Ever since the Detroit Lions hired head coach Matt Patricia, he’s made it clear one of his tenets is to run the ball and stop the run. This was one of the things he preached this spring at the “Clinics of Champions” speech in Alabama.
“Can you run the ball? Can you stop the run? And can you cover kicks? That’s something we really learned when I was in New England in 2016 — we played Atlanta in the Super Bowl, it was solidified. Do those three things, you can control the game. Control the game, the score doesn’t matter, because you will win.”
Last year, the Lions took big strides in two of those endeavors. Kerryon Johnson gave the Lions rushing attack life for the first time in nearly a decade, but the real progress came in stopping the run. After a rough start to the year, the Lions finished the season as one of the best run-stuffing defenses in the league.
Everyone already knows that @snacks has made a huge difference in the #Lions run defense, but the statistics are STAGGERING:— Pride of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) December 20, 2018
Week 1-9: 142.5 rushing yards/game (29th), 5.14 YPC (31st)
Week 10-15: 79.2 rushing yards/game (2nd), 3.4 YPC (2nd)
So heading into 2019, the expectation is that—with Damon Harrison Sr. on the team from the get go (hopefully)—Detroit will have one of the best run defenses in the league for the entire season.
That’s exactly what Pro Football Focus is expecting, too. In their 2019 NFL run defense rankings, the Detroit Lions came in fifth. The analytics website was very simple in their reasoning.
“With Damon Harrison, you’ll have a top-10 run defense almost by default,” PFF’s Michael Renner wrote. “He’s led all defensive tackles in run-stop percentage each of the past five seasons. It’s an unbelievable string of consistency considering how quickly the turnover at a position like nose tackle is in the NFL.”
Of course, the Lions run defense is a little more than Harrison. A’Shawn Robinson made a ton of progress last year, Da’Shawn Hand had an impressive rookie season, and newly-added Trey Flowers is a fantastic run defender on the edge:
Although the Lions found themselves fifth in the rankings, they aren’t the highest-ranked team in the division. That honor belongs to the Chicago Bears, who came in first in the rankings—and first in our NFC North defensive line rankings. Elsewhere, the Vikings came in at ninth, while the Packers were all the way down at 18th.