This will be the third volume of the “Bringing the D back to the D”. I first started writing about this subject several months ago (in volumes 1 and 2), just after the Super Bowl and just before the draft respectively. It’s hard to ignore the glaring issues the Detroit Lions have shown on defense over the past 2 years. So I feel this is absolutely the most important aspect for Detroit to address moving forward.
First lets take a look at the damage and try to see what needs to be done to fix it. Going back to 2008 when things really fell apart for Detroit, by the numbers.
The Lions gave up 6470 (over a mile) to opposing offenses which amounted to 404.4 yards per game.
They let QB's toss for 3716 yards through the air, or 232 yards per game.
They (quite literally) watched opposing running backs amass 2754 yards on the ground, or 172.1 yards per game.
And this nice little recipe for disaster lead to 517 points on the score board, or 32.3 points per game, and lead them to dead last in the NFL in basically every single category they count. All I can say is "ouch".
Granted, Detroit was a team in utter disarray during the 2008 season. Matt Millen was fired on September 24th, Martin Mayhew was promoted to his job, and Rod Marinelli was facing questions like “do you think your job is in jeopardy” while knowing a massive house cleaning was coming down the pipe. So the end result of the 2008 season was a nightmare for Lions fans, but pretty predictable in hind sight.
On January 15th 2009, Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand announced that Jim Schwartz was selected to be the Lions new head coach. Jim Schwartz was the Defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans (who boasted a stout defense) for 8 years prior to his selection, echoing a desire in the upper management to “bring defense back to Detroit”.
Unfortunately for many of us Lions fans, the pick resembled the prior pick of Rod Marinelli who was also a defensive coach, a defensive line coach at Tampa Bay. This made it hard for many of us to believe that he was really the best option, considering his lack of head coaching experience. However Jim Scwhartz is young, very educated (and smart), and a former linebacker from Georgetown University. So far he has shown nothing but solid leadership in Detroit.
In 2009 the Lions were not expected to do much. Considering the 0-16 record they posted in 2008, many wondered if they might repeat the feat. Jim Schwartz was handed the most discombobulated franchise in the history of the game. So when the Lions drafted Matthew Stafford over Aaron Curry, many of us were left scratching our heads. However, in hind sight Stafford was a very good decision. Kudos to everyone in the Lions organization for recognizing his talent and skill.
The 2009 season went about as expected for most people. Lets break it down for everyone.
In 2009, we watched the Lions give up 6274 yards, or 392.1 per game.
We watched the other teams QB throw for 4249 yards, which is 265.6 yards per game.
We watched the other teams running backs gash the defense for 2025 yards, or 126.6 yards per game.
And this recipe for disaster amounted to 494 points over the season, and a 30.9 points per game average.
Lions fans, this is the problem in Detroit. You could assemble an offense of all pro bowl players and they would still lose often with this defense.
So this begs the question, what makes a great defense? Sure we all want everything; two stud DT’s, two DE’s with that explosive first step, a stable of hard hitting LB’s, a nice group of lock down corners and a pair of fast safety and hard hitting safeties to round it all off. But lets be realistic, what do we need?
DEFENSIVE LINE/DT (in the trenches where it all starts).
Well for starters (and most importantly) we need a pass rush, and one that doesn’t require Detroit to commit extra guys (LB’s/Safety’s) to the blitz. Lions fans, that is what you shall have in 2010. There hasn’t been a Honolulu blue and silver defensive line like we will see in 2010 (barring injury) since the 50’s.
Corey Williams is a great 4-3 DT, and Kyle Vanden Bosch is a perennial pro-bowler when he’s lined up next to a solid DT. Well guess what? He’s not going to be lined up next to a solid DT. He’s going to be lined up next to two solid DT’s!! Ndamukong Suh is arguably the best DT to ever come out of the draft. At very least he is the best DT to ever play in college. Best of all, he comes with a work ethic that a cornhusker should have (see Kyle Vanden Bosch).
