How good is the Lions' defense?

Posted Oct 14, 2011

Do Detroit's statistics tell the full story of how good the defense really is?

The Lions will face one of the NFL's top rushers this weekend in Frank Gore.

Gore, who has notched back-to-back 100-plus-yard rushing performances the past two weeks, is the fuel behind San Francisco's offense.

Detroit will key in on stopping the run, hoping to make the 49ers one-dimensional against the third-best pass defense in the NFC.

Yes, that's right. Detroit - a team that became synonomous with the concept of needing help in the secondary - currently ranks third in the NFC and 12th in the NFL in pass defense.

"Of course we expected to be this good," said defensive tackle Corey Williams. "We can be as good as we want to be. If we keep working hard, there is no telling how good we can be.

"We haven't played a full game yet. When we put together four (complete) quarters, we can be dang good."

To be fair to the players who have been catalysts, there have been key defensive additions that have led to the Lions success thus far.

Looking at the secondary, Detroit was able to re-sign cornerback Chris Houston, who is currently leading the Lions with three interceptions in five games, and sign cornerback Eric Wright, whose pure athleticism is making a notable difference.

"They have a lot of confidence in each other and within themselves," said safety Louis Delmas. "They also have chemistry and years of playing ball. They are very smart and they know the game."

The front four and the secondary are the obvious groups to impact a team's pass defense.

Detroit has arguably one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL right now and their ability to force the ball out fast is helping the secondary on the back end.

But the Lions' additions at linebacker - the signings of Stephen Tulloch and Justin Durant and the re-signing of Bobby Carpenter - shouldn't be ignored as making a big difference in Detroit's pass defense.

"We have been in our drops, getting good depth to elevate some of those balls and reroute receivers underneath," said linebacker DeAndre Levy. "I think it all plays into what we do well as a defense."

All of the Lions' linebackers are multi-dimensional. Both Tulloch and Carpenter had key interceptions at Dallas, which led to Detroit's come-from-behind win.

Beyond what meets the eye, at 5-11 and 240 pounds, Tulloch is actually a solid defender against the pass.

"He's a quick guy and he anticipates things real well," said Levy. "When he sees something, he doesn't hesitate pulling the trigger and getting where he needs to be.

"He takes some risks sometimes, but it's always calculated. He's a smart guy and that really helps us."

When it comes to the Lions' run defense, the numbers don't look as good.

Detroit is ninth in the NFC and 18th in the NFL in run defense, having allowed 132, 113 and 122 total yards rushing the last three games.

But looking at yards alone doesn't paint the entire picture.

"We always say yards don't win games, points do," said Levy. "They rank defenses by yards, but if a team has 400 or 500 yards but three points, that's a win for the defense."

That doesn't mean the Lions are pleased with giving up 100-plus yards a game.

"Forte got over 100 yards on us and we were upset about that," said Williams. "That's not like us to let a back get 100 yards and he did. There are some things that can be fixed.

"We are going to get back out there this week and fix those because we've got another great running back in Frank Gore coming off a big game."

Forte is actually the only player to rush for at least 100 yards against the Lions this season. Even Minnesota's Adrian Peterson was held to 78 yards against Detroit.

"All three of those players (Peterson, Forte and Gore) are great running backs and if they keep doing what they are doing, one day they will be wearing a Hall of Fame jacket," said Delmas. "Therefore, my approach is always balls to the wall.

"This week we have to go out there and play as hard as we can to try and get those guys on the ground because Frank Gore is small but he’s very bulky, he’s very fast and very physical. If you try to arm tackle, you won’t get him to the ground. This week is very similar to the last two weeks. We've just got to go in there and try to get him to the ground."