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Wednesday open thread: Who is the Lions’ most important player on defense right now?

Saturday was a painful reminder of who matters most to the defense.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday was ugly, but a loss is a humbling thing for any team. It’s easy to lose sight of fundamentals when you go on a hot streak like the Detroit Lions did, and they most definitely lost sight of the fundamentals. Tackling was few and far between Sunday for the Lions defense, as they look out of place top to bottom and start to (almost) finish. With so many players struggling, it brings us to today’s question of the day.

Question of the day: Who is the Lions’ most important player on defense right now?

One of the upsides of this defense is that it truly is a team operation—it doesn’t start and end with any one player, and that has allowed the Lions to rotate in guys and maintain a next-man-up mentality through injuries this season. Unfortunately, it’s that same reason that also holds this defense back at times. It can lack elite play anchored by one or two stars that allows it to overcome deficiencies elsewhere.

The Lions have a few players who come close to that. Aidan Hutchinson, of course, comes to mind. Kerby Joseph is a budding star in his own right who will be right next to another one come September in Tracy Walker. John Cominsky has certainly proven his worth as an underrated interior player. Jeff Okudah started the season as one of this team’s best too, although he has struggled as of late. While these may be the most talented, I don’t think any of the aforementioned players are the most important to the defense.

My answer: I think it has to be Alex Anzalone. The overall defensive performance often closely mimics the performance of Anzalone. He is undisputedly LB1, and there’s a steep dropoff after his departure. Before you come after me for saying that, that’s no disrespect to Malcolm Rodriguez, but Anzalone has a more complete profile and leads the defense whereas Rodrigo plays a slightly more niche, complementary role.

Saturday was as painful a lesson in Anzalone’s value as it gets. He is the floodgates to the second level of the Lions defense, and it was his missed tackles and botched gap assignments that hurt the Lions more than Hutchinson’s, Okudah’s, or anyone else’s against the Panthers.

Love it or hate it, this defense starts and ends with Anzalone’s performance at the second level. It may be a sign that the Lions need to strengthen the position heading into 2023.

Your turn. Who do you think is the Lions’ most important player on defense right now? Let’s hear it.

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