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Can Lions DC Aaron Glenn replicate his ridiculous Year 2 turnaround from the Saints?

Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn was instrumental in turning around the Saints defense in just a single year. Could he do the same in Detroit?

Cincinnati Bengals v Detroit Lions Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions nearly lost defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn last year. The coveted coach interviewed for two different head coaching jobs but those teams ended up going elsewhere with their hires.

That could be fantastic news for the Lions, as Glenn has shown he knows how to connect to his players as a former NFL defensive back himself. And while the Lions' defense finished poorly in just about every conceivable statistic last year, several players made significant strides throughout the season. Add in a few key defensive additions this year through the draft, and there’s reason to believe Detroit’s defense could be better in 2022.

But how much better?

If we look at Glenn’s past, we could set that bar incredibly high. The New Orleans Saints hired Glenn to be their defensive backs coach in 2016. That year, the Saints' defense was absolutely horrible. They allowed 28.4 points per game (31st). Opposing quarterbacks threw for 4,380 yards (32nd) and a collective passer rating of 98.1 (29th). Per Football Outsiders’ efficiency metric (DVOA), the Saints' defense ranked 28th overall and 27th against the pass.

In year 2, it all changed in an instant. The Saints only allowed 20.4 points per game (10th), 3,597 passing yards (15th), and a passer rating of 79.0 (seventh). Football Outsiders ranked them sixth in overall defense and fifth against the pass.

What did they do that offseason to make such a drastic change? They drafted cornerback Marshon Lattimore in the first round and followed it up by adding safety Marcus Williams a round later. In 2017, the Saints had the second-youngest defensive roster and the youngest secondary the NFL had seen in the previous eight seasons (averaging 23.7 years old). Perhaps most importantly, they were in Year 3 under defensive coordinator Dennis Allen and Year 2 under Glenn. Any of that sound familiar?

So is it possible the Lions could see such a drastic change in their defense—which ranked 31st in points allowed and 29th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA?

We asked Derrik Klassen (aka QBKlass) of Football Outsiders in Part 1 of our five-part Q&A series what he thought about the possibility of a big Year 2 turnaround in Detroit.

When he was with the Saints, we saw a huge Year 1 to Year 2 jump with Aaron Glenn’s secondary (27th in pass defense DVOA to 5th). Could we see a similar jump (maybe not that dramatic) with Detroit’s young secondary in Year 2 under Glenn?

“I absolutely love Aaron Glenn, so I think it’s possible. He made Ken Crawley look like an NFL player for a minute, after all. I’m still worried they didn’t add enough talent, but perhaps Glenn can be the one to finally crack the code for Mike Hughes to stop giving up explosives and unlock Jeff Okudah’s top-10 draft pick potential. Glenn, as well as Brian Flores, would be the first guy I’d want for a task like that.”

That’s high praise of Glenn from Klassen, but that’s an opinion we know is widely felt throughout the NFL. It’s likely too much to expect Detroit’s defense to make that big of a jump in one year—as that Saints team is the exception more than the rule—but this should provide Lions fans with some serious optimism both in 2022 and beyond.

You can purchase the Football Outsiders Almanac 2022, which has a bunch of awesome advanced statistics, right here.

Part 2 of our conversation will tackle why Football Outsiders is optimistic about Derrick Barnes’ second season.

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