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Just how bad is the Lions defense?

Analyzing the plight of the Lions defense.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Make no mistake about it, the Lions have turned things around in 2016. They're back to .500 and the offense is playing at a level that fans haven't seen in awhile. Yet there is clearly something holding this team back from greater opportunities. That weakness that holds them back, was not to long ago the strength that held them together.

It was just two years ago when the Lions had one of the greatest defenses in NFL history and Teryl Austin quickly became one of the hottest head coaching candidates in the NFL. Now in 2016, the Lions have one of the worst defenses in the league, and I can't tell you that Teryl Austin can survive the entire season. What went wrong?

You can point to the losses of Ndamukong Suh or Nick Fairley. You can also point to a constant rash of injuries. But what's not being pointed to enough is the fact that the Lions defense is a one-dimensional mess that rarely makes adjustments. Because of that, the Lions find themselves in a position where all the great offense in the world won't save them.

Ok so you know it's bad. But just how bad is it? Let's go to the stats.

How things have changed

Let's go back to 2014 again. The Lions defense was special. They allowed 17.6 points per game, 300 yards per game and two touchdowns a game. Their run stopping crew was first in the league. The defense as a whole was second in the NFL. Since Week 1 of the 2015 season, the Lions have allowed 25.3 points per game, 358 yards per game and three touchdowns per game.

Perhaps most staggering is that the Lions allowed 22 passing touchdowns in 16 games in 2014. They've allowed 14 in six games in 2016. No wonder Austin didn't get hired.

Passer party

Aside from Aaron Rodgers, who Joe Buck will tell you is the greatest quarterback to ever live while he professes his love to him outside Aaron's ivory tower, the Lions haven't played any superstar quarterbacks that light up defenses on a weekly basis. They've played a second year Marcus Mariota, rookie Carson Wentz, backup Brian Hoyer, a not as good as you think Andrew Luck and a placeholder Case Keenum. Not exactly a dream team.

Regardless of that, the Lions have allowed all of these quarterbacks to have the time of their life this season.

Quarterback Normal Comp % Comp % vs Lions Normal rate Rate Vs Lions
Andrew Luck 63.9 66 95.4 119.6
Marcus Mariota 60.6 75.8 81.6 102.8
Aaron Rodgers 56.1 62.5 87.8 129.3
Brian Hoyer 71.4 77.8 108.5 120.1
Carson Wentz 67.4 75.8 103.5 102.8
Case Keenum 57.9 84.4 75.4 126.7

Some notes on this. These were either the best or second best numbers for all of these quarterbacks this season. For Brian Hoyer, it was the best rating he's had in his career. For Case Keenum, it may have been the best game he's ever played. This essentially means that no matter who is under center, the opposition can stay in the game when they play the Lions.

The stats today

Team Pass yards allowed Rush yards allowed Points allowed
Vikings 1049 373 63
Packers 1333 362 113
Bears 1401 646 143
Lions 1628 650 153

It's sad to say this. But your Lions currently have the worst defense in the NFC North. But that's sadly not the worst of it. They are seventh-worst in yards allowed, eighth-worst in total yard allowed per game (379.7), eighth-worst in pass yards allowed, tenth-worst in rush yards allowed and ninth-worst in points allowed. It's bad. It's really bad. Like 25th in the league bad.

Bright side?

I guess it wouldn't be prudent if I left you with nothing warm and fuzzy to think about. In 2013, three teams that ranked 25th or lower in total defense (by yards) still made the playoffs. Five teams if you count it from 23 or lower. So it's not totally out of the realm of possibility. Let's also not forget the Patriots went to the Super Bowl in 2011 with the 31st ranked defense. So yeah, hope and all that.

The Lions have to hope they can get this fixed immediately. If the offense continues to play at this level, and the defense moves up to at least 18th overall, the Lions have a chance to make run into the playoffs. If they don't, it's going to require a miracle. I'm not sure the Lions' luck can last that long.

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