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Defense Shows Holes in Detroit Lions' Win over San Francisco 49ers

Brandon Alisoglu@@BrandonAlisogluCorrespondent IDecember 27, 2015

San Francisco 49ers running back DuJuan Harris is tackled by Detroit Lions strong safety Isa Abdul-Quddus during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
Duane Burleson/Associated Press

The Detroit Lions didn't allow a single point for the last 30 minutes and 35 seconds of their 32-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. Perhaps the defense will wear that as a badge of honor.

Not sure what DC Teryl Austin said at the half, but D has shut out Niners in second half. #Lions #SFvsDET

— Paula Pasche (@paulapasche) December 27, 2015

But the kudos should be kept to a minimum. The first half exposed holes that have to be addressed this offseason because the 49ers offense is atrocious. San Francisco came into this game averaging 14.4 points per game, which is last in the league by almost a full three points. The 49ers eclipsed that mark by halftime.

49ers have 265 yards of offense (122 rush) in 1st half & Gabbert is 12-of-18 for 154 yards with 2 scores, which comes out to a 130.3 rating.

— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) December 27, 2015

They rolled up those first-half points behind a formerly defunct running game and timely Blaine Gabbert passes. The former set up the latter, and that's surprising, considering how well the Lions have played against the run for much of the past two months.

Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata wasn't the issue. He seemed to penetrate the backfield at will, but he can't be relied on to finish every play. That's not his job. Instead, Ngata earns his paycheck by setting up the rest of the defense while snatching the occasional tackle for a loss or sack. It's worked well a few times this year.

This, however, wasn't one of those times.

Linebacker Stephen Tulloch is one of the players who usually finishes what Ngata starts. He came into this game leading the team with 96 tackles on the year. He finished with three against the 49ers, often picking the wrong hole or getting lost in the wash and missing the running back.

Inexplicably, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin then put him in a terrible coverage predicament, leaving him one-on-one with a wide receiver. The play went for 28 yards.

Stephen Tulloch covering Quinton Patton. Yeah, that's not gonna work.

— Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon) December 27, 2015

Perhaps reviewing the tape will paint a clearer picture, although the likelihood of finding a reasonable explanation for the assignment is more remote than Patriots head coach Bill Belichick appointing former Lions president and CEO Matt Millen his draft czar.

To make matters worse, linebackers were trailing their targets by a full step with regularity, giving Gabbert little resistance en route to a 106.2 passer rating on the day. DeAndre Levy will help, but who will be next to him in the nickel next year? Kyle Van Noy was drafted for that purpose, but the second-round pick hasn't shown the anticipation necessary to handle that duty.

Lastly, the Lions should not assume they have their three top cornerbacks locked in for next season. Nevin Lawson hasn't proved he can handle the outside, following up a rough outing against the New Orleans Saints on Dec. 21st. He gave up two touchdowns in a performance in which he couldn't keep his hands to himself.

Nevin Lawson has had better days. One PI penalty, one hold declined, another picked up (uncatchable) and an INT just bounce off his facemask

— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) December 27, 2015

It wasn't all bad.

Defensive end Devin Taylor continued his strong year, and Detroit did pitch a shutout in the second half. Plus, there is a nice collection of talent, and not every starter can be above average on any defense.

But the fact remains that there is work to do on the defensive side of the ball. The 49ers made it clear that the once-mighty Lions defense needs to upgrade a few critical positions, or the offense will be forced to routinely put up 30 or more points if next season is going to be any different than this year.

Brandon Alisoglu is a Detroit Lions Featured Columnist. He also co-hosts a Lions-centric podcastLions Central Radio. Yell at him on Twitter @BrandonAlisoglu.

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