Suh will hit the ground running and change this defense from game one in 2010. Of course the defensive line also has to play the run,and that is were Sammie Hill comes in. Hill may be seen along with Corey Williams and Ndamukong Suh should they decide to move Suh or Williams to DE just to throw wrenches in opposing offenses protection packages. On goal line stands, and in run defense, these 3 guys on the line would form a wall of muscle nobody could break through, forcing offenses to run outside. And with hard hitting/tackling guys like Follett, Delmas, Peterson, Levy, and Spievey, that probably wont work too well.
The only big question on the defensive front four is who is going to play opposite Kyle Vanden Bosch? There are many possibilities including; Jared Devries, Turk McBride, Cliff Avril, Jason Hunter, and the rookie Willie Young. Needless to say, there is a lot of talent for the coaches to chose from on the front four. We will see a serious amount of pressure from that group of guys. This will enable Guenther Cunningham to chose when he wants to apply “extra pressure ” rather than being forced to commit an extra guy to the blitz package just to get “enough pressure ” on opposing QB’s. This one extra guy will make a world of difference in the look, feel and success of the defense.
The Linebackers are a bit of an enigma at this point. Detroit let Larry Foote go, and traded Ernie Sims. But what now? Enter, Zachary Follett (The Pain Train), De Andre Levy (The Leveler), and Julius Peterson (The Freak). Lions fans, I’m not worried about Linebackers. If we happen to pick up Keith Bullock because he’s healthy, that is just sugar on top of the frosting. This group of guys will also be supplemented by Landon Johnson, Jordon Dizon and Caleb Campbell. Campbell himself is a very interesting prospect, even though he was nearly Mr. Irrelevant himself, and even though he was a Millen era pick. I’m looking forward to seeing him on the field because he is probably the fastest linebacker on the Lions Roster, and being a safety in college, he has pass coverage skills as well.
The corners are the weakest link in Detroit's defense. However I do have some faith in this group as well. Chris Huston, and Jonathan Wade or Amari Spievey are the projected starters. Now these guys aren’t the best group in the NFL by any means. One experienced NFL starter, one experienced backup, and one rookie is what they really are. Given the fact that passing yards allowed was one area the Lions actually got worse in from 08 to 09, it’s very troubling to say the least that this is our cornerback group for 2010(barring a free agent acquisition). Even though these guys are the best hope at CB, I think they will fare much better in 2010 because of the front four. Just like the running game helps the passing game on offense, a pass rush helps pass coverage on defense. If the front four can get some pressure on the QB, these guys won’t be need to cover for nearly as long as they were forced to last year. For that reason alone, Detroit’s pass coverage should look better in 2010. However, expect it to be the biggest weakness to the defense, especially against quick fire QB’s who can avoid the rush and get rid of the ball.
We all know Louis Delmas was a stud for a rookie, and he will only improve in 2010. Should the Lions find a way to acquire another talented safety before training camp, this will be yet another strong point in the Defense. For now it’s a 50/50 proposition with one strong performer and one question mark, as in, we’re not even sure who the other safety will be. There are several guys on the roster who quite frankly I’d rather not see in a starting role. However Marquand Manuel did an ok job (when he was healthy), and if he is the starter then that will have to do for now. He’s another guy who could benefit from the front four improvements with interceptions as a result of forced throws because of pressure on the QB. So as much as I’d like to see an upgrade here (like most of you I’m sure) the Lions have done it right by not spending high draft selections and money on guys who only impact the player they cover in most cases on the field. Next year however is another story.
In 2010, the Lions will still have a porous defense , especially against the pass. Since it’s never too early to look ahead to the next draft. My extremely early projections for the 2011 draft are as follows. The Lions should look to take a first round corner, a second round safety and a third round LT in next years draft. This is a big generalization of course and will depend on evaluations of players and the health and performance of the offensive line this year, among many other things. If the offensive line holds up well in 2010, I expect to see multiple players to fill holes in the secondary selected early in next years draft.
Regardless of any holes in the secondary, I expect a large improvement from the Defense this year in Detroit. This improvement will keep the Lions close enough that it will allow Matthew Stafford to work his magic and give us many more last minute drives to victory both at home, and in hostile away game environments.
Well that’s it for now Lions fans. I hope you enjoyed the third volume of “Bringing the D back to the D”. Have a great weekend.