When you think of a Dan Campbell coached team, you think of maybe toughness and intensity. Maybe you think these things because of what has been witnessed on HBO’s Hard Knocks as they followed along with the Detroit Lions training camp. During Hard Knocks, there was never any shortage of riled up speeches from coach Campbell and intensity during their training camp practices. Coming into the season, one would think maybe this team would be able to compete within the conference for maybe a wild card spot in the playoffs due to the hype from training camp. As five weeks have passed, the offense has definitely improved (albeit vs. the Patriots), but it has been the defense that has struggled on a historical level.
Through five weeks, the Detroit Lions defense has given up a staggering 34 points per game. To put this in perspective, if the Lions do not tighten up the defensive unit they are on pace to shatter defensive PPG by week 16. That is ridiculous considering the NFL has even expanded the schedule to 17 games instead of 16. The Lions pretty much can’t do anything correct on defense. Let’s look at the areas they are struggling in. For starter’s, teams are able to run effectively against the Lions. They are ranked third to last in rush yards per game at 167. Last week vs the Patriots, Rhamondre Stevenson was able to run rough shed over the Lions to the tune of 161 yards on 25 carries. The pass defense is not much better. They are ranked the 27th ranked pass defense and have a very suspect secondary. 3rd string quarterback and rookie Bailey Zappe was able to complete 17 of 21 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown to Jakobi Meyers. What’s troubling about this stat-line is the fact that Zappe is a fourth round rookie. Most rookies have a hard time completing passes, but Zappe was able to pick apart the Lions secondary all game and find easy completions.
Another problem is pressure on the quarterback. Yes, Aidan Hutchinson had a monster first game against the Commanders totaling 3 sacks. But since then, the team has only compiled 3 sacks through 3 games. If you can’t rush the passer, you can’t stop passing attacks. Let’s take a look at third down. Through the first 5 games, the Lions are allowing opposing offenses to convert 50% of their third downs. That is extremely concerning as only the Chicago Bears allow opponents to have an easier time at 50.7%. The mark of a good defense is not only PPG, but also getting off the field on third down. And if you can’t get off the field on third down, teams can sustain drives and really wear out a defense. The last stat we will look at is the all important Red Zone defense. Good defenses tighten up in the red zone and force teams to kick field goals. When teams get to the Red Zone against the Lions, they are scoring touchdowns on about 70% of their possessions. To put this in perspective, the Denver Broncos are only allowing offenses to score touchdowns on 28% of their Red Zone possessions. That’s a stark comparison that is almost a 50% difference.
There’s a lot of blame to go around on the Detroit Lions defense. Blame can be placed on second year defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn. Or, blame can be placed on the players. Ultimately, when the defense is this bad, it has to be a combination of both scheme and poor player performance. What has to be frustrating for Lions fans is that the offense has been playing lights out. They have gotten great play from quarterback Jared Goff and have found budding stars in Amon Ra St. Brown and D’Andre Swift. For how bad the defense PPG is, the offense is at the tops of the league for scoring offense. Looking ahead the Lions will have matchups against the Cowboys, Dolphins, and Packers. Depending on quarterback health, they could be seeing Dak Prescott, Tua, and Aaron Rodgers in three consecutive weeks. To get the season back on track, the defense will have to step up.