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Lions mailbag: Defining a ‘successful’ season for Detroit’s defense in 2023

How big of a jump should we expect from the Detroit Lions defense in 2023?

Philadelphia Eagles v Detroit Lions Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions figured out the offensive side of the ball in a big way last year. Quarterback Jared Goff and offensive coordinator have rightfully been given a lot of praise after the Lions suddenly jumped to the fourth highest-scoring offense in the league last year. With most of those players returning in 2023—plus a couple of new weapons in Sam LaPorta and Jahmyr gibbs—expectations remain very high on offense this season.

The defense is a different story. For most of the 2022 season, the Lions defense struggled, and it cost them big time early in the year. Through the first eight weeks of the season, the Lions allowed at least 24 points in each game, and an average of 32.1 points per game.

But this offseason, the Lions made a concerted effort to fix that side of the ball. They overhauled their cornerback room in free agency (Cameron Sutton, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Emmanuel Moseley), made sure to keep around some key pieces they could’ve lost this offseason (John Cominsky, Charles Harris, Isaiah Buggs, Romeo Okwara), and added three defenders in the draft who will likely play some role on defense in 2023.

But how big should our expectations be on that side of the ball. What would be considered a successful season for defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and company?

Myself and Erik Schlitt discussed that on this week’s Midweek Mailbag podcast. Here are a couple of snippets from that conversation.

Erik Schlitt: “If they get into the low 20s (rankings), that’s a massive improvement. It’s a massive improvement to be able to jump 10 spots like that. If they’re in the low 20s, I think that’s the expectations are for me and something I would consider successful. I think (Glenn) could reach into the middle of the pack with this defense. I’m not thinking or going anywhere near thinking this could be a top-half-of-the-league defense right now. Could they get there? Maybe. That’d be great, but I’m not anticipating it.”

Jeremy Reisman: “I have a little higher expectations. Maybe this is me riding the Kool Aid high in the offseason, but here’s one piece of evidence I’ll provide in my favor here. From Week 9 on last year, the Lions defensive DVOA ranked them 17th. Middle of the pack, right there in the middle of the pack. I do understand some of those numbers are skewed by turnovers. The Lions were able to produce a lot of turnovers down the stretch, but part of that is earned. Turnovers, I understand, year-to-year, are random. But what else improved defensively in the second half of the season that we know helps produce turnovers? Your pass rush. James Houston comes along. Aidan Hutchinson continues to get better. And now, you add Romeo (Okwara) and Charles Harris to that. You add another guy in the interior with Brodric Martin. You get a healthy Alim. You get—maybe, just maybe—a Levi Onwuzurike at some point. And then obviously the secondary, too, right?”

“...And so my expectations are middle-of-the-road. This should be a 15-20 (ranked) defense, and if it’s not, I am going to be a little disappointed.”

The entire discussion starts around the 14:45 mark of this week’s Midweek Mailbag episode.

Other topics this week include:

  • Are we headed towards a Jared Goff extension, and what will it cost? (2:30)
  • Would you rather: Lions win division, lose first playoff game OR Lions make Wild Card, win one playoff game? (7:30)
  • Are the Lions overcrowded over the middle on offense with Sam LaPorta, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Jahmyr Gibbs? How will they be able to use all three? (10:15)
  • Will the Lions exceed their 2022 rushing totals? Will they hold opponents to fewer rushing yards than they did in 2022? (22:00)
  • How important is a fullback in the Lions’ scheme? Is Jason Cabinda replaceable (by a tight end)? (29:30)
  • If Aaron Donald was available at the trade deadline, should the Lions go for it? How much would he cost? (36:20)
  • Who will help the Lions stretch the field vertically without Jameson Williams for the first six games? (38:45)

Listen to the entire episode below:

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