Grading the Detroit Lions Defense

Wednesday, I assigned grades to the Lions offensive positions groups. Today, the defense will go under the microscope. Feel free to leave a comment to voice your opinion on a grade you think is too stiff or too lenient or provide your own grades for the various position groups.

Defensive Line: Everyone knew the strength of the Detroit defense would be the defensive line and they would have to play well to give the Lions a chance to win. So far they have lived up to, and in some cases exceeded, the high expectations.

Kyle Vanden Bosch has been a valuable addition on and off the field. His relentless style of play has yielded results while his tireless work ethic is obviously making a big impression on the younger guys along the defensive line. Cliff Avril is one of the young Lions that has stepped up his game so far this year. It hasn’t translated into sacks for him but he is consistently causing opposing quarterbacks to have to move around in the pocket, usually into the arms of rookie tackle Ndamukong Suh. Suh has also shown a knack for batting balls out of the air when he can’t get all the way to the quarterback. Fellow tackle Corey Williams has been a beast inside and Sammie Hill has been active and effective as the third man of the defensive tackle rotation.

If you’re looking for a sign that the Lions are on their way to turning things around look no further than the defensive line. This group’s combination of talent and depth will serve as the team’s model for other position groups going forward. The only complaint I can make about this group is their propensity to commit penalties. Williams and Vanden Bosch have been burned trying to jump snap counts and we’ve seen too many flags for roughing the passer. Most of these penalties have come as a result of an over-aggressive style. I like seeing an aggressive defense but it has to be contained to a level where it is helping, not hurting. Grade: A-

Linebackers: Injuries have decimated the group of Lions linebackers but that doesn’t excuse the fact that the guys on the field haven’t gotten the job done. Julian Peterson is no longer the impact player he once was despite a physique as intimidating as ever. Whether it be the drop-back style of play or age catching up with him, it appears that his bark is worse than his bite as evident in missed tackles and his week two benching.

Perhaps I am being too harsh on Peterson but that is what happens when you’re the biggest name of the group. Middle linebacker has been a game of musical chairs and Zack Follett wasn’t playing particularly well before his injury. Getting some healthy bodies back will help raise the linebackers’ grade some but more than anything they need someone to just step up and play well consistently. Grade: D

Secondary: If I had to pick one area to label my pleasant surprise of the first six weeks I would pick the secondary. Granted, they have had their problems but my expectations were so low coming into the season that even a mediocre performance out of this group is a welcomed sight.

No one will mistake Alphonso Smith and Chris Houston as Pro Bowl cornerbacks but they have at least solidified the position for the Lions and have shown some big play ability. Louis Delmas appears to be getting healthier and returning to the form we saw out of him as a rookie.

The other safety spot and the depth at cornerback remains a concern but the Lions knew they could not address all their concerns in one offseason. The good news is that it now looks like their starting point in rebuilding the secondary isn’t quite as bad as we might have thought. Grade: C+

Note: All photos courtesy of

Tags: Alphonso Smith Chris Houston Cliff Avril Corey Williams DeAndre Levy Defense Detroit Lions Julian Peterson Kyle Vanden Bosch Louis Delmas Ndamukong Suh Zack Follett

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