Coordinator Cut-Up: With explosive offensive teams on the horizon, can the Lions defense hold up

Posted Nov 6, 2012

The Lions have played well on defense through eight games, but the elite offenses in the NFL are still on the docket (i.e. Packers (twice), Texans, Colts and Falcons).

The Week 9 statistics are in the books and the Lions moved up two spots in the defensive rankings to No. 7 after Sunday's performance in Jacksonville.

The Lions held the Jaguars to under 300 total yards, which is the fourth time they've done that to an opponent this season. The Jaguars had just 57 yards in the first half and all of their points - and most of their 279 total yards - came in the fourth quarter when the Lions were playing prevent.

The Lions have played well on defense through eight games, but the elite offenses in the NFL are still on the docket (i.e. Packers (twice), Texans, Colts and Falcons). It's been a testament, though, to the Lions' depth what they've been able to accomplish early this season on defense with all the injuries.

Amazingly, through eight games, the Lions haven't fielded the same combination of players in their secondary in any two games. Over that same span, backup players have combined for 20 starts on defense.

In the last two weeks - both Lions victories - the defense has gotten good contributions from backup safeties Ricardo Silva and Erik Coleman, cornerback Jonte Green and linebacker Ashlee Palmer.

"Our backups are developing because of the situation," Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said. "Other teams have their starters and the backups don't get a chance to develop. We're lucky that we can win and develop them at the same time. That's hard to do. We've been fortunate. They're smart. And that's the key to the whole thing in this day and age."

Silva and Coleman have each recorded interceptions the last two weeks in place of starters Louis Delmas (knee) and Amari Spievey (concussion). Coleman had two last week at Jacksonville, but one was wiped away by a hands to the face penalty on Willie Young.

Rookie Jonte Green has been forced into starting duty at times this season and played the nickel this past week. He had a couple nice tackles on third down that thwarted Jaguars drives and recorded his first career interception on a tipped pass.

"It's funny how people talked about us last year," Cunningham said. "You talk about prior to the injuries striking us … they played pretty well last year. We were top five or six or seven last year for ten or twelve games and that's when the injuries hit.

"This year we've done something unusual because we've had up to five starters out of games and we're doing okay. I think we're giving up like 18 points or something a game (on defense)."

Palmer has had six tackles (one for loss) the last two games starting for the injured DeAndre Levy (hamstring). He's also maintained his performance on special teams, recording three tackles over the last two on coverage units.

"Ashlee Palmer's played really well on special teams and he played well on defense the last couple games. Last year, he didn't do that. He was playing defense because one of the starters was out, he wouldn't play as well on special teams.

"I'm glad to hear (special team coach) Dan (Crossman) say that he played well on both sides of the ball. He's really gotten into this defensively and he's had a lot of reps because of some of the injuries we've had. He's playing middle linebacker, outside backer. I was really proud of him.

"This last game was hopefully his coming out party that he'll be that consistent. I told him as a backup player, you have to win five games. If you can do that, you're top dollar. You're worth every penny they pay you. That guy is hard to find."

But the big question is: can the Lions keep this level of play up with the meat of their schedule coming up?

"I guess we'll find out," Cunningham said.