Detroit Lions are seeing early dividends from improved pass rush

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The Detroit Lions may still be winless heading into Week 4 against the Chicago Bears, but it is easy to see some improvements from last year. One big improvement is the pass rush. It was easy to notice in the matchup against the Ravens, where the Lions defense could keep Baltimore off balance throughout the game and picked up four sacks in the process.

While Matt Patricia was riding the ship, he valued the art of containment with big men swallowing gaps over athleticism needed to create pressure, and it bit them royally. If the Lions could not generate any noise of pressure from the four men on the line, the quarterback could binge watch his favorite show while sipping on some coffee and still have time to find an open receiver. It was extremely frustrating to watch weekly and one of the areas that led to his demise.

Last year, the Lions had 24 total sacks, ranking near the bottom of the league. Even worse was the 112.4 passer rating the defense allowed which was good for dead last in the league. So, in a nutshell, the opposing offense could dictate what they wanted to do, and the Lions had no idea to slow it down.

With the Brad Holmes/Dan Campbell regime in place, the Lions placed a premium on athleticism. You can point to any number of the moves made in the draft and free agency that proves that notion. From the re-signing of 2020 sack leader Romeo Okwara, drafting of Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill, and the low-cost acquisition of Charles Harris, all helped. You can point at any of these moves and see what they are trying to build on defense, and through three weeks of the young 2021 season, it has been paying dividends.

So far, the Lions have recorded eight sacks, with Harris leading the charge with two. Harris might’ve had his best game last week, but you can see what he can bring to the table. Do you know how long it took the Lions to get to eight sacks in 2020? Week 7 against the Atlanta Falcons.

Also, PFF is noticing the improved Lions pass rush as well. Currently, they sit seventh overall in pass rushing in the league, and if you dig deeper into the players, you can see why.

Now Julian Okwara has only been brought on a situational front, with only 14 snaps so far. Still, the Lions currently have three players, the Okwara brothers and Harris, in the top 20 in pass rush PFF grading amongst edge rushers, most in the league. With the players up front playing at a high level, the Lions are also seeing pass-rushing production from linebackers Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Alex Anzalone. Also, with Jamie Collins not getting in the way anymore, they should see a boost in production.

Also, with PFF’s pass rushing productivity, the Lions have four players in the top 25, with Austin Bryant included. Julian Okwara and Bryant are seeing limited snaps, but it’s showing they make most of the small snaps they have received. Both of them of dealt with injuries and the coaching staff has shown they would rather get the player healthy instead of rushing them on the field. As long as both of them can stay healthy, they can give a nice dose of youth and athleticism on defense.

The season is young and anything can happen, but you have to be pleased with the improvements made to the pass rush. Between defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, linebacker coaches Mark DeLeone and Kelvin Sheppard, and defensive line coach Todd Wash has made tremendous strides in pulling the potential out of these players.

The Bears suffered a punch to the gut when their swiss cheese offensive line and lack of gameplan from their coaches, saw their rookie quarterback Justin Fields abused by the Cleveland Browns with nine sacks. Now the Lions don’t have the players on the defensive line like the Browns, but after seeing what they could do against the Ravens, you have to think they can pull out a few stops against the Bears.

Glenn has shown he can dial up a strong defensive game, especially when other NFL coaches calling you on how he did it against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. You better believe he has a plan lined up against whoever the Bears put behind center in hopes of notching that elusive first win of the season against one of their division rivals.