Lions Looking for Improved Defensive Line Play

The Lions defense line was disappointing to say the least last season. They notched a mear 34 sacks – 10 sacks fewer than just two years earlier with nearly the exact same unit. What was the perceived strength of the team, quickly became a liability, and because of the Wide 9 defense that the Lions run, the defensive line is responsible for setting up the entire defense. And when that doesn’t happen, bad things start to.

Stephen Tulloch recently said in a Sirius NFL Radio interview that the “defense focuses on, obviously, our D-line. I think they run the show. Once our defensive line goes, our linebackers and secondary, we fall in.” With that in mind, it’s easy to see why the Lions defense struggled so mightily in 2012 once you really start looking at the production of the defensive line. Based on grades from Pro Football Focus, the Lions defensive ends were abismal, while the defensive tackles shined.

Detroit Lions Defensive Line 2012

Name
Position
2012 PFF Grades
Kyle Vanden Bosch
DE
-31.0
Nick Fairley
DT
+23.1
Ndamukong Suh
DT
+19.2
Cliff Avril
DE
-11.6
Lawrence Jackson
DE
-1.9
Sammie Lee Hill
DT
+5.6
Corey Williams
DT
0.0
Willie Young
DE
-6.4

When you start looking at the grades it’s shocking just how poor the Lions defensive ends played last year – especially when you consider they played next to two of the top intior defensive linemen in the entire NFL. Not a single defensive end on the Lions roster managed to achieve a positive grade even though the majority of times they were given one on one match ups.

Kyle Vanden Bosch was supposed to be the vetren leader to stabilize the line, but it’s hard to follow anyone who isn’t producing on the field. Avril’s grade was way down from his +23.7 grade in 2010. And Willie Young went from looking like a breakout candidate in 2011 with a +11.7 grade to registering a meager -6.4 grade in 2012.

Now the big question is whether or not the offseason additions on the defensive line can improve last year’s efforts. Jason Jones is familiar with Jim Schwartz’s system, but seems to be better suited to play inside as a rusher than defensive end. Ezekiel Ansah has all of the physical tools, but how much impact can a rookie defensive end really have? I think the jury is still out, and we won’t really know what to expect until we see some live action in the preseason. One thing is certain, however, for the Lions to be successful in 2013 the defensive line will have to be much improved.

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