The Detroit Lions boasted one of the NFL’s most potent offenses in 2022. The team ranked fifth in points scored and fourth in total yards gained. Led by quarterback Jared Goff and offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, the Lions’ offense led the team to a 9-8 record. The team finished just outside of the playoffs, but after starting the season 1-6, Detroit showed significant improvement as the season went on.
A major factor holding Detroit back in 2022 was its defense. The team ranked 29th in rushing yards and touchdowns given up. Injuries and lack of depth along the defensive line did not help in that area. Healthy players returning to the lineup alongside some additions gives defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn confidence in this group entering 2023.
Detroit ranked 30th in passing yards allowed and 23rd in passing touchdowns given up. Injuries played a part in Detroit’s struggles to defend the pass as well. Losing safety Tracy Walker III was a major blow. However, some players simply underperformed. Amani Oruwariye was expected by many to take a step forward in development in a contract year, but the cornerback struggled and was benched early in the season.
Of the Lions’ starting secondary from their Week 18 victory over the Green Bay Packers, only Kerby Joseph is projected to hold onto his starting spot. Gone are the likes of Jeff Okudah and DeShon Elliott. Lions’ general manager Brad Holmes made it a point to overhaul the team’s secondary this offseason, and the talent he brought in can take Detroit’s defense from poor to reliable.
Key additions to the Detroit Lions secondary
The first major outside free agent signing of Detroit’s 2023 offseason was acquiring former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Cam Sutton. The versatile veteran offers the flexibility to play in the slot and on the outside. He spent the majority of his career as one of the league’s most underrated corners. Holmes stole Sutton from Pittsburgh on a three-year $33 million contract. He is likely to serve as the team’s No. 1 corner.
Emmanuel Moseley signed a one-year contract with Detroit as he returns from a torn ACL. The former San Fransisco 49er has established himself as one of the league’s best complementary No. 2 corners. Moseley may take some time to return to the field, but once he is 100 percent, he will form a reliable duo with Sutton.
C.J. Gardner Johnson can play safety and corner for the Detroit Lions. Coming off a Super Bowl appearance with the Philadelphia Eagles, Gardner-Johnson signed with the Motor City on a one-year contract. Gardner Johnson will likely be seen in plenty of three-safety looks alongside Joseph and Walker. He can serve as a slot corner as well.
Selecting Brian Branch in the second round may have been the steal of the entire 2023 NFL Draft. The Alabama product was expected by many to be a first-round selection; however, when he fell in the second round, Holmes moved up to get him. Branch has a high football IQ and processes offenses very well. He has a good feel for the game and can play multiple positions. Expect him to get a lot of looks as the team’s slot corner in 2022. That is where he spent most of his time at Alabama.
The Detroit Lions secondary has transformed into one of the team’s biggest strengths
It is far too early to suggest Detroit’s secondary will be a dominant group in 2023, but all signs point toward them being significantly better than in 2022.
One of the biggest things that stands out about this unit is the collective versatility of all the players. The majority of contributors in Detroit’s secondary have demonstrated flexibility to play outside, in the slot or at safety. This flexibility will give Glenn the ability to throw numerous looks at opposing offenses and effectively match different offensive formations.
The Lions have aspirations to make a deep run in the playoffs this upcoming season. After reloading a top-ranked offense, the team’s defense needs to step up and prove it is at least an average unit. With the overhaul Holmes undertook on the team’s secondary, there is good reason to believe they can accomplish that. The success of Detroit’s defense, especially its secondary, could be the difference between the team winning the division and fighting for a wild card spot late in the season.
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