Lets take a look at the 4 basic phases of team building to get an idea of what factors are most important in winning a Super Bowl. The most important phase for a playoff team and a winning playoff team are quite different. To win in the regular season and reach the playoffs the phases are ranked: 1. Pass Offense, 2. Pass Defense, 3. Run Defense, and 4. Run Offense.
Winning playoff games however the phases are ranked: 1. Run Defense, 2. Pass Offense, 3. Pass Defense, and 4. Run Offense. The Lions seem to have the Pass Offense thing worked so we will skip that, also since Run Offense is the least important all around we will skip that too.
When doing research for my last post, I noticed something interesting. Teams with strong run defenses typically win post season games. They haven't been winning the Super Bowl in recent years, but they are getting to the conference championship games. The team with the better run defense has won 67% of their playoff games since 2002, this is even higher than having home field advantage. A strong run defense will create more 2nd and longs, more 3rd downs, and most importantly prevent a team from running the clock out at the end of a game. It can make your opponent one dimensional by abandoning the run, especially if you have a strong pass offense and are scoring quickly.
Maybe the most important stat for pass defense in the playoffs is interceptions. A team who throws zero interceptions wins 78% of the time, 1 interception: 56%, 2 interceptions: 31%, 3 interceptions: 18%. A quarterback under pressure is 1.5 times more likely to throw an interception than if he had good protection. Also important is the ability to force fumbles. Team who forced more fumbles won 55% of their playoff games. Fumbles occur on run plays about 1% of the time, but around 2% of the time on pass plays. If teams are passing they are twice as prone to fumbles than on running plays. A fumble on a sack occurs 18% of the time, by far the most common type of fumble. It is safe to infer that a strong pass rush is the most important aspect of a playoff winning pass defense.
How the Lions are building
We know that they have the Pass Offense to compete for a Super Bowl. They continue to add players to support that through the draft. They even select their running backs because they are strong in the passing game. They are also very good at protecting Stafford. The Lions wide 9 defense relies on the linebackers to stop the run, with some help from the safeties. This is why they have invested so much here, two free agents 'backers last year, and three draft picks the last two years. Hopefully with a full year together they can become a top run defense. They have also invested heavily in their defensive line, to create pressure on the quarterback. They were 5th in the league in interceptions last year and 4th in the league in forced fumbles. However against the good teams last year, whom they lost every game to, the Lions either failed to stop the run (SF and ATL), or threw more interceptions(CHI, GB x 2), or both in the playoff loss to New Orleans. With the salary cap and with their defensive scheme, I think it is probably wise to not overspend on cornerbacks or safeties, especially considering the league wide injury rate at those positions. It does appear that the Lions are trying to build the right way, only time will tell.