Nov 18, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham during the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field. Packers beat the Lions 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
The numbers just aren’t there for Cunningham’s defense. Despite the best efforts of Ndamukong Suh, the pass rush isn’t getting home often enough, the secondary is getting picked on, and the Lions are a bottom-half defense in passing, rushing, total yardage and scoring.
Even their ability to force turnovers has dried up in recent weeks, and that was a staple of their effectiveness.
That said, the Lions have remained successful because of success in situational defense. The Lions have been very good in the red zone, and excellent on third downs. In fact, the Lions have been one of the top two teams in third down defense since the season began. They’re allowing only about 29 percent of potential third-down conversions, which is a big reason why the Lions have yielded 21 field goals this season, the most in the league.
The Lions have a difficult time limiting yardage, and they seem susceptible to a big play or two every single week. But they have also tightened up at some key moments this year, like they did forcing a pair of quick three-and-outs late in the game against Dallas to set up the comeback drive.
My biggest criticism of Cunningham is that he doesn’t appear very creative in his pass rush packages. He has a very talented defensive line to work with, so it seems like he just brute-forces them against the offense, rushing four on every play and assuming one of them will get there. That’s understandable with a unit this talented, but maybe some clever scheming would also help.