The Lions will deploy a vastly new look defense in 2021
By: Reese Nasser
The Detroit Lions sent out a defense that was more than lackluster last season. The defense was ranked 26th in the NFL. They also ranked in the bottom five of almost every defensive statistical category. They ranked last in every defensive touchdown category. 32nd in points, yards, and both rushing and passing touchdowns. They also ranked last in red zone touchdowns given up. The defense also gave up 6,700 yards.
After an off-season full of changes, the Lions defense is slowly starting to look up. They have made changes for the better and while it may take time to develop, this unit should eventually be a force to be reckoned with. Through both free agency and the draft, the unit on the field this season will look vastly different. Here are three reasons why the Lions defense will be better in 2021 than it was in 2020.
Through both the draft and free agency, the Lions added strong defense players. Detroit traded for defensive tackle Michael Brockers, who will be a focal point on this side of the ball. They also re-signed star defensive end Romeo Okawara. Romeo had nearly half of the teams total sacks with 10 last season. The Lions also selected Romeo’s younger brother Julian Okwara in the 2020 draft. They will hope to see more of a breakout performance in Julian’s second year. He only appeared in six games during his rookie season and was plagued by injury.
The duo of Brockers and Okawara will not only be the faces of the defense but will also be expected to be the leaders of the defensive line.
The Lions also chose to go heavy on defense in this year’s draft, using four of their seven selections on defensive players. Most notably, in an effort to solidify the defensive line even more, Detroit went back to back with defensive tackle selections, Levi Onwuzurike at pick #41 and Alim Mcneill with pick #67. Onwuzurike opted out of the 2020 season but in his three seasons at the University of Washington, accounted for 16 tackles for losses and 7 sacks. Mcneill played three seasons at NC State where he was an anchor on the defensive line. In only 32 games, Mcneill was a disruptive player with 77 tackles and 17.5 tackles for loss. He also added 10 sacks. Both of these rookies will be expected to perform day one and one of them will have a starting job come the start of the season.
The Lions clearly saw the defensive line as maybe their biggest weakness so they did what they deemed necessary to fix it. They are also taking an approach of building with the line and then up.
Lions new head coach Dan Campbell is said to be a defensive minded coach. Campbell also brought longtime defensive coach Aaron Glenn in to be the Lions new defensive coordinator. Glenn spent the last five seasons as the secondary coach for the New Orleans Saints. There is hope that with both Campbell and Glenn working on this defensive unit, they will see drastic improvements from last season.
Nearly the entire set of defensive coaches will be new from last season. Each member will attempt to implement their way of defending and if done correctly, this group could be very dangerous. The Lions have made it clear that they want to be a gritty team that wins in the trenches and with these new hires, they are headed in that direction.
With Aaron Glenn being brought in as the new defensive coordinator, there is potential that a new defensive scheme will be implemented. Coach Campbell has noted that the team will play a variation of a 3-4 defense. The scheme that they use should be based around the players that they are using. In order to have a successful defense, players must be in a scheme that they are best utilized for. In the Lions projected scheme, both outside linebackers will be used more as extra rushers. They will be going around the defensive ends and going to the backfield. This change may result in some extra sacks, which the Lions desperately need after only having 24 throughout the entirety of last season.
This new defense, while being freshly incorporated, could be exactly what this unit needs. A change in how they approach the defensive side of the ball could prove to be extremely beneficial.