After making the playoffs in 2016, the Lions underachieved in 2017. How can they get better to once again compete with the best teams in the NFC?
When late-game heroics are the reason a team makes the playoffs, it’s usually a near certainty they regress the next season. The 2017 Detroit Lions are hardly Exhibit A of this principle, they’re certainly a prime example.
Even though the Lions defense took a huge step forward this past season, the Lions took a step back as a team, the offense bogged down and the run game in particular was non-existent.
Plus, taking a step forward for the Lions defense isn’t saying much. Detroit was the worst defense in football according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric which accounts for schedule. Teryl Austin’s unit finished 19th in DVOA in 2017, but he was part of the house cleaning in the Motor City that led to Matt Patricia coming in as the new head coach.
With critical decisions to make at key positions on defense, we’ll see if Patricia, the former defensive coordinator for the Patriots, can help them take yet another step toward being a legitimately good defense. Jim Bob Cooter remained from the past regime, which should help the continuity of the offense, but the ground game has to get on track.
Here are five places the Lions must improve to get back into the mix in the NFC North.
5. Find a pass rusher
Detroit will have to decide of paying Ziggy Ansah upward of $13 million a year for an inconsistent player makes sense for them long-term.
The problem, though, is the Lions don’t have very many other options. Anthony Zettel offers some pass rush, but the Lions posted the 22nd-best adjusted sack rate last season even with Ansah having a 12-sack season.
Part of that was the high variance of Ansah, but that’s the problem: if he’s not producing, the Lions don’t really have a pass rush.
There’s a reason they’ve been so heavily connected to UTSA standout Marcus Davenport in the draft: they desperately need a pass rusher with some juice. It helps that the Lions also just hired UTSA’s defensive line coach Bo Davis, creating even more momentum for Davenport in Detroit.