The talent upgrade means they will no longer be pushovers

He Detroit Lions opens the NFL regular season Thursday night at the Kansas City Chiefs. Here are three stories about the defense that will define the Lions’ 2023 season.

How much better will the Lions’ defense be?

The Lions had an elite offense last season, but they ranked last in the NFL in total defense and tied for 28.th at allowed points. They showed significant improvement defensively in the second half of last season, and I expect those gains to continue.

The Lions are much deeper defensively than in years past, with legitimate NFL-caliber starters (Tracy Walker, Emmanuel Mosley, Jack Campbell) opening the season in reserve roles. They played five big rookie snaps on defense last season, all of which should improve this year. And they’ve upgraded their staff to allow defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn to be more creative and aggressive with his scheme.

When the Lions were in the dump defensively last year, they struggled to get to the quarterback and generate turnovers. They then have 16 takeaways in their last 10 games and multiple sacks in seven of their last eight wins. I doubt the Lions will make the jump to the top 10 defense in a year, but they should be in the middle of the pack.

Detroit Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (97) walks off the field after training camp at the team headquarters in Allen Park on Friday, July 28, 2023.

Detroit Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (97) walks off the field after training camp at the team headquarters in Allen Park on Friday, July 28, 2023.

Eleven.

Hutchinson led all NFL rookies with 9.5 sacks last season, when he finished second Gardener Sauce for Defensive Rookie of the Year. He had great games against all three division opponents down the stretch and seems poised for an even better 2023.

As good as Hutchinson has been this summer, I don’t think he’s on the Myles Garrett/Nick Bosa level of a pass-rusher. Hutchinson was double-teamed more than anyone except Garrett last season. according to ESPNand that number should drop now that he’s surrounded by a better cast.

But he also had a lower win rate than many of his peers, according to ESPN, and needs to be more consistent overall; 6.5 of his sacks came in three games. I think Hutchinson leads the Lions in sacks and takes advantage of his strong play against the run, but I don’t think his numbers will skyrocket in Year 2.

THE WORD: If the Lions make the leap, Aaron Glenn knows his defense must set the pace.

Where could it be C. J. Gardner-Johnson Does he make his biggest impact in high school?

The Lions will open the season with three new starters in their secondary, and Gardner-Johnson, the NFL’s reigning co-leader in interceptions, is the best of the bunch.

Gardner-Johnson excelled as a cornerback with the New Orleans Saints in 2019-21, then took his game to another level last year with the NFC champion. Philadelphia Eagles. He signed a one-year free agent contract this spring, and his confidence and brash demeanor have rubbed off on the defense.

Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell shakes hands with safety CJ Gardner-Johnson during joint practice with the New York Giants at the Detroit Lions home and training facility in Allen Park on Tuesday, June 8. August 2023.

Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell shakes hands with safety CJ Gardner-Johnson during joint practice with the New York Giants at the Detroit Lions home and training facility in Allen Park on Tuesday, June 8. August 2023.

The Lions initially planned to keep Gardner-Johnson in the slot job he was so successful at, in New Orleans, but moved him to safety after the rookie brian branch He broke through in the starting eleven. As versatile as he is, Gardner-Johnson should be a chess piece for Glenn, capable of lining up in the slot, deep post or playing in the box. He’s a ball magnet who showed his reach as a pass defender in camp this summer, but I think his biggest contributions will simply be the way he carries himself on the field. He’s outspoken, he’s not afraid to tell his opponents (or teammates) what they’re doing wrong, and he’s injected a healthy dose of self-confidence into the group.

3 newcomers to follow

DB Brian Branch: Gardner-Johnson said Branch is already “better than me,” and while that might be an exaggeration, the rookie has looked incredibly impressive in his four months. Branch, a second-round pick out of Alabama, won the starting cornerback job with its heady game and productivity. He was always close to the ball in camp, he’s a capable blitzer and if the Lions want to use him in that role, he could be their best special teams gunner. Branch dropped out of the April draft because he’s not a fan of track and field with a blisteringly fast 40-yard time, but he’s smart and instinctive and a key part of the defense this year.

Lions safety Brian Branch looks on before a preseason game against the Panthers on Friday, Aug. 25, 2023, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Lions safety Brian Branch looks on before a preseason game against the Panthers on Friday, Aug. 25, 2023, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

CB Emmanuel Moseley: One of three free agents the Lions signed to improve their secondary along with Gardner-Johnson and Cam Sutton. He was expected to start at a cornerback spot, but he missed all of training camp. while recovering from a second procedure on his surgically repaired knee. Moseley practiced with the Lions for the first time last week., and at the very least he should be a valuable piece of depth at outside corner. He has ground to make up for lost time, but he’s a physical cornerback that fits perfectly into Glenn’s idea of ​​what a defensive back should be.

DL Levi Onwuzurike: He’s technically not a newcomer, but he feels that way after he missed all of last season and his rookie year was slowed by a back injury. Healthy for the first time in his NFL career, the 2021 second-round pick shone as a pass-rusher this summer and has a ticket to a season-opening defensive tackle role. Look it up to play next door alim mcneill in some packages. If Onwuzurike can stay healthy, the deep defensive line will be even more formidable.

depth chart

Defending

Delaware john cominsky, Josh Pascual

DT Alim McNeill, Levi Onwuzurike

DT Benedict Jones, Isaiah Buggs

DEAidan Hutchinson, romeo okwara

OLB Charles Harrisjames houston

ILB alex anzalone, malcolm rodriguez

ILB Daniel BarnesJack Campbell

C.B. Cam Sutton, Steven Gilmore

BC jerry jacobsEmmanuel Moseley

SCB Brian Branch, Will Harris

S Joseph KerbyTracy Walker

S C J Gardner-Johnson, Ifatu Melifonwu

special teams

what Riley Patterson

PJack Fox

LS Scott dali

KR jahmyr gibbscraig reynolds

public relations Raymond Kalif, Amon-Ra St. Brown

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. FOLLOW HIM @davebirkett.

This article originally appeared on the Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions defense: New talent and depth bring improvements

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