The Detroit Lions’ secondary has been targeted as one of the team’s weakest spots since the season ended. That assessment is certainly fair but the degree to which it is true isn’t in line with what the lasting memories of last season suggest. Yes, the Matt Flynn-led Packers had their way through the air and the Lions couldn’t stop Drew Brees and the Saints in the playoffs but those two games don’t tell the whole story.
Mlive’s Justin Rogers includes some hard numbers that fly in the face of the prevailing thoughts about the Lions’ secondary:
While Detroit’s defense finished 22nd in passing yards allowed per game, they were seventh in yards per reception (6.8) and 12th in opposing quarterback passer rating (82.1). The Lions also finished fifth in the NFL with 21 interceptions.
Those aren’t the rankings of a dominant unit, but they also aren’t the rankings of an incompetent unit either. On the whole, the Lions secondary took a step forward in 2011.
We’re so quick to point out what happened in the last two games that we forget what happened in the game that immediately preceded them. The Lions turned in a masterful performance, secondary included, against the San Diego Chargers to clinch their first playoff berth since 1999. That is what is so maddening about the Lions secondary. It isn’t that they’re bad; it’s that they are capable of being both very good and very bad and proved it in 2011.
On the surface it may appear that the Lions have not made many changes in an effort to improve the secondary with Chris Houston and Aaron Berry the early favorites to start at cornerback. In truth, the Lions are poised for an intense battle for not only playing time, but roster spots – that kind of competition has the tendency to bring out the best in each player. Jacob Lacey, Alphonso Smith and Don Carey have experience but will be pushed by rookies Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green. The challenge is simple: rise to the occasion or look for a job elsewhere. There is no place for mental lapses or poor performance because there will be someone else pushing for a job.
With public perception setting expectations so low for the Detroit Lions secondary, they could be a major surprise in 2012. More consistent play from the back end of the defense is all the Lions may need to take another step forward.