Lions' 2011 Draft: Reminders of Why Detroit Needs Help in the Secondary
I listened carefully when Ndamukong Suh stated that the Detroit Lions could go 16-0 this season if they just kept their work ethic and stayed healthy. But even Suh felt that the team could use a little help.
You notice they didn't ask any of the Detroit Lions cornerbacks the same question. But I'm sure there was a good reason for that.
I also heard when Nate Burleson said that the Lions "gave away about another five games" last season which would have improved their record to 11-5 instead of 6-10.
There have been many fans and analysts taking the Lions, as a team, apart and looking at where things went wrong in order to figure out where they needed to improve. The general consensus has been that the Lions have to upgrade their secondary, but most notably, at the cornerback position.
I will admit, that as a Lions fan, I have stood firmly by Chris Houston and Alphonso Smith, Detroit's current primary cornerbacks. Every time the secondary has been taken apart by analysts looking at the draft needs of the Detroit Lions, I continued to say that Houston and Smith were our guys.
After reviewing last season's games more closely, I can see why the Lions need to seriously look at cornerback as a position of need.
It has occurred to me that I may have been guilty of not setting the bar high enough for Detroit.
The Lions are a team that has recently learned how to win again. This change in climate has led me to ask myself some tough questions like, is it possible that I have settled for "good enough" instead of what is best for the team's continued growth?
Have I become one of those fans who attributes more potential to the secondary than is actually there? Could it be that I see "mediocre" or "slightly above average" as a step-up?
As difficult as it is to admit, it is possible.
I love the Detroit Lions like everyone else who bleeds Honolulu Blue and Silver. I want them to be the best team they can be. It is with this in mind that I have to reconsider my initial position and advocate for an upgrade at cornerback.
This article will outline why the Lions need to do whatever it takes to get a guy like Prince Amukamara in the draft, for the good of the team.
Week 1 – Detroit Lions Against the Chicago Bears
I must warn you that this is a tough video to watch as it shows the Julius Peppers hit on Matthew Stafford. It also shows Calvin's Johnson's "controversial" catch, which I still have a reaction to every time I watch it.
Bottom line though, is that the Lions could have and should have won this game, even without Johnson's "catch". The Lions said as much themselves when head coach, Jim Schwartz, noted that a game should never come down to one call by the officials.
The plays that cost the Lions the game were seen on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. It is difficult, as a Lions fan, not to see the aft called "Calvin Johnson Rule" as being a difference–maker in terms of team morale, but they would find a way to shake that off later in the season.
There were great plays on offense and defense too, which I do not mean to ignore or dismiss (Jahvid Best scoring two running touchdowns would be one of them). I am only looking, with interest, at the games I believe Burleson was referring to when he said the Lions gave at least five games away.
First, where was the defense when Matt Forte' ran the ball back 89 yards for a touchdown? That play blew both the front line as well as the secondary away.
Second, we had already lost Stafford to Peppers getting through the line unscathed, then it happened again when Lance Briggs got to Shaun Hill. Another blown assignment and terrible protection of our passer.
Okay, I have to say that I was extremely impressed by the Lions defensive hold of the Bears on the one yard line. That stop was a sign of things to come for Detroit's front four. You could almost see them solidify at that very moment (thank you Kyle Vanden Bosch!).
At 2:10 on the video, we see where the Lions lose their one point lead. Chester Taylor catches a short slot pass and runs for a gain of 18 yards. Watch and squirm as you see how many defenders he gets past (I had to watch with my hands in front of my eyes). It is almost funny how Julian Peterson tries to make up for not being able to contain him by falling on Taylor after he is already down.
It doesn't get any easier on the eyes when Matt Forte' takes it into the end zone again just five plays later.
Who was supposed to be covering Forte'?
Our left side (or weak side) secondary is the answer. You can see on the video that safety, C.C. Brown, is not effective and that cornerback, Tye Hill, just can't seem to get there in time. It even appears as if a defensive lineman tries to help but I can't quite see his jersey number.
I trust the calls that Schwartz and Gunther Cunningham (Defensive Coordinator) make but I just can't imagine Tye Hill being a better option than Alphonso Smith on the left side. We had just picked Hill up in December which means he didn't have much time to learn the defense.
This is a situation where I ultimately know I don't have all of the information. For whatever reason, Hill beat Smith out for the job but he would not keep this position for very long.
To be fair, Aaron Berry, who was signed by the Detroit Lions as an undrafted rookie free agent on April 30, 2010, started the game against the Bears. He recorded 3 tackles plus an interception which led to Jahvid's first TD.
Unfortunately, it was a day of shoulder injuries for the Lions. Berry would end up getting his own shoulder injury at the beginning of the second quarter and replaced by Tye Hill. It was the first and last regular season game Berry would play for the Lions.
If Aaron Berry comes back healthy this season, he may end up being a huge gift for the Detroit Lions at the cornerback position.
Of note – MLB DeAndre Levy was inactive during this game because of a groin injury and replaced by Landon Johnson.
Alphonso Smith Falls Down Against the Jets on Week 9
All of these games are tough to watch but this one, is again, especially difficult.
The Lions could have and should have won this one too. The Jets did not play stellar football.
It felt like a repeat of week one. This time, we had to watch both our starting quarterback, Matthew Stafford, fall on his shoulder, and our kicker, Jason Hanson, hit by a late tackle and forced to leave the game.
But the Lions could have easily still won this game. For me, this was a morale issue again. The Detroit Lions were not yet playing as a team.
Drew Stanton came in as the back-up and had a hard time connecting with anyone. The Lions were still up 20-10 however at this point.
There were a number of mistakes made but what really broke down was the secondary. We can't really blame Suh for the loss for missing an extra point kick can we?
