Beginning the 2012 season, the Detroit Lions' defensive weakness lied in the secondary. When news broke in August announcing safety Louis Delmas' knee surgery, the rate of concern shot through the roof. With no return date scheduled for Delmas off his injury, Detroit's secondary was in big trouble without their best defensive player.
Delmas made his long-anticipated return yesterday against the Philadelphia Eagles. Facing a high-powered offense, this was an important test on Delmas' value to the team. After a 26-23 victory with plenty of production from Delmas and his defense, he's finally displayed his worth to the Lions.
The Lions' emotional leader finished with seven tackles, including two for loss, along with his first interception since his rookie season. Head coach Jim Schwartz planned to ease Delmas back into the lineup. But after yesterday's performance, Delmas proved he was healthy and is the most important piece to the Lions' defense.
Throughout the first four games of the season, Detroit's defense looked slow and reacted late to pass completions. With Delmas back in the lineup, the Lions' secondary was flying and playing more alert than normal. Delmas put a mid-air hit on tight end Brent Celek to dislodge the football, which has not happened often from this team.
Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham drew up a perfect plan to rattle quarterback Michael Vick. The Lions blitzed with Delmas and the linebackers at a high rate, especially in the first half. Vick found himself getting scraped off the ground again this week after taking three sacks and eleven hits from the Lions. Detroit also recorded two interceptions and recovered a botched snap that turned into a fumble.
In fairness, the Eagles are the most turnover-prone team in the NFL. However, good teams must take advantage of their opponents' weaknesses. Delmas and the Lions did just that on Sunday.
The Eagles love to throw the ball and aim for the big plays down the field, which is the ideal situation for a defense who can get pressure on Vick. The Lions applied plenty of heat on Vick, and Delmas took advantage by intercepting a bad pass forced over the middle.
The Lions' defense played arguably their best game of the season, and Delmas had one of the best performances of his career. Minus a miscommunication with Chris Houston leading to a Jeremy Maclin touchdown, Delmas did just about everything the Lions needed from him. Delmas is still a Pro Bowl-caliber safety, but needs to stay on the field to do so.
Detroit won't see many other turnover-prone teams like the Eagles for the rest of the season, meaning this secondary will still struggle. The Lions still must play disciplined, high-octane offenses like the Texans and Falcons, along with the Packers and Bears twice.
Coming off of a bye week, it's a good sign to see the Lions make adjustments and try different tactics on defense. With Delmas in the lineup, Cunningham can afford to take more gambles with his defensive unit. However, there is no guarantee the Lions will play at this level for the rest of the season. The defensive line remains inconsistent and the secondary is still very weak. But with their leader back in the lineup creating havoc on the field, Delmas provides a much needed spark of life for this defense.