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Football Outsiders Q&A Part 3: Can the Lions defense succeed without a consistent pass rush?

If the Lions can’t develop a pass rush this year, are they screwed?

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that the potential Achilles heel of the Detroit Lions is their pass rush. Though one of their better players on the entire team, Ezekiel Ansah, thrives in that role, his reliability has been damaged by injury after injury.

Outside of Ansah, the cupboard is bare. The Lions don’t have an interior player who can push the pocket inwards, and the Lions’ best edge rusher outside of Ansah is Devon Kennard, who has 9.5 career sacks in four seasons.

And just in case you thought the Lions’ pass rush may be getting overlooked, watch the tape of the two preseason games. You won’t find a single sack from the Lions defense.

But is it possible for an NFL defense to thrive without being a quarterback-sacking machine? Is there precedent for an NFL defense being among the best without providing consistent pressure?

Again, we went back to Football Outsiders’ Scott Kacsmar for some answers. If you missed our previous installments of our interview, check out the previous questions below:

Question 1: Can Matt Patricia produce a top 10 defense right away?

Question 2: What are realistic expectations for the Lions’ running game in 2018?

Here is today’s question:

3. Can the Lions defense succeed without a consistent pass rush? Are there examples of defenses that finished with an efficient DVOA despite a mediocre (or bad) pass rush?

Kacsmar: Buffalo probably came the closest last season: 23rd in pressure rate, 15th in DVOA. It’s pretty hard to do, but the 2016 Ravens were sixth in DVOA despite ranking 25th in pressure rate. It would take a lot of great play in the secondary, including a large number of interceptions. This is the hardest era ever to accumulate high interception totals due to the abundance of quick, short throws. That’s why you really need the pass rush to get there quickly and just blow up drives with sacks, or at least timely pressures on third down that do enough to affect the quarterback’s throw.

While that answer will do little to ease Lions fans concerns, I’m sure you perked up a little when Scott said, “It would take a lot of great play in the secondary, including a large number of interceptions.”

The Lions just so happen to have the 2017 league leader in interceptions in Darius Slay, and as a team, Detroit ranked fourth in picks last year. And as we’ve seen this offseason, Matt Patricia has added a lot of talent to the secondary, headlined by versatile cornerback DeShawn Shead and third-round draft pick Tracy Walker.

But can this secondary carry the defense? That’s a conversation for tomorrow, when we ask Kacsmar for his thoughts on the Lions’ defensive backs.

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