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Are the Lions better than the Packers? Part 2: Defense

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Taking a look to see who has the better defense? the Lions or the Packers?

NFL: Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week we talked about Chris Simms placement of the Lions ahead of the Packers in his preseason power rankings. Not only did he place the Lions ahead of the Packers, he also said the Packers were a six or seven team win without Aaron Rodgers.

We then looked at the every position on the offense and determined that the Lions have the better running game and offensive line. While the Packers have the better quarterback and receiving corps.

Today, we circle back and finish this piece up by looking at both teams’ defenses. Our hope is to determine who the better team is on paper. Let’s jump right into it with the big boys on the line.

Defensive Line

According to the Packers unofficial depth chart, their starting defensive line looks like this: Dean Lowry and Ricky Jean Francois at the ends, Mike Daniels at defensive tackle and Kenny Clark at nose tackle

I’ll be honest, this has nothing to do with this being a Lions site, but my first reaction was “who?” Besides Daniels, I really don’t know who any of these guys are. Let’s dig a little deeper into this. What did this line look like last year?

Packers defensive line

Player Games played Games Started Tackles Sacks Forced Fumbles
Player Games played Games Started Tackles Sacks Forced Fumbles
Rickey Jean-Francois 16 7 17 1.5 0
Mike Daniels 16 16 25 4 0
Kenny Clark 16 2 13 0 0
Dean Lowry 15 0 6 2 0

As you can see, there’s a lot of inexperience here. Outside of Daniels and Francois, Lowry and Clark look to become full-time starters for the first time. This could be bad for them.

On the other side you have, Ezekiel Ansah and Kerry Hyder at the ends and Haloti Ngata and A’Shawn Robinson at the tackles. Let’s take a look at they did in 2016.

Lions defensive line

Kerry Hyder Games played Games Started Tackles Sacks Forced Fumbles
Kerry Hyder Games played Games Started Tackles Sacks Forced Fumbles
Ezekiel Ansah 13 13 21 2 0
Haloti Ngata 13 13 11 1.5 0
A'Shawn Robinson 16 5 22 2 0
Kerry Hyder 16 3 23 8 0

Give me the Lions line all day long. Even in what was a bad year, they still come out ahead of this Packers line. You should also expect big years from Ansah and Robinson.

Edge: Lions

Linebackers

Don’t be mistaken. Boba Fett didn’t just fall into the Sarlacc Pit. He fell into the gaping hole in the middle of the field where the Lions used to have linebackers.

This decision was almost as easy to make as the decision for opposing teams to pass over the middle against the Lions in 2016. I’m not saying it will be that bad in 2016. Jarad Davis is a nice add and they appear to have depth there for once. But I still have millions of questions.

The Packers have Clay “split ends” Matthews, Nick Perry and Jake Ryan. Like I said, this was easy. Packers get the edge.

Edge: Packers

Secondary

This one is hard. On one hand, I will say without question, that the Lions have the best corner of the two teams in Darius Slay. I’ll go a step further and say he’s the best corner in the division. The Lions also have Glover Quin, a Pro Bowl safety. His 13 interceptions since 2014 is the third-most of any NFL safety over the last three seasons.

The Packers aren’t out of this yet. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a better safety than Tavon Wilson. No question about it. But at the end of the day, it’s Nevin Lawson, the corner that allowed the fewest yard per coverage snap of all third-year corners, the second fewest in the division and was the second-most avoided corner in the league per PFF, that puts Detroit ahead.

Edge: Lions

Final Thoughts

So at the end of it all, it’s the Lions that squeak out ahead of the Packers by a 4-3 margin. At the end of the day, I tend to agree with Simms statement about the Packers being a lesser team without Rodgers. But, of course, you could say the same thing about Detroit. The Lions would be a far lesser team without Matthew Stafford as well.

But the Lions have too many good players in key positions in the trenches and the secondary. They seem to me a lot more focused on improving the areas they failed in. While the Packers appear to continuously want to put everything on Aaron Rodgers’ shoulders.

Why not? It’s worked in the past. It barely worked in 2016, but it did work. But the loss of seven starters, half their offensive line and aging all around (Rodgers, Matthews and Nelson are all well into their 30s), it’s time the Lions take over the division in 2017. I believe they finally have the roster to do it, and the Packers finally have the roster to miss the playoffs.