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Discussion: Has the Lions’ offense or defense been more impressive in the playoffs?

The Lions are a game away from a Super Bowl appearance. Which side of the ball has been the most impressive on this playoff run?

NFC Divisional Playoffs - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions have advanced to the NFC Championship, and it has been a full team effort.

Clutch moments have been coming from both sides of the ball. Jared Goff, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jahmyr Gibbs, and Sam LaPorta each had flashes of brilliance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, resulting in yet another 30-point game. The defense, meanwhile, sacked Baker Mayfield four times thanks to the group effort of Aidan Hutchinson, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Brian Branch, and Jalen Reeves-Maybin. Add in a pair of interceptions, and there were no shortage of pivotal plays.

The Lions have undoubtedly impressed during their playoff run, but which side of the ball has impressed you the most?

Today’s Question of the Day is:

Has the offense or defense been more impressive in the playoffs?

My answer: The defense.

Before I get into my full answer, I want to explain the difference between most impressive and best. Relative to their NFL counterparts, the Lions have a far better offense than defense—DVOA backs this up, with the Lions’ offense coming in at fifth in the league, while the defense is 13th. However, there is more to being impressed than pure numbers.

The Lions offense, despite putting up 24 points against the Rams and 31 against the Buccaneers, has been quiet at times. I would argue that they have not played at their full potential of late. The offense put up just three points in the second half against the Rams. The offense managed just 10 points against the Buccaneers in the first half. An offense is very unlikely to score on every possession, but it does feel like the offense has had a few missteps this postseason.

In particular, the run game that helped them dominate the regular season has been somewhat absent. Jahmyr Gibbs had a brilliant 31-yard touchdown run against Tampa Bay, but Gibbs and David Montgomery have combined for just 158 rushing yards on the other 40 carries (3.95 yards per attempt). For reference, the duo combined for 1,940 yards on 401 carries in the regular season (4.84 yards per attempt). Their postseason totals are still good and an important part of the offense, but this is only a fraction of their potential.

But how can I say that the defense has been more impressive?

Opposing wide receivers have gutted the Lions secondary for a majority of the season, and the postseason has continued the trend. Puka Nacua had 181 receiving yards in the Wild Card round. Mike Evans had 147 yards in the Divisional Round. Matthew Stafford and Baker Mayfield combined for 716 passing yards. Those numbers do not reflect well on the defense.

At the same time, you have to look at the end results. The Rams scored two field goals in the second half and lost 24-23—a touchdown would have been the difference. The Lions offense, as previously mentioned, scored just a field goal in the second half. If the Lions defense gives just a little bit, then the Rams likely walk away with the victory. The Lions won that game thanks to the defense stepping up in the clutch, despite the massive yardage.

The defense gave up 13 points to the Buccaneers in the second half—not the best, but it could have been far worse. The defense had a late collapse in the first half, resulting in a Tampa Bay touchdown to tie the game before the half. How does the Lions defense respond? They force the Buccaneers to punt coming out of halftime after an Aidan Hutchinson sack. The next drive, they went three-and-out thanks to a Brian Branch tackle for loss 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage. This gave the offense a chance to secure a lead, and they did so on the very next possession. The Lions never trailed in this game largely due to an early second half stand.

The defense was on the ropes following two 75-yard touchdown drives by the Buccaneers, but the Lions still held a lead. Due to the offense stalling with under five minutes left in the game, Tampa Bay had a chance to march down the field and tie the game. Surely this would mean a deep shot to Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Cade Otton, or Trey Palmer, and then the Lions would have to put their California business trip on hold.

After a quick pass to Evans, Mayfield targeted his tight end Otton, who had amassed 65 yards and a touchdown on the day. But when it mattered most, Derrick Barnes made an incredible interception—the first of his career—to seal the game for Detroit.

This is why the defense has been more impressive to me. The defense has teetered on the edge of cataclysm, but they manage to stay grounded and deliver key moments. If the Lions defense doesn’t demonstrate resilience, they likely lose either game. They are a perfect representation of Dan Campbell and Aaron Glenn. Giving up is not in their nature. They took the shots they were dealt, some worse than others, yet they turned it into a winning opportunity.

The Lions have had an impressive playoff run so far, but which unit has impressed you the most? Let us know in the comments.

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