Can Lions' Pass Coverage Improve in 2020?

Logan Lamorandier

The Lions' defense allowed the most yards through the air in the NFL last season. 

Giving up a total of 4,551 passing yards in 2019, Detroit averaged 284.4 yards allowed per game. Obviously not ideal. 

Per Pro Football Focus, Detroit had the sixth-lowest coverage grade in the NFL as well. 

Using the Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, the Lions' entire pass defense ranked No. 29 out of 32 franchises. 

Important to note, that grade also includes the pass rush -- which will be hit on more below.

Going into 2020, not only did the Lions trade away Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay, but they also allowed second-string outside corner Rashaan Melvin to walk in free agency. 

Melvin's departure isn't nearly as impactful as Slay's, but it's notable considering Detroit's top two wide corners are now gone. 

However, the Lions did bring in veteran corner Desmond Trufant and a player to provide additional depth to the secondary in ex-Jets CB Darryl Roberts. 

For what it's worth, Trufant doesn't always shadow an opponent's top wideout like Slay does. 

However, the former Atlanta Falcon did have a higher 2019 coverage grade, per PFF.

Are those two acquisitions upgrades over their predecessors? Probably not. 

Remember, there still is the NFL Draft to help boost the position.

Now, cornerback isn't the only position that is responsible for covering pass catchers. There are safeties and linebackers that do so as well. 

For linebackers, there weren't any subtractions from a season ago, but they did add a couple of notable names in Jamie Collins and Reggie Ragland.

Ragland isn't known for his coverage ability, but Collins has had some success in that department. 

Outside of Collins, Detroit has a bunch of big linebackers that aren't great in the open field in one-on-one coverage. 

Due to the Lions' scheme, they often ask more of their safeties in helping cover tight ends. It's glaringly obvious, though, when the opponent's offense is able to single out mismatches against the Lions' linebackers.

In the safety group, it appears the Lions are moving on from Tavon Wilson, and they acquired Duron Harmon and Jayron Kearse to help improve the unit. 

Both Harmon and Kearse have demonstrated a solid ability to cover. 

As a deep safety, Harmon has been one of the best defenders in coverage over recent years. 

Meanwhile, Kearse has played plenty in the box and as a slot corner against bigger slot targets. 

Kearse had the ninth-highest 2019 PFF coverage grade among safeties that played in at least 20 percent of a team's given snaps.

Maybe the easiest way the Lions could improve in coverage is via an upgraded pass rush. 

Detroit general manager Bob Quinn still hasn't truly addressed the EDGE position, which is a bit of a concern if a major step forward is going to happen in 2020.

Despite not adding another pass-rush specialist, the Lions can't get much worse in terms of yards allowed. 

Even if the Lions downgraded or remained level overall with true cover men, the pass defense could get better simply due to the up-front defenders getting more consistent pressure on the quarterback. 

Last season, the Lions allowed the most time to throw for opposing passers. 

The Lions didn't necessarily have a ton of pass-rushing threats, but they also were among the lowest in the NFL for the average number of pass rushers deployed per play. 

As everyone knows, the NFL's rules favor the offense, and pass catchers will eventually get open with enough time for the quarterback to throw.

Sure, the Lions haven't improved at the cornerback spot. 

However, any semblance of a pass rush or a more aggressive scheme could go a long way in helping the Lions shore up their back-end. 

Given Patricia's bend-but-don't-break philosophy, it probably isn't fair to expect huge improvements.

But, at the very least, the Lions now have a few more pieces at both safety and linebacker that can help turn things around in pass coverage.


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Comments (3)
No. 1-3

Especially in 4th quarter. Lions made no plays late in games all season


Can’t be that much worse


That why Quinn & Patricia will be fired by the 10th game into the season. No pass rush no depth, no clue after 5 yrs of how to build a winner.