Inept Detroit Lions defense chasing ugly records: 'You don't want that on your resume'

Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press
·4 min read

The Detroit Lions are a bad defensive football team, so bad that they are approaching historical levels of ineptitude.

The Lions have allowed 482 points this season, most in the NFL — the Jacksonville Jaguars are second at 464 points allowed — and could set franchise records for most points and yards surrendered in a season in Sunday's finale against the Minnesota Vikings.

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“I didn’t know that until you just told me, so, (expletive), I got to go out there and play a little harder and we got to go out there and do our job because you don’t want to be a part of that team (that) they go back and look up 100 years from now and your name’s on it," linebacker Reggie Ragland said. "You don’t want that on your resume."

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook runs the ball against Detroit Lions safety Will Harris during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium, Nov. 8, 2020.
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook runs the ball against Detroit Lions safety Will Harris during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium, Nov. 8, 2020.

The Lions are 35 points shy of tying the winless 2008 team's franchise record for most points allowed in a season (517). They've given up at least that many points in six of their 10 losses this year, and have allowed 46 and 47 points in blowout defeats to the Tennessee Titans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers the last two weeks.

While the NFL record for points allowed in a season (533, by the 1981 Baltimore Colts) is likely safe, the Lions almost certainly will set a new franchise record for yards allowed.

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The 2008 Lions gave up 6,470 yards, an average of 6.4 yards per play. This year's defense has given up 6,208 yards, or 6.2 yards per play.

The Vikings (6-9) will not have top running back Dalvin Cook on Sunday, but they churned out an easy 487 yards of offense in a November win against the Lions, who have given up at least 275 yards in every game.

"I don’t want anything to do with those records," defensive coordinator Cory Undlin said. "However, you guys, this didn’t really come up that much this year, but there’s only one stat that I really care about and that’s how many games I win. That’s our job. The way that this game is played right now, offensively, the rules, everything else, I care about how many wins we have and right now we have five."

Detroit Lions linebacker Reggie Ragland sacks New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees during the second half Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020 at Ford Field.
Detroit Lions linebacker Reggie Ragland sacks New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees during the second half Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020 at Ford Field.

Undlin went on to point out that last year's Lions won just three games, and while that is true, this year's team has unquestionably been worse on defense.

The Lions rank in the bottom five of the league in rushing (29th), passing (30th), total (31st) and scoring (32nd) defense. They've given up the most first downs in the NFL, are last in the league in goal-to-go percentage and tied for 30th with 12 takeaways.

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"It never crossed my mind (that we would be this bad on defense) because in my eyes, we played good at times and at times we’d give up stuff, but we showed what type of group we could be," Ragland said. "But we just weren’t consistently doing it, so my mind never crossed that, 'Hey, this is us.' My head, I’ve always thought of us as a high-level team, which we got a lot of good players, but we could just never put it together and be consistent about it."

Undlin declined to dissect what went wrong defensively this season, saying "that could be a three-hour discussion" and insisting, "I was put in the position of running this defense and obviously didn’t do a good enough job, so that’s it."

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) drops back to pass during the third quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) drops back to pass during the third quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

Undlin's play calling, in his first season as coordinator, certainly contributed to the Lions' struggles, as did deposed head coach Matt Patricia's inflexibility with his scheme, and ex-general manager Bob Quinn's personnel acquisitions.

Romeo Okwara has a career-high nine sacks this season, but the Lions have been without injured vets Trey Flowers and Desmond Trufant much of the season, got little out of first-round pick Jeff Okudah and lack blue-chip players on defense in general.

That should change this offseason, when a new coach and new general manager overhaul the entire unit and try to re-sign Okwara before he hits unrestricted free agency.

But by that time, there may be new records in place.

"It’s rough, but, man, you’ve still got to play the game at the end of the day," Ragland said. "You’ve got to be more consistent, you’ve got to be more disciplined, which we weren’t disciplined at times during the year, so we got to do better at that. So we got one more game to be a disciplined team and go out there and have fun and do what we do."

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions on the verge of setting some unsightly defensive records