Is Chris Houston the early-season MVP for the Lions' defense?

Posted Oct 30, 2012

Since coming back from an ankle injury Week 3, Houston has taken every defensive snap the last five games, and has also contributed on 35 special teams play over that span.

Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham likes to think he can read his players' body language pretty well to determine how that particular player is feeling or what's going to happen on a certain play.

When it comes to cornerback Chris Houston, though, Cunningham says he's baffled.

"With Chris, if I look at him, I might fall asleep," Cunningham told with a smile. "He is just so calm about everything right now. I know it's his confidence level. To be honest with you, when I look at him, I feel a lot better about what's going to happen."

Cunningham should feel pretty good.

Since coming back from an ankle injury Week 3 at Tennessee, a good argument can be made that Houston has been the most valuable player on the Lions defense. The sixth-year player has taken every defensive snap the last five games, and has also contributed on 35 special teams plays over that span.

"He's really worked at it and he completely understands our system," Cunningham said. "I think having us move him with the best receiver has really helped put his self-confidence to a level that you need."

During that Tennessee game, the Lions matched Houston with Titans big-play receiver Kenny Britt.

Wherever Britt went, Houston went.

That's a change from last year, when the Lions had Eric Wright on the right side and both he and Houston just played their side. When Wright left via free agency this offseason, Houston was left as the clear No. 1 cornerback option for the Lions.

Britt finished with six catches for 55 yards and no touchdowns. Since then, Houston has taken the opponent's best receiver each and every week.

He's drawn Percy Harvin (Vikings), DeSean Jackson (Eagles), Brandon Marshall (Bears) and Sidney Rice (Seahawks) the last four games. Only Marshall went for more than 75 yards (81), and none of those players recorded a touchdown with Houston covering them. In fact, Houston has yet to give up a touchdown this season.

Through seven games, Houston has played like a top-flight corner.

"He's been a real steady guy for us," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said during his press conference Monday. "He always has been. But he's also been matching receivers. He matched Sidney Rice in this game after the first series and I think he's done a good job of limiting some explosive receivers."

Since returning, Houston has been the one constant in a secondary that has yet to start the same four players in any two games this season.

Considering all the injuries to the back end, it might come as a bit of a surprise that the Lions defense is allowing just 214.1 passing yards per game, ranking them ninth in the NFL. Houston should get a lot of credit for that number.

Acquired by the Lions via trade in 2010, Houston is a free agent after the season. If he continues to play this well, he should be one of the team's first priorities to re-sign.