Earlier this week, I took a look at how the Detroit Lions have performed up to the halfway point of their season on offense. Now, I turn my attention to the defense. The Lions are known primarily for their work on the offensive side of the ball. Guys like Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush, and Calvin Johnson are big names that make big plays. However, Detroit has had defensive issues in the past, and it can be tough to win when your defense is letting up as many points as the offense is scoring. So, here's a bit on how the defense has played thus far.
For starters, I want to illuminate the play of DeAndre Levy. Levy is tied for the team lead in tackles with 47, but he also has three tackles for loss, seven passes defensed, and a team leading four interceptions. For a linebacker, that's impressive. Sure, those are superficial stats, and Levy has had issues with broken tackles in the past, but those are good numbers.
Ndamukong Suh is leading the team with 3.5 sacks. That is a little concerning. It was figured that the Lions may take a step back in terms of the pass rush this year, and the loss of Jason Jones to injury has hindered them moreso. As a team, the Lions have 13 sacks. Ziggy Ansah has three, and two forced fumbles.
Both Suh and Ashlee Palmer have four tackles for loss. Rashean Mathis eight passes defensed, while Chris Houston has seven. The team has 10 interceptions total. However, nobody would consider this secondary to have played all that well, as further evaluation indicates.
By basic metrics, the Lions are 25th in pass defense and 18th in rush defense. At Football Outsiders, the Lions are 25th in overall defense. They are 11th against the run, but they are 23rd against the pass. Clearly, stopping the pass has been Detroit's main issue on defense. While the Lions do have two good starting safeties, cornerback has been an issue. Houston has been alright, but he got benched briefly for poor play. Darius Slay isn't up to the task. Bill Bentley and others have not stepped up either. Of course, if the Lions could get a better pass rush, that could help the secondary. However, the defensive ends aren't getting much of a pass rush, and Nick Fairley has disappointed a bit as well.
Clearly, the Lions don't need to worry about their rush defense, but if one thing is going to trip them up on their quest to make the postseason, it will be the pass defense. Or special teams. According to Football Outsiders, the Lions are 24th on special teams. On the other hand, they rank 32nd in their "Hidden" metric. This is, roughly, a measure of how lucky a team has been in the matters of special teams they don't control. The Lions currently rank as the most unlucky team in the NFL. That is likely to regress to the mean, which would benefit Detroit.
So, with some improved pass rush, or improved secondary play, and some more luck in special teams, the Lions could truly be headed to the playoffs.