Only The Defensive Line Can Save Detroit Lions’ Season


I’ve never been a believer or supporter of calling a game a “must-win,” especially when it is so early in the season. In my opinion, there’s really no such thing unless the outcome of the game plays a definite role in playoff qualification or progression. The Detroit Lions’ road game at Philadelphia rises pretty high on the Meter of Necessity, however.

Oct 7, 2012; Pittsburgh , PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons (94) recovers a fumble as Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (7) looks on during the first half of the game at Heinz Field. The recovered fumble was overturned as Vick was ruled down by contact. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-US PRESSWIRE

We’ve seen where the Eagles are weak: possession of the ball. In five games, they’ve lost eight fumbles (Michael Vick accounts for five of those) and thrown six interceptions, with a -7 total turnover ratio.  To the suprise of anyone who follows common trends of how to win the NFL, the Eagles have managed to win three of those games.

It’s pretty clear the kind of football that Vick plays: multi-dimensional with elite speed and a decent enough arm. In order for him to be effective, or, what HE thinks is effective, he works to scramble, get out of the pocket and throw on the run. He doesn’t often slide. He turns to run before he turns his head. He keeps a loose grip on the ball.

So, while the Eagles have had moderate success with so many turnovers, the Lions stand the best chance of winning by getting to Vick early in the game.

That begins with the defensive line, a group of guys that need to be on point for this game, lead the defense and earn their salaries.

2010 began the era of the Lions’ high-profile defensive line. First it was the signing of Kyle Vanden Bosch. It was an exciting time bringing in a proven veteran knowing that he’d be right at home playing for Jim Schwartz, his defensive coordinator in Tennessee. Combine KVB with the newly-acquired-via-trade defensive tackle Corey Williams, and the Lions had a solid core of veterans heading up the front line.

Then came the NFL draft where the Lions were all but settled on taking a defensive tackle. Would it be Gerald McCoy, the All-American Sooner, or Ndamukong Suh, winner of the Bednarik and Lombardi awards and Heisman candidate out of Nebraska? They went with the latter, and supported by his Rookie of the Year campaign, it appeared to be the correct choice.

Apr 28, 2011; New York, NY, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell introduces defensive tackle Nick Fairley (Auburn) as the number thirteen overall pick to the Detroit Lions in the 2011 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

In 2011, it seemed improbable that the tackle out of Auburn would drop into the Lions’ lap at 13th overall after at one point being projected to be selected first. That’s exactly what happened, and fans in Detroit rejoiced, knowing that with the raw talent of Nick Fairley, they had all the pieces to be the most tenacious defensive line in the league.

Then it was the emergence of Cliff Avril, who based on his numbers in 2011 (11 sacks and 6 forced fumbles), earned himself a nice long-term contract. Seemingly knowing something that the rest of us did not, the front office in Detroit wouldn’t shell out “Jared Allen” type money. It was all the commotion with several people (myself including) demanding they “pay the man.” Eventually, the crisis was temporarily averted with the franchise tag; fans knew that Cliffy would have at least one more year in the D.

Lastly came the semblance of  depth when guys like Sammie Hill, Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson were making role-player type plays. The local media was quick to crown these guys as the next big thing- guys that would start for almost any other team and that would put pressure on the Lions starters to play up to their potential.

This year, those eight guys (Vanden Bosch, Suh, Williams, Fairley, Avril, Hill, Young and Jackson) are guaranteed $20.5 million. It’s not a ton of cash considering Avril’s franchise tag accounts for half of that, but let’s remember, there were many contracts restructured this last off-season, so next year’s hit is going to hurt. Suh and Vanden Bosch are slated to earn over $16 million just by themselves in 2013.

Anyway, the hype was all very exciting, and to some extent, it still is. The Lions have at their disposal a platoon of guys

Aug 10, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Cleveland Browns offensive line lines up against Detroit Lions defensive line during the second half of a preseason game at Ford Field. Cleveland defeated Detroit 19-17. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-US PRESSWIRE

that are more than capable of being a part of the most dominant defensive line in the entire National Football League.

In 2012, that hasn’t happened. Not even close. But all that can change in one game, and if the Lions want a signature win to help turn around this disappointing season, Sunday against Philly is it. A win, and the momentum swings tremendously.

This Sunday, the job of the front four is simple: push that Eagle offensive line further and further into the backfield each play. Get your hands up on passes. Pursue the flats and clog the middle on running plays. Make the secondary’s jobs so easy that they can watch from the sidelines.

And most importantly: make Michael Vick cough the ball up so often he’ll need to leave Lincoln Financial Field and pick up a prescription.