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Notes: Detroit Lions defense deserves credit for late-season improvement

We’ve talked a lot about the improvement on offense, but the defense was sneaky good down the stretch.

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Arizona Cardinals v Detroit Lions Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Sometimes in this business, you have a plan for a great article, and in the middle of your research, someone publishes exactly the thesis you were aiming for.

That was the case this week, when Justin Rogers of the Detroit News posted an article entitled Lions defense makes push to ‘lock the gates’ with Steelers tie. For the most part, it did.”

In the Detroit Lions’ final stretch of the season, their improvement was well-documented. Detroit went 3-3 in their final six games after starting the year 0-10-1. Most of the coverage on that turnaround, however, has been focused on the offense. It makes sense, too. At the bye week, they essentially demoted offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, and Dan Campbell certainly helped Jared Goff look more competent.

But as Rogers points out, there was significant improvement on the defensive side of the ball, partially sparked by this “lock the gates” attitude the defense adopted after the Week 10 tie against the Steelers.

“It’s just a mentality,” cornerback Amani Oruwariye said. ”More physical, more fast, just more. We need more. So this is just something to keep with us while we’re watching the playoffs and our blood is boiling watching other teams get to keep playing and not us. Just something to keep with us.”

Rogers then looked at some of the statistical outputs of the Lions' defense after that game. They dropped from allowing more than 30 points per game to 24.8. Their red zone defense clamped up, cutting down opponents’ success rate by 22 percent, per Rogers.

Over the weekend, I ran some numbers, too, and some of them are striking. Here’s just a data dump of research I did before writing the article I had prepared:

Obviously, it’s not all perfect. The Lions actually got a little worse at defending the run in the final stretch of the season. But they were averaging almost two yards less per pass attempt while dropping the opponent’s passer rating by nearly 30 points. Strength of opponent certainly has something to do with these statistics, but there was tangible improvement here that will hopefully carry over into next year.

Now on to the rest of your notes:

  • Goff set a few franchise marks in 2021, and they may surprise you:

  • Did you know the Pro Football Hall of Fame has a section for fans? Well, Lions superfan Michael Banks is one finalist to make it into the Fan Hall of Fame. Vote him in here:

  • Really important Twitter thread for our old friend Ndamukong Suh: