slow reaction time kind of go hand in hand, and that's been an issue at times with this linebacking corps.

This is a new scheme under Matt Patricia with different techniques and fundamentals, so it was always going to take time to adjust. That adjustment has probably come at a slower pace than the Lions would like.

According the PFF statistics, Detroit's five top linebackers – Davis, Kennard, Jones, Harold and Jalen Reeves-Maybin – have been thrown at 28 times in coverage and have given up 23 receptions for 268 yards and three touchdowns.

View the best photos of the defense from the first five games of the season.


The good: The Lions are currently the sixth best passing defense in the NFL, and that includes the 442-yard performance from Aaron Rodgers last week as he tried to single-handedly bring the Packers back from a 24-0 second-half deficit.

The Lions have a veteran group back there that's been together for the most part for multiple seasons now. A good portion of the sacks we mentioned above with the defensive line and linebackers have been due to great coverage. Against the 49ers, Patriots and Packers in particular, those quarterbacks had time to throw the ball, but the coverage was so good they were sacked on multiple occasions because of it.

The bad: The Lions' secondary thrived off turnovers last year. Darius Slay led the NFL with eight interceptions and the Lions totaled 19 of them a year ago.

This year, interceptions have been hard to come by. Quandre Diggs has one and Slay has one. The two for the Lions are the second fewest in the league among the 32 teams. Detroit has to find a way to get their hands on more of those game-changing plays.

The Lions will also look to improve their red zone pass defense coming out of the bye week. The seven touchdown passes Detroit's allowed in the red zone are the seventh most in the NFL. Opposing passers have a passer rating of 108.2 against the Lions in the red zone.

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