Detroit Lions Defense: 1st Half Report Card
With the closing of Week 8, the Lions once again are moving up in the NFL Power Rankings.
They have a top 10 defense and are scaring opponents week in and week out. You couldn't tell by looking at Ndamukong Suh, though, as he is all smiles along with the rest of the Lions, sitting at 6-2 and eying the playoffs.
Here is a report card for the Detroit defense with the first half of the season in the books.
Defensive Line: A-
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As expected, the Lions defensive line has been outstanding this year.
Tied for third in the league with 24 sacks, opposing quarterbacks are hardly getting enough time to think in the pocket, helping the pass defense tremendously.
Ndamukong Suh has been quiet this year statistically, but he is plugging up holes for the linebackers, and he's letting his teammates get the spotlight.
Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch each have five sacks and three forced fumbles, with Avril going for the trifecta and returning one for a touchdown against the Denver Broncos.
Lawrence Jackson has been a nice surprise with 3.5 sacks, and Suh is right behind him with three of his own.
The only reason I give this group an A- instead of a solid A is the fact they are getting gashed on the ground.
Suh, Corey Williams and company are not plugging the holes enough, and running backs are having field days. This is not completely their fault, though, so an A- is appropriate.
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The linebacking crew has had some great games and some not-so-great games.
In my opinion, about 65 percent of the rush defense lies on the shoulders of the linebackers, and they are not succeeding in this aspect of the game.
Giving up a ridiculous 5.2 yards a carry—good for third-worst in the league—running backs are having their way with the Lions, and it is not pretty. They also rank the third-worst in yards per game, giving up 137.6 on the ground and with nine 20-plus yard plays given up.
Taking that into consideration, DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch are actually having great statistical seasons.
Levy is leading the crew with 63 tackles and Tulloch has 52 to go with his three sacks. Bobby Carpenter and Justin Durant have also been nice surprises, playing well when given the chance.
The one nice stat the Lions rush defense has is that they have been great in the red zone. Detroit has allowed only three touchdowns on the ground, good for third-best in the league. Teams can drive down the field, only to be forced to pass once they get close, playing right into the Lions' strength.
Overall, the rush defense for the Detroit Lions needs to improve fast, and it all has to start with this group. If the Lions want to keep winning—especially in the colder months—they can't keep getting gashed on the ground.
With already three 100-yard games in the books for opposing running backs, they need to start locking down and preventing the big plays they have been giving up.
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Once again, a big portion of the running game relies heavily on the safeties, and they haven't done well here.
Louis Delmas is a very aggressive player who sometimes overruns and misses tackles.
He does have a solid 42 on the year, though, so all is not lost with him.
Amare Spivey has been a great surprise, already collecting three interceptions, most of which were drive-killers and momentum-shifters. The second-year project has worked out well for the Lions after he shifted over to safety after playing corner in college.
Chris Harris was just signed after getting released from the Chicago Bears and should start getting some more playing time after the bye (starting with the game against his old team in Week 10) with the injury to Erik Coleman that landed him on the IR.
Overall, this group has played well at times but needs to help in the run game a little more, as they are one of the reasons they have given up nine 20-plus rushes already this season.
It seems like the Lions are going for a bend-not-break strategy, keeping their safeties back in pass-coverage longer until they need to tighten up in the red zone.
Like I said, though, the pass defense is one of the Lions' strengths, so if this is the strategy they want to use, it will be interesting to see if it will continue to work.
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Chris Houston and Eric Wright have been outstanding through the first eight weeks of the season.
These two corners have led the Lions to the sixth-best passing defense in the league, allowing only 193 yards a game.
They also have led this defensive group to 11 interceptions, good for third in the league, and are holding QBs to an astounding 72.3 QB rating, good for fourth in the league.
Leading the team, Houston has a stellar four interceptions and Wright has two. Houston and Wright are also fourth and fifth on the team in tackles, with 41 and 36 respectively.
Chris Houston has a ridiculous 14 passes defended, which is good for second in the league, one behind Brandon Flowers and tied with Darrelle Revis. Pretty good company to be in.
After his 100-yard interception for a touchdown (his second of the season), it looks like Houston will be on his way to his first Pro Bowl this year.
Overall, this group has been great and should continue to be a strength for the rest of the season. It is easy to give them an A+, as it is well deserved.
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Overall, Gunter Cunningham's group has been great.
The Lions are 6-2, and a main reason for that is this defense.
Three out of the eight games played, the Lions have held their opponent to one touchdown or less, aiding Matthew Stafford and company to three easy wins.
This defense should have multiple Pro Bowlers as Chris Houston, Cliff Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Ndamukong Suh, DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch all have realistic shots at getting voted in.
The Lions rush defense needs to improve greatly if they want to be respected, and with that set of names above, Cunningham is sure to lock down on the ground for the second half of the year.
Sixth in points allowed per game at 18.4, 12th in yards per game allowed at 331, third in sacks with 24, third in interceptions with 11 and fourth in QB rating against at 72.3, this group has played well above expectations.
In conclusion, a B+ is my grade, as they are clearly a top 10 defense through the first half of the season. If they can continue this play, look for the Lions to get into the playoffs for the first time since 1999.