TWENTYMAN: Chris Houston needs to adjust to Detroit's new way of playing defense

Posted Oct 22, 2013

CB Chris Houston's struggles early on this season are directly related to the Lions new style of defense, says Gunther Cunningham

Chris HoustonCB Chris Houston. (Photo: G. Smith/Detroit Lions)

Chris Houston's struggles early on this season have been well documented.

He's had rough outings at Green Bay, at Cleveland earlier this month and, most recently, against Cincinnati. All of those performances culminated with him being replaced by rookie Darius Slay in the second half of Sunday's game.

Houston has given up 80-plus-yard touchdown passes to the Packers' James Jones and Bengals' A.J. Green and allowed the bulk of Josh Gordon's 126 yards in Cleveland.

Over the first seven games of the season, Houston has been one of the most picked on cornerbacks in the league.

So, why all the sudden is the Lions No. 1 cornerback struggling so much?

Part of the problem is he's having a hard time adjusting the different style of play the Lions have implemented in the back end of their defense.

Teams know the Lions strength on defense is their front four and the ability to get after the quarterback. The adjustment from offenses is to get the ball out fast to neutralize the rush.

That's why the pass rush and the coverage are so intricately intertwined.

Against that strategy, zone coverage -- which has been a staple of the Lions defense the last few years -- does them little good.

Instead, the Lions are asking their corners to get up on receivers at the line of scrimmage and try to knock them off their spot and disrupt the timing.

"What we need to do is a better job in coverage," defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham told me Tuesday. "That is the most critical part of our improvement.

"We need to walk up. We need to jam. We need to reroute and get in their hip pocket."

That's where Houston is having his troubles early on. He's gotten too used to the way things were done in previous seasons and is having a tough time adjusting to what defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson is teaching.

"With corners, they are really fragile," Cunningham said. "I don't care if it's Champ Bailey, James Hasty, Dale Carter or some of the great ones I've been around. Any of them can let something like this happen.

"The good ones fight through it. The good ones understand. The good ones don't make excuses. The good ones own up to it. Chris owned up to it."

Houston did own up to his first-half performance after the game Sunday, and maybe his benching at the half will serve as a wake-up call.

Playing primarily zone defense isn't the status quo in Detroit any longer. It's too easy for quarterbacks to complete quick passes and neutralize the Lions defensive front.

Players that embrace the more physical style of man defense at the line of scrimmage and are good at it are the ones who'll be playing on Sundays moving forward.

"I expect him to regain his touch," Cunningham said of Houston. "The only way to do that is to go out there and play and he'll get his opportunity."