Many expected the offense to carry this team, but in reality the defensive unit has been the strength, holding the Lions close enough while the offense finds its rhythm. In each game this season, one level of the defense has stepped up to compensate for another. It is this type of teamwork that has led to an undefeated record through four games.
Defensive Line: B
The defensive front four clearly is the identity of this team. The attitude, aggressiveness, and swagger are contagious, and they are credited with infecting the rest of the defense. Corey Williams has been stellar in absorbing blocks, and stopping the run. Ndamukong Suh, fresh off of a pro bowl, and defensive rookie of the year honors, has been largely unnoticed thus far. Granted, Suh is garnering a lot of attention from offensive linemen, and offensive coordinators are scheming against him. Still, a player as dominant as Suh should be more of a disruption in both the run and pass game than he has been throughout the first four games. The same can be said for Cliff Avril, who was almost unblockable near the end of last season. This defensive line has yet to reach their potential, and the Lions will need the pass rush that the Patriots witnessed in the preseason if they hope to continue their success.
This unit has been steady throughout the first four games. As a group they are significantly improved in pass coverage, but there is much work to do in the run game. Stephen Tulloch is the exception here, as the aptly nicknamed “Napoleon’s Revenge” has been the best defensive player on the field each and every game. Tulloch walked out of Texas Stadium with 12 tackles, and an interception that led to the game winning score. DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant have been good, but not great. Both players tend to over-pursue runners, and have been caught out of position too often. The depth of this unit has improved with the emergence of Bobby Carpenter, who played well in a starting role Sunday against the Cowboys.
The Lion secondary has been stingy so far this season, allowing 221 yards through the air per game, which is good enough for 12th in the NFL. The pass defense has been porous at times, but comes together at the crucial moment. In Dallas, Tony Romo dissected the secondary in the first half, and was barely able to complete a pass in the second. The most significant improvement is in run support, as the corners Eric Wright and Chris Houston have been aggressive, and safety Louis Delmas has become a more efficient tackler. This aggressiveness in run support has left the secondary susceptible to play action passes, and teams have taken advantage of this. This group has held up better than many expected so far, especially considering the defensive line’s inability to generate a pass rush.
The Lions’ defensive unit graded out higher than expected because they have played better than many expected. The defensive line was the focus of everything Lion related in the offseason, and surprisingly they have been the largest disappointment of this team. The linebackers and secondary have exceeded expectations, and helped to compensate while the front four find their footing. It remains to be seen if the secondary can continue to survive without a significant pass rush, but hopefully we will never find out.
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