Paul Sancya/Associated Press
For as much hype as the Lions defensive front gets, they turned in a surprisingly low sack total in 2013.
Ndamukong Suh turned in an outstanding season, consistently disrupting opposing offenses. Pro Football Focus graded him with a highly impressive 39.9 score, second-best among all defensive tackles. Despite that, the Pro Bowler netted just 5.5 sacks.
Nick Fairley, another seriously disruptive interior presence, turned in some of the best individual game performances in the league last year—just ask Bears fans. He too struggled to translate all that pressure into actual sacks, bagging just six despite registering 35 combined quarterback hits and hurries.
Both starting ends, Ezekiel Ansah and Willie Young, also thrived at generating pressure. They combined for just 11 sacks (eight by rookie Ansah) on a combined 81 pressures and hits.
The Lions ranked 28th in the league in total sacks with 33, an unacceptable return on its heavy investment in the defensive front.
That is going to change in 2014. I foresee a dramatic uptick in sacks.
Some of my optimism stems from the new defensive scheme. Expect more efficient and varied blitzes in the new defense instead of the predictable, typically ineffective extra pressure under former coach Jim Schwartz.
Adding a dynamic presence like Kyle Van Noy as a linebacker, who can push 10 sacks as a rookie, will help as well. So will natural progress from second-year ends Ansah and Devin Taylor, as well as a healthy return from Jason Jones, who can finish pressures from both end and tackle.
Last year the Carolina Panthers led the NFL with 60 sacks. The Lions won't quite make it that high, but Detroit will finish in the top five in 2014 with 57 quarterback sacks this season. That's an extra 1.5 sacks per game, and it will make a huge difference to the secondary playing behind them too.