The big plays missed on defense were what cost Detroit the game.
Who was responsible for covering Dustin Keller and Santonio Holmes?
Smith makes a costly misjudgment against Braylon Edwards in the back and falls down on the job. Literally. Julian Peterson also makes it clear why he is no longer on the team.
Week 11 Against the Cowboys – Dez Bryant Burns Detroit's Secondary
I believe that it should be recognized here that this is the first time, the right side (strong side) cornerback, Houston, is shown getting burned by a player in the endzone and the regular season is winding down.
In the previous footage provided in this article most teams threw with success against the weak side. I am just making a point here that Houston's presence and coverage skills may have had some influence on the play calls by opposing quarterbacks.
However, on this particular day, Houston got burned by Dez Bryant early in the game.
Brian McCann also schools our special teams and runs the ball back 97 yards for a touchdown. McCann's touchdown puts the Cowboys up 14-12. The game is still early and the Lions can still make a comeback.
Unfortunately, in the third quarter, Detroit's fullback, Jerome Felton, coughs up a fumble which is recovered by the Cowboys. This sets up another secondary nightmare where both Houston and safety, Amari Spievey, get torched by Miles Austin. This puts the Cowboys up 21-12.
Then there is a bright spot in the game when Detroit backup quarterback, Shaun Hill, hits Nate Burleson for major yardage then on 2nd and 12, Hill throws to Calvin Johnson for a touchdown. The Lions are now only down by two points again.
The next play on the video shows Marion Barber bouncing off first and second line defenders for a significant gain. The players I could see him not getting tackled by were a rare botched tackle by Vanden Bosch and then completely absent tackles by cornerback Smith and, backup nickel cornerback, Brandon McDonald.
Be prepared for the next part where someone edited the horse collar call against Suh in an attempt to show Lions fans that the call was correct. I still don't buy it. Suh brought Barber down by his hair before wrapping him up.
Unfortunately the call stands and the next play Miles Austin blows our secondary away, again. This puts the score at 28-19.
The last Cowboys score was just downright embarrassing. Jon Kitna runs the naked bootleg and gets into the endzone? I could have gone a lifetime without having to see that.
In the final analysis though, this game exposed the weakness of our cornerback position better than any other game of the season.
Yes, we could have scored more on offense, but, again, this game was within the reach of the Detroit Lions if they could have contained the Cowboys receivers.
Week 12 – Thanksgiving Game Against the New England Patriots
Seriously, this is getting a little depressing for me. It's a good thing I know how the season ended.
This is another game that the Detroit Lions could have and should have won. They were in this game completely until they fell apart in the fourth quarter.
BenJarvus Green–Ellis of the New England Patriots looked like a bull in a china shop against our first and second line defense. But, the Lions were still up 14-10 at the half.
In the third quarter, our secondary, this time consisting of Smith and safety Louis Delmas, was not able to stop Wes Welker, who basically caught the ball and just fell into the end zone.
The Lions made a comeback after a great catch by tight end Brandon Pettigrew set up a running touchdown play made by running back Maurice Morris. This put the Lions at 24-17.
Then, as the announcer's point out, Smith "had a very long day", when he failed to stop Deion Branch from "taking it to the house." This only foreshadowed the next touchdown when Tom Brady found Deion Branch wide open again in the fourth quarter and Smith was nowhere to be seen.
Wes Welker broke through the Lions' seemingly nonexistent secondary again for another touchdown, this time against Houston.
Shaun Hill gets picked off by Devin McCourty for a second time which sets up the final score of the game made by Green-Ellis. The Patriots win 45-24.
The only reason I did not pick this game as the one that exposed the secondary the most is because this loss was not just the fault of the secondary. Yes, Smith had a breakdown but so did our offense and front defensive line.
I swear I am only writing this to help myself — if no one else — see where the Lions have to improve to get to the next level. This is very painful. At least it's almost over.
Two interceptions by New England were definitely key to the Lions' loss but it was Smith who allowed at least two touchdowns.
Chicago Bears vs. Detroit Lions Week 13
Okay, I love the "Dougie" dance by Drew Stanton. I also love the run by Best and the catch by Johnson. The Lions offense was terrific and Suh was completely robbed when he was penalized for a clean hit on Cutler. These are the highlights I love to watch.
The ones I don't love to watch are the ones where it takes 5 Lions just to bring Earl Bennett down and when Peppers breaks the line and gets to the QB. Luckily, Stanton knows how to fall.
Matt Forte' burned the secondary on the weak side (Smith) for an easy touchdown to bring the score to 14-10 in the favor of the Bears.
Then Best has a great run which sets up a Stanton to Johnson touchdown and brings the Lions back into the game.
Unfortunately in the fourth quarter, Stanton can't connect with Nate Burleson to keep the drive alive for a possible score and then the bogus (in my humble opinion) call against Ndamukong Suh when he shoved Cutler to the ground.
The last play of the game is a killer too when the entire secondary, on the strong side (Chris Houston), is not able to contain tight end, Brandon Manumaleuna and the Bears go on to beat the Lions.
Did the secondary lose the game for the Lions in this case? No, not on their own. Again the offense had their own struggles and needed to put more points on the board.
However, the Lions have to be able to stop the long passes, or at the very least, tackle receivers they were not able to get in front of. If they had been able get in front of Forte' and Manumaleuna, they would have had a different outcome to the game.
I understand that the secondary can't possibly stop every single receiver from making a play. I also understand that life will be different when we don't have to shuffle three different quarterbacks. I just don't want these to be excuses for a team who was better than their record showed.
If for no other reason, in the last four games of the season, the Detroit Lions, as a team, showed us they didn't have to be.