The Detroit Lions did not address their obvious flaws during the offseason and it shows.
The Detroit Lions had some glaring weaknesses going into the 2018 offseason. The coaching staff couldn’t get the team ready for games, and always seemed outclassed by their opponents in terms of game management. The pass rush was defensive end Ziggy Ansah or nothing. The defensive tackles couldn’t hold their own against even half competent competition. The linebackers couldn’t cover a table with a cloth. The offensive line couldn’t withstand a single injury without becoming porous and weak.
If that doesn’t sound very familiar to you, then you haven’t been wasting your time watching Lions games on Sundays. GM Bob Quinn made a lot of moves during the 2018 offseason in an effort to change the makeup of the team, but he failed. It’s the same team.
The Detroit Lions Pass Rush
Sure, the Lions have gaudy sack numbers, but they’re getting no pressure. Quarterbacks have had an eternity to throw the ball, but the secondary has held up well enough that a second effort from a pass rusher has gotten the job done a lot. Last year there was nobody capable of offering that second effort. You can call that an improvement, and it is. However, the fundamental problem of having a pass rush that puts quarterbacks in a situation as stressful as a float tank for 90% of their dropbacks remains a problem.
Linebacker Devon Kennard has led the charge but it has been three weeks since he got home for a sack. Quinn added defensive end Romeo Okwara after the preseason showed us how awful this situation was going to be, but he’s been invisible unless he was finishing the play. Sacks have not been the problem. These two additions have combined for 10 sacks at the halfway point. It’s the lack of pressure on the other 250+ drop backs that has remained an issue.
The Run Defense
It is incredible how amazing defensive tackle Damon Harrison has looked in a Lions uniform. Unfortunately, part of why he looks so great is that he is playing in the middle of a dumpster fire. One player in a two-gap defense shouldn’t be at a completely different level of the offensive line from the rest of the defensive line. That’s just not how it’s supposed to work.
Harrison is just so much better than the rest of the defensive line, that while they get pushed back he pushes forward. Defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois looked like an all-pro next to the rest of the Lions line, and Snacks is that much better than RJF. The rest of what Quinn assembled along the line is pathetic. Everyone knew this was a problem and Quinn didn’t even bring in Jean-Francois until after training camp had started.
The off-ball linebacker corp didn’t get better either. It’s easier to excuse, however, because linebackers Jarrad Davis and Jalen Reeves-Maybin looked promising toward the end of 2018. Journeyman linebacker Christian Jones came in as a backup plan, but it hasn’t been a good backup plan. He is a solid backup to plug in due to an injury, but he isn’t a starter at the NFL level. In short, it’s not surprising that the Lions keep getting gashed for huge gains in the run game. They didn’t try to fix the problem until midseason.
The Lions were so underprepared for their first game that they got lost badly to one of the teams that are clearly worse on paper. They then blew an easy win vs. San Francisco. Wins against injury-depleted Green Bay and New England teams gave us some false hope that this wasn’t going to be a train wreck, but the reality is now setting in. The team is still unprepared. The coaching change hasn’t fixed that problem.
The offseason was not all bad. Quinn did draft running back Kerryon Johnson, guard Frank Ragnow, and defensive end Da’Shawn Hand, who all look like great picks as we near the rookie wall. The future looks bright. Lions fans have been saying that for three seasons under Quinn. At some point, that future needs to arrive. It certainly has not come yet.