We all know the Lons sucked on defense in 2022. We also all know that the Lions in fact got better on defense as the season progressed. That improvement is important but still not good enough. Did Holmes do enough to field a good defense in 2023?
Who is out?
CB Okudah, SS Elliott, LBer Chris Board and CB Mike Hughes.
CB Cam Sutton, CB Emmanuel Moseley, CB/S C.J. Gardner Johnson and then rookies LBer Jack Campbell, Safety Brian Branch and DT Brodric Martin.
DE/DT Commish (critical keep), DT Buggs and LBer Alex Anzalone. Safety Will Harris.
Returning from injury (maybe the most important category?):
S Tracy Walker and DE Charles Harris. I think adding Jerry Jacobs here is fair too. Maybe DT Levi?
When you look at it like this the improvements are really not CLEARLY obvious. The DL is roughly the same overall. At LBer we added a promising rookie. Any improvement seems to come from a focused approach top the secondary. Okudah becomes Cam Sutton. Yep, that is an upgrade. Okudah had fine moment early in 2022 but he never had any consistency and he just wasn’t a plus level player here at all overall. Good games? Yep. Followed by bad games? Yep.
Brandon Jacobs becomes a more healthy Brandon Jacobs and CB Emmanuel Moseley. Upgrade? Yep. ESP. if and when Moseley is healthy and trusts his knee again.
At safety we added CJ Gardner Johnson and rookie Brian Branch and that is better than Elliott.
I do believe in second year growth in players. Hutch, Houston and Joseph will all likely be a little better and more confident. Josh Paschal too.
Here are damning Lion defensive stats overall (yes this got better down the stretch):
31st in rushing yards allowed at 5.2. Yes, inflated due to Justin Fields but just think the Panthers game. This defense for years has been weak against the run against focused and good offenses.
29th in rushing TDs allowed.
18th in sacks (pretty good considering).
30th in passing yards allowed. Awful.
31st in yards allowed/pass.
It is clear the Lions saw the secondary as THE issue overall. BUT…by adding Jack Campbell at LBer they saw something there too, right?
I can see a viable argument that the secondary will be better. But will we be able to stop the run better?
I know this team got a hell of a lot better with Commish balling out an a healthy Paschal will also help there.
Summary: I feel like there is an improvement but this defense feels like a work in progress still. I see a middle of the pack defense at this point. One that can win games, one that can get hot but not top ten yet. My guess is we end up 15th-20th in total defense and that would be great but not amazing.
To me the key guys on defense are:
Alim McNeil. How good can he be? Feels like a solid player but not dominant. I would love to be wrong.
Josh Paschal. We NEED him to be worthy of his pick. We need him to be NASTY.
Jack Campbell. Is he he real deal?
Hutch/Houston/Charles Harris/Romeo Okwara…can they be hell on the edge against an offense?
C.J. Gardner Johnson. Can he shut down outlets on 3rd down?
Those are the key guys I see and McNeil worries me the most because he just hasn’t been a lights out player for us BUT…we HAVE seen him dominate (see the Giants game). If McNeil grows up and becomes incredible teams better hold on. BUT…if we get okay Alim can we stop the Panthers from putting up 250+ rushing yards against us again? Thoughts?