Will Detroit's Defensive Pressure Translate to the Regular Season?

Posted Aug 26, 2010

The Lions’ defensive front has looked strong over the first two games.
In the form of sacks, quarterback hurries and incomplete passes, the first-team defense has been efficient with Cliff Avril, Corey Williams, Ndamukong Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch as the starting front four.
“The starting defensive linemen, Sammie Hill and Turk McBride have really been impressive to me,” said Defensive Coordinator Gunther Cunningham.
Cunningham describes the three series the starting defense played at Denver by saying, “we cold-cocked them.”
He then cites vividly a play against the Broncos where Suh took on a double team by “manhandling the guard and throwing the tackle off him.”
The preseason is all about talent versus talent – scheme isn’t the focus – and the Lions’ defensive line has shown they have talent.
But what happens when scheme is thrown into the mix?
Does Cunningham have a fear that opponents will game plan around the defensive line?
When asked that question, he laughed and said, “Well, if they do, we’ll blitz Zack Follett – he’s like a defensive lineman, so that’ll be five. Levy’s fast and Julian’s gone to the Pro Bowl, so I figure if they do that, we’ll bring the heat if we have to.”
Cunningham is known for his tendency to blitz.
While the hope is that the Lions’ line can be developed to the point of effectively rushing only the front four every play, blitzing may be an answer if opponents start to max protect.
One concern for Cunningham on the back end has been injuries. Louis Delmas has been up and down throughout training camp with a groin injury and Jonathan Wade suffered a broken finger.
Cunningham says he also misses rookie Aaron Berry, who Detroit signed as an undrafted rookie free agent.
“Those three guys going down and not practicing has been tough because we need to have those guys out there together and we haven’t had the opportunity to do that,” he said. “I feel like we’re stalemated.
“The good thing about the secondary, I think, is that Randy Phillips has stepped in and helped us and C.C. Brown has had a really good camp. Chris Houston’s been up and down and needs to come out of that down period because he’s shown what he can do. Every once in awhile he falls back into a rut.
“But, overall, if we get those guys back then we’ll have a chance.”
Looking individually from player to player, the defense has been impressive at times. As a unit, however, it has yet to gel.
The bright side includes players like Zack Follett and DeAndre Levy stepping effectively into their roles. Even veteran Julian Peterson, who is in his 10th year in the league, is feeling more comfortable in the defensive scheme.
“He had a tough OTA,” said Cunningham. “Then at the end he came on and has had a pretty good camp. Last week he played about 20 plays – the best 20 I’ve seen out of him since he’s been here.”
Cunningham is hoping the defense continues to improve throughout the season, but he also knows the process requires patience.
“I’m excited because the organization has revamped the roster, and not only on our side,” he said. “All in all, the offseason – the way the staff and everybody in the front office approached it – we’re well on our way to having a fine football team here. It’s just a matter of time and getting a few more players.”