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The Detroit Lions defense wasn’t even this bad in 2008

2019: “It can’t get worse.” 2020: “Hold my beer.”

Detroit Lions v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

I remember the Detroit Lions’ 2008 season vividly. I remember listening to blowhards like Jim Rome or whoever was on “Around the Horn” that day tell me that there’s no way the Lions will go 0-16. “It can’t happen in the modern NFL. There’s too much parity. Any given Sunday” and so on and so forth.

But as I watched the Lions get outmatched every single week that year, I knew it was possible. And the reason I knew it was because that defense wasn’t going to ever get a stop when they needed it. There were no playmakers: there was no one capable of sacking the quarterback, stopping the run or getting their hands on a pass.

Football Outsiders recently named the five worst defenses of the past 30 years, and the Lions 2008 defense came in as the fourth worst.

I would argue that the Lions’ 2020 defense has a realistic chance to top that.

In that article—via ESPN Insider—here’s what they had to say about the Lions’ 2008 defense:

This is how a team with Calvin Johnson on it could go 0-16. Detroit allowed 6.4 yards per play and somehow had only four interceptions. Four!

Well, flash forward 12 years, and here’s where we’re at with the Lions defense. They’ve allowed 6.5 yards per play and are on pace for exactly zero interceptions. Zero! On Sunday, they allowed 7.4 yards per play. Not 7.4 yards per pass attempt. 7.4 yards PER PLAY.

But that’s just the beginning. Let’s run some other statistical comparisons between both teams.

Pass defense:

2008: 8.8 yards per attempt, 110.9 passer rating, 1.6 TDs per game, 0.25 INTs, 1.9 sacks
2020: 7.3 yards per attempt, 105.7 passer rating, 2.5 TDs per game, 0.0 INTs, 1.0 sacks

The Lions were giving up bigger chunks of yardage through the air back in 2008, but fewer scores. The Lions pass rush is far worse now than it was back then, when the team leader in sacks was defensive end Dewayne White (6.5 sacks on the year).

Run defense:

2008: 172.1 yards per game, 5.1 YPC
2020: 204.0 yards per game, 6.5 YPC

Almost 30 more yards per game, and 1.4 more yards per carry this year. That’s scary bad.

Turnovers forced:

2008: 20 (4 interceptions, 16 fumble recoveries)
2020: 0

(ed. note: also known as the Nevin Lawson special)

Points per game allowed:

2008: 32.3
2020: 34.5

Of course, the main thing to consider here is that back in 2008, the Lions kept up these horrible averages for an entire season. They were just as bad in Week 1 as they were in Week 17.

There’s no guarantee that happens with the 2020 Lions. We’re only at a sample size of two, and the team has a litany of excuses to explain away their performance. It’s an entirely new roster, they’re dealing with numerous injuries in the secondary, and the shortened offseason is almost certainly leading to some sloppier-than-normal play in September.

But if head coach Matt Patricia can’t turn this thing around—and he’s now had three years to do so—he’ll be landing in the record books for all the wrong reasons.