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The Detroit Lions defense is for real, but slightly unsustainable

Taking a look at why the Lions defense will have a hard time keeping up this pace.

Atlanta Falcons v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Did anyone think the Detroit Lions defense would be at this point right now? I mean I know one guy wrote an article about it and everyone laughed at him, but did anyone think it was truly possible?

Through four games, the Lions are allowing just 17.5 points per game. That’s fourth in the league and way down from last year’s 22.4 PPG.

They’re also the best team in the league at forcing turnovers. No seriously. That’s no joke. The Lions have forced a league-high 11 turnovers. They had 14 total in 2016.

I’ll also mention that the Lions, despite not putting up mega numbers on offense, have the best turnover ratio in the NFL at +9. That’s strange, it’s usually one phase or the other in Detroit. Yet their working well everywhere in 2017.

So having said all this, I can naturally understand why some Lions fans were upset that I said what this defense was doing right now is unsustainable. Let me explain what I meant by that.

I’m well aware of how good this defense is right now. As the title will tell you, I’m believe that their output is for real. The Lions defense is really good and can continue to be really good.

What is unsustainable is their unreal turnover rate of nearly three takeaways per game.

The Lions are currently on pace to be in good company in the record book if they can keep this up. The 1961 Chargers currently hold the NFL record for most takeaways in a season with 66 turnovers.

The closest team to matching this feat is the 1984 Seahawks with 63. If the Lions keep playing like this, they still won’t touch those records. They’re currently on pace for 44 takeaways.

Since 2010, the teams that led the league in takeaways are getting 35-41 takeaways. I’m not sure the Lions defense is capable of such a feat. What I do think they can do is what the Chiefs did last season.

In 2016 the Chiefs led the league in takeaways by averaging two a game. the Lions currently average 2.75. If the Detroit averages Kansas City’s manageable 2 turnovers per game the rest of the way, the Lions would finish with a reasonable 35 takeaways this season.

But my guess is that they bump down to that 25-30 region, and that’s not at all bad. Heck, even if the Lions only get one a game from here on out, that’s still 22 turnovers on the year. That’s the kind if thing that separates wins from losses.

The one thing that makes you know that this defense is legit, is the fact that they’re causing this turnover on good teams. Matt Ryan threw just seven interceptions last season. The Lions managed to pick him off three times in one game. Can they keep it up? I don’t know if they can.

And the reason is this: luck plays a role in creating turnovers. We all hate to say it, but it’s true. Much like many of Matthew Stafford’s interceptions are freak accidents, many of the Lions takeaways are, too.

Detroit may have picked off the Falcons three times a week ago, but both two of those fortuitously bounced off the hands of Atlanta receivers. Dalvin Cook’s fumble might have had something to do with tearing his ACL milliseconds before losing the ball. David Johnson’s fumble might have happened because he got hurt on that play, too.

I don’t mean to downplay the turnovers, they matter and they’re in the book. In fact, Lions fans should be happy. The 2016 Lions had all the trouble in the world making plays off tips and fumbles. There’s a clear-cut dedication to them now.

Then there’s another small concern I have.

While the Lions are fourth in the league in points allowed per game, they’re still allowing 322.5 yards per game. That’s just 15th in the league. That may not seem bad, but it’s by far the most allowed among the top five scoring defenses. The closest to Detroit among the top five is the Carolina Panthers, who are allowing 282 yards per game.

So that has me thinking, are the Lions out of place? Are the Lions destined to be a bend but don’t break defense? They’re ranked 10th in the league in third down defense, allowing a conversion rate of just 37.0 percent. That seems to support the bend theory.

Look, it’s not that big of a deal. As long as the Lions are stopping opposing offenses and getting wins, that’s all that matters. But you get the feeling that there will be times when the Lions defense will look more like the defense that played against Atlanta than the defense that played on Sunday in Minnesota.

But they aren’t the only team allowing over three hundred yards game, while also allowing few points. The Jaguars, Bills, Jaguars, Dolphins, Seahawks and Vikings are all in the top ten in points against. They all are allowing over 300 yards per game. The difference is that only the Lions and the Bills have winning records.

Final Thoughts

Maybe that last thing will be nothing to worry about. We’ll see soon enough. Again, I want to reassure Lions fans that this defense is really good. They’ve handled the teams that they should have handled in Arizona and New York. They’ve then hung with one of the best in the Falcons, and they picked up a big road win against a respectable Vikings team.

So it isn’t that the defense isn’t good, tt’s that they are too good right now.