Lions Wire, Jeff Risdon, published an article with great stats about the Lions defense failing to get 3 down and out stands last season. I thought it was a great article that's worth a look. You can grab a peek via yahoo at https://sports.yahoo.com/3-concept-lions-defense-needs-105826224.html.
Essentially the stats show the Lions were the worst team in the NFL for the entire season at getting opponents offenses off the field after 3 downs. To make matters worse, the stats show that the 2nd half of the year was worse than the year as a whole. On the season the Lions, ranked 32nd, with 14.1%, 3 and out stands; in the second half the rate diminished to just 11.0%.
I would conjecture that the Lions suffered from not being able to hold the other teams' rushing attack and that led to a much more deadly combination of aerial and ground offensive plays withering the defense as it had to play more and more of the game. There are several things that I'm hoping dramatically change in 2022, and the fate of the team probably rests on making these changes happen:
1. Stop the running attack - Onwuzurike and McNeill have to be much, much better at doing this as the young Lions core interior defensive linemen. Penisini and Brockers I hope are healthier and can give the starters rest when it is required. Perhaps Paschal and Cornell joins this group to some extent to get into the backfield and put up some stops for loss.
2. Rushing the passer much more effectively has been said over and over and over. Hutchinson, Romeo Okwara, Charles Harris, Julian Okwara, Paschal, Bryant, and Cornell give the team a lot of players to look to, to become that consistent threat. I'm much more hopeful now that Trey Flowers isn't in the group; not because he wasn't talented, it's just he wasn't a rushing threat that created much havoc. I have my fingers crossed that Romeo Okwara and Charles Harris, and others prove to be effective at taking attention off of Hutchinson who can quietly go about becoming a star.
3. Safety play has been emphasized as a key component of the defensive design, but we haven't had the right talent to do as much as expected. I think Walker is primed for a break-out year to gain much more recognition and appreciation around the NFL. DeShon Elliott has to stay healthy to show what he can do, but also maybe Will Harris will be playing harder and stronger too as he tries to earn his next contract. I'm not forgetting that Kerby Joseph also might spring up the depth chart to earn playing time as a ball hawk. The rest of the safety group doesn't seem very vaunted (Price, Moore, Breeze) but maybe there is more talent there to be discovered.
4. I hate to point to one player as being the key difference maker, but Jeff Okudah was drafted as the highest picked CB in quite some time, and he's yet to do anything to show he deserved that recognition. Hopefully, he can this year and produces at a level that changes the way other teams look at the Lions secondary. In my opinion, he is the lynch pin. If he becomes a stud, then the Lions have a great secondary. If he doesn't, then I'm concerned that they just won't have enough talent to be a top defense.
Stopping the run so that more high pressured 3rd downs occur. Rushing the passer so that 3rd downs really are harder and more pressured passing situations. Making the safety a strength in providing double coverage to narrow the passing window. And, lastly, providing tighter man to man coverage to reduce the completion percentage is all that it will take.
I'm going to watch how the Lions' 3 and out defense performs in 2022 a lot closer. Ideally, this stat comes much more aligned to what the top teams realize, 22% to 25%. By the way, in case you didn't look at the article I referred to, Tampa Bay led the league last year with 24.9% 3 and outs, but Buffalo topped that over the second half of the season with a 25.8% rate. Oddly, the Los Angeles Rams didn't make the top 5 for the year or over the second half, but they also weren't in the bottom five, on either list, as well.