Hey Lions fans. I’ve got some breaking news for you that you might not know about. The Detroit Lions defense is bad. Not a little bad, I’m talking getting-into-the-bath-tub-with-a-blow-dryer bad.
How bad is that? Let’s start with Sunday’s game. The Lions went to Baltimore and proceeded to play their worst all-around game of the year. Their defense allowed the Ravens to score 37 points. The same Ravens offense that came into the week ranked dead last in the league (by yards).
This is obviously not a new thing. Coming out of the bye, the Lions are allowing 26.5 points per game. Altogether, they’re 27th in the league for points allowed per game with 25.7. It’s bad, but that’s not all.
The Lions cannot stop the run at all, and it’s the thing that’s killing their defense the most. In the six games since the bye, the Lions have allowed 813 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. That’s 77 of the 159 points they’ve allowed in that time.
Sadly, there’s little the Lions can do about it at this point. And sadly I’m writing about the offseason in December. But here are five steps the Lions should take in the offseason to fix this major issue.
Trim the fat
It all starts with hard decisions, the type that fans won’t like. The first hard decision is to let Ezekiel Ansah walk. I wrote about this a couple weeks back and nothing has changed my opinion. Ansah has passed his prime at this point, and it’s clear that the Lions will not be getting any semblance of 2015 Ansah ever again. Not to mention, the former top five pick just can’t seem to stay on the field. He’s spent most of 2017 on the injury report and even suffered two injuries on Sunday in Baltimore.
The second is to let Haloti Ngata walk. This one is different. Ngata is 33 and he may end up retiring after missing nearly the entire 2017 season, anyways. Ngata has been great for the Lions in stopping the run. You can clearly see that now that he’s missing. But with age and injuries, there’s just no reason to keep this going.
Which brings us to our next step...
Just as the Lions made the run game their main focus last offseason, the Lions should make their defense their main focus in this year’s upcoming draft, specifically at defensive end.
Hello, Bradley Chubb. The Lions need their big-time rookie at this position. At this point there’s a small chance that Chubb could be their man. If the Lions keep losing, there will be an even bigger chance. Chubb is the best defensive end in the country. This would be a major pickup for the Lions. Just look at what this guy can do.
If you can’t get Chubb The Lions will still get a shot at Arden Key of LSU, Clelin Ferrell of Clemson or Ferrell’s teammate Austin Bryant. Bryant, specifically, is one that many draftniks are mocking to the Lions in the first round.
Spend That Money
The Lions need players on defense that can make an impact right now. With Ansah and Ngata possibly gone and Anthony Zettel holding down your edges with (hopefully) a first-round draft pick, Detroit needs established pros to fill in the big holes at defensive tackle and linebacker.
Enter: Dontari Poe. The former first-round pick out of Memphis could be hitting free agency this offseason and will likely draw plenty of attention. The Lions need to make sure they’re first in line. In Poe, you get a player that is not only capable of rushing the passer but brings the run stopping ability that they’re losing in Ngata. And at only 27, you’re getting a long-term solution instead of a band-aid.
But don’t stop there. Guys like Akeem Spence and Chrstian Ringo just aren’t going to cut it for depth. The Lions should look at veterans like Clinton McDonald and/or Ahtyba Rubin to help keep this line from having to bring in players off the street to account for injuries.
At linebacker, the options are a little more bare. The Lions should make sure they re-sign Tahir Whitehead, but they’ll need to replace Paul Worrilow. This is where you can take a little risk.
One of the most versatile defenders in the NFL is Devon Kennard...— Aaron Bloch (@PFF_Aaron) September 14, 2017
Lines up everywhere
Does everything@PFF #Giants pic.twitter.com/WloWXUzK3C
Turns out this isn’t much of a risk at all, actually. The Lions need to go after Devon Kennard. The former fifth-round pick is finishing up his fourth year with the Giants and has flown under the radar despite playing quite well in his eight starts for the Giants.
Kennard has 30 tackles and three sacks in 2017. Kennard can be to the Lions what the Lions hoped Kyle Van Noy would be: A guy who can fly around the field and be wherever the ball is, while also rushing the passer well enough to get some snaps on the edge. Of everything I’ll list today, Kennard is the most realistic option. Plus, he’ll be the most inexpensive.
Fire Teryl Austin
I’m sorry, guys. It’s over. I know many have thought that Austin was head coach material for years. A lot of Lions fans were hoping at one point that the team would fire Jim Caldwell and make Austin head coach, but that’s possibly the worst idea ever now.
The defense has been significantly bad under him. The 2014 defense was so good that he coasted off that. In 2014, the Lions allowed just 17.6 points per game and 267.1 yards per game. Since then, the Lions have allowed an average of 24.4 points per game and 354.9 yards per game. That’s a fireable offense, in my opinion.
As for replacements, that’s going to depend on the final step.
Fire Jim Caldwell
There it is. I’ve flirted with this all season long, and this is the first time I’ve ever come out and said it. I respect Caldwell. I’ve enjoyed the idea of continuity that I felt he would bring to the team if Bob Quinn decided to hold onto him last offseason. But it’s just not there anymore. He’s lost this team and it’s time to move on.
This has been evident in players’ responses to losses over the past few weeks.
Golden Tate: “This is something I haven’t felt from this team since I’ve been here. Typically, we’ve done well late in the season. ... Just don’t have that feeling this year. It sucks.”— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurkeNFL) December 3, 2017
The Lions can’t stop starting the game slowly, and Caldwell has failed to improve things like the run game or the Lions defense. He’s allowed play calling to become stale and predictable, and I no longer believe that this is something he can adjust or fix.
If the Lions can manage to somehow make the playoffs despite the overwhelming chances that they won’t, that’ll be a game changer, I suppose. But at this point, I would expect to see Caldwell dismissed on January 1.
As for his replacement, I think we all know what the fans think Bob Quinn will do. And it rhymes with Smaytreeot Play. Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia would likely be the lead candidate in fans’ minds. I ask you to look at the Patriots defense before you get to attached to that idea.
The Lions should be looking at Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Walsh or Seahawks coordinator Kris Richard. It’s time for the Lions to take a defensive mindset again. Both of these coordinators have a solid history of achieving just that.
Richard took over for Dan Quinn after he left Seattle in 2015 and has kept the Seahawks defense firmly planted in the league’s upper echelon of defenses. At 38, he also represents the league’s sudden switch to younger coaches, such as what the Bills and the Rams are doing with Sean McDermott and Sean McVay, respectively.
As for Walsh, he would be something of a risk, but he has proven his worth. Walsh has worked his way up from being a defensive line coach in junior college to the defensive coordinator of the best defense in the NFL. For a Lions team that has absolutely no pass rush, a man with a strong history of defensive line coaching would be perfect.
By the way, I’d be open to keeping Jim Bob Cooter around, and I’m guessing any new head coach would as well due to his strong connection with Matthew Stafford. Despite the Lions run game not working and some predictability in that regard, the Lions are still scoring points. They just need to get things going fast. That could be a Caldwell problem.