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Why Can’t an Improved D-Line Improve the Whole Defense?

As expected, there is a lot of buzz surrounding the Lions revamped defensive line after two strong performances in the preseason.  The line has generated pressure against the pass and gotten penetration against the run.  On the flip side, it was against two of the worst offensive lines in the league, but they were still very impressive performances.  Despite the positive reviews, there are doubters that don’t believe the defensive line improvement will translate into a better defensive unit as a whole.  I ask why can’t an improved defensive line improve the whole defense?

The Vikings are almost universally agreed upon to have the best defensive line in the league.  They also had a very highly rated defensive unit last year as well.  Their linebacking corps consisted of Chad Greenway (who got two of his three INTs against Stafford,) Ben Leber and EJ Henderson all of whom are Pro Bowlers…wait they’re not?  They’re merely average to slightly above average?

Ok, well the Vikings trotted out a Hall of Fame caliber secondary featuring CB Cedric Griffin, CB Antoine Winfield (for 9 starts,) CB Benny Sapp (for 7 starts,) SS Tyrell Johnson and FS Madieu Williams.  What’s that?  Also a group of average to above average players?  Winfield is a Pro Bowler, but he was hampered by injuries last year and wasn’t nearly as effective as he was when healthy.

So how could the Vikings have the 6th ranked defense with a collection of average players in the back seven?  They had a dominant defensive line.

The 2007 New York Giants defeated the most dominant offense in recent memory in the Super Bowl with LB Kawika Mitchell, LB Antonio Pierce, LB Reggie Torbor, CB Sam Madison, CB Aaron Ross, SS Gibril Wilson and FS James Butler in the back seven.  Their line featured DE Michael Strahan, DE/DT Justin Tuck, DE/LB Mathias Kiwanuka, DE Osi Umenyiora, DT Fred Robbins and DT Barry Cofield.  The best offense in the league crumbled under an unrelenting pass rush from the best defensive line in the league, even with an average secondary.

For my last example I present the 2009 New Orleans Saints.  The Saints were starting street free agents at defensive back for part of the season due to injuries last season.  Their linebacking corps is Johnathan Vilma and a group of non-household name players.  The defense played well because they generated pressure through the pass rush and forced turnovers, masking their weaknesses in the secondary.

I want to be clear on one point, I’m not saying the Lions will have the 6thranked defense or win a Super Bowl with the defensive unit they will put on the field in 2010.  I am saying that there is a proven track record of strong defensive performances without premier talent in the linebacking corps and secondary.  The Lions obviously don’t have premier talent in the secondary, they may not even have average talent in the secondary, but they are improved over last year.  The Lions had one of the better linebacking corps in the league last year, how much did that help?

The key for the Lions’ defense lies in their performance against the run because believe it or not, the Lions’ defense was pretty solid on third and long situations last season.  They just couldn’t stop the run consistently enough to force teams into obvious passing downs. 

Flip the scenario to the 2009 Lions’ offense.  Jim Schwartz attributed the offensive struggles and Matthew Stafford’s high interception totals to facing so many third and long situations.  The offense is at a clear disadvantage when the defense knows they have to pass.

The NFL may be a passing league, but the key to a successful offense is still having the ability to limit obvious passing downs and third and long situations by running the ball.  The Saints have been near the top of the league in passing for years, but they kept missing the playoffs.  The Saints had a stronger running game last season and they beat the Colts in the Super Bowl.  Coincidentally, the Colts struggled to run the ball which allowed the Saints to keep Peyton Manning in obvious passing situations.

The Lions haven’t proven anything yet, but there are signs that they could field one of the better defensive lines in the league.  There could be vast improvement in the defense if they excel at stuffing the run and keeping opposing offenses in obvious passing situations.  It’s not unrealistic to think they could field a middle of the pack defense if they stay healthy.  It’s also a distinct possibility that they could struggle mightily against the run and finish last in defense for a third straight year.  To say the Lions will struggle on defense because they don’t have a strong back seven is inaccurate.    The key to a strong defense is controlling the run and generating pressure on the quarterback.  The 2010 Lions defensive line is built for both of those purposes.


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One Response to “Why Can’t an Improved D-Line Improve the Whole Defense?”

  1. Kim Kardashian says:

    Even if the Lions defense can’t pull it together this year they will look smokin hot in their new uniforms! Anything is better than the Saints black & gold.

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