Why has Detroit Lions’ defense improved? Because ‘everybody doing their damn job’

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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To Reggie Ragland, the reason behind the Detroit Lions‘ defensive turnaround is simple.

“Everybody doing their damn job,” Ragland said Thursday. “That’s the thing. Everybody doing their job. And we know we’re a good damn defense, so we just knew if everybody do their job and make teams one-dimensional, we’ll have a good chance at winning ballgames, and that’s what we’re starting to do.”

The Lions (3-3) head into Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts (4-2) riding a two-game winning streak thanks in big part to a defense that’s held its last two opponents to an average of 19 points per game.

In the first four games of the season, the Lions allowed 31.8 points per game, and while they faced decidedly better competition in those games, they’ve made some subtle yet important changes that have bolstered their play of late.

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Since the bye, the Lions have leaned on a defensive line of Danny Shelton, John Penisini and Nick Williams more on obvious run downs, and paired Trey Flowers and Romeo Okwara with Ragland and other linebackers in passing situations.

The run defense has improved; ranked last in the NFL the first four games, the Lions have allowed 110 yards total on the ground the last two weeks.

And that’s helped give the pass rush more bite.

“Honestly, I think we’re just finally at that point as a defense, as a team, where we know and we have this confidence about us, and we know what we need to do every week,” Shelton said. “We just got to be consistent and be accountable, and continue to have that mindset that we’re going to be this dominant front, this dominant defense, this dominant team.”

The Lions have not reached that point yet.

Needing a late-game stop to clinch a win over the Atlanta Falcons last week, the Lions instead allowed a nine-play, 76-yard touchdown drive and were bailed out only because the Falcons failed in their attempt to run out the clock.

Ragland said the Lions “got to clean some things up on the third downs,” where they’re allowing conversions nearly 50% of the time. And the Colts have the NFL’s 10th-ranked passing offense at 265.2 yards per game.

But the Lions are expected to get slot cornerback Justin Coleman back from injured reserve this week, and more reinforcements are on the way with Desmond Trufant nearing a return from a hamstring injury and Everson Griffen set to join the team next week after his trade from the Dallas Cowboys.

“We’re going in the right direction,” Ragland said. “We done won two huge games the past couple weeks. We showed what type of team we can be by going down with 1:04 (left) and winning the game. But for the most part I’m proud of this team because we’ve been facing adversity all year and we just got to keep playing and doing what we do as a whole, so I’m proud of this team. We’re going in the right direction, but we just got to keep getting better, keep believing in one another and the most important thing, doing your damn job.”

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

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