The Detroit Lions Then and Now: Defensive Line

Then and Now is a SideLion Report mini-series in which we look at each position group from the 0-16 season of 2008 and compare it to the current roster.

The defensive line was supposed to be the Lions best asset under head coach Rod Marinelli. As a former defensive line coach (the highest position he ever held prior to becoming a head coach in Detroit), Marinelli liked to spend extra time with the defensive line to do some of the position coaching himself. Perhaps his divided attention was his downfall, although he seemed like a man in over his head anyway. Whether doomed to fail or not, his defensive line play didn’t match the hype. Here are the defensive tackle and defensive end stats from the 2008 season:

Def Int Fumbles Tackles
No. G Sk Int Yds FF FR TD Tkl Ast
99 Dewayne White 12 6.5 1 -4 3 1 0 28 10
78 Cory Redding 13 3.0 31 7
75 Shaun Cody 16 0 0 25 11
91 Chartric Darby 15 1.5 0 1 0 23 9
95 Jared DeVries 10 2.0 0 0 0 1 0 21 8
93 Corey Smith 12 3.0 1 0 1 1 0 19 5
92 Cliff Avril 15 5.0 4 1 0 17 5
97 Ikaika Alama-Francis 13 1.0 0 0 0 1 0 10 9
79 Langston Moore 9 1.0 9 3
96 Andre Fluellen 8 0 0 3 4
98 Landon Cohen 6 2 2
Team Total 16 28.0 4 16 22 33 1 714 299
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/13/2011.

Lions fans are probably sick of hearing of the Tampa 2, particularly as it relates to its time in Detroit, but it bears reminding that Marinelli needed solid play from his defensive line to have any sort of success on defense. He didn’t get it and it led to two of the worst defenses in NFL history. Exit Marinelli (and Millen), Enter Jim Schwartz (and Mayhew).

While Schwartz discontinued the formal implementation of the Tampa 2 defense, there are certainly some similar philosophies in what Schwartz is doing and what Marinelli tried to do. Schwartz, along with defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, believes in a strong defensive front that bears the responsibility for generating a pass rush. The Lions are somewhat more willing to blitz a linebacker now than they were under Marinelli but the core of their rush will always come from their front four. It doesn’t take a stat sheet to know that Schwartz’s 2010 defensive line vastly outperformed Marinelli’s 2008 defensive line but here it is anyway:

Def Int Fumbles Tackles
No. G Sk Int Yds FF FR TD Tkl Ast
90 Ndamukong Suh*+ 16 10.0 1 20 1 1 1 48 17
93 Kyle Vanden Bosch 11 4.0 0 0 2 0 0 34 15
99 Corey Williams 16 2.0 1 27 1 0 0 32 5
92 Cliff Avril 13 8.5 0 0 1 1 0 23 10
94 Lawrence Jackson 11 6.0 0 0 1 1 0 21 13
75 Turk McBride 15 5.0 3 1 0 16 17
91 Sammie Lee Hill 15 2.5 0 1 0 16 6
96 Andre Fluellen 16 1.0 8 2
Team Total 16 43.0 14 194 21 25 1 691 272
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/13/2011.


So how has Jim Schwartz found success where Marinelli ultimately failed? I have a couple observations.

1. More Talent
Landing Ndamukong Suh didn’t take a quality scouting department or a savvy general manager. All it took was someone willing to do the obvious. That being said, the Lions defensive line roster was much more impressive in 2010 than in 2008 and management does deserve credit on the whole. Kyle Vanden Bosch brought credibility and leadership because he believes in Jim Schwartz. Marinelli brought in Chuck Darby. Mayhew found value in Sammie Hill with a fourth round draft. Millen reached for Ikaika Alama-Francis in the second round. Is there a player on the 2008 defensive line roster that Lions fans would take over someone on the 2010 roster? I’m not sure there is.

2. More Knowledge
I don’t mean to denigrate the coaching career of Rod Marinelli but it shouldn’t be forgotten that never held a defensive coordinator job in the NFL. Jim Schwartz, on the other hand, brought a defensive line focus with big picture experience. Marinelli’s system was rigid and his beliefs were stubborn and lacked creativity. Schwartz and Cunningham have the ability to adapt and draw up alignments that opposing offenses don’t expect. Do you think Marinelli would have stood Ndamukong Suh up in the middle linebacker’s spot? I don’t and that’s the point.

Better players, better coaches, better future.

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Topics: Cliff Avril, Corey Williams, Defensive Line, Detroit Lions, Ndamukong Suh

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