The Lions wanted to get bigger and stronger on defense this offseason and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham says that’s had a direct result in the teams better play against the run.
The defense ranks fifth stopping the run (94.6 yards per game) and hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown in six games. In fact, no running back has rushed for 100 yards in any game against the Lions this season and none have reached 50 yards over the last five games.
"I think the linebackers are really taking effect (as well).
"Out of everything last week that was bad, the good part was, I thought, the secondary fit the run plays probably as well as we have since I’ve been here. They were in the right spots and when that happens, the run game suffers on offense, so hopefully we’ll keep getting better at it."
The other side of the coin, however, is opponents’ success throwing on the Lions. Detroit ranks 30th in the NFL in passing yards allowed (283.8).
The rushing defense will be key component again this week against Tampa Bay. The Bucs start a rookie quarterback in Mike Glennon and rank 30th in passing offense. However, they have had a lot of success running the football, especially in recent weeks. The Buccaneers have rushed for at least 140 yards in three straight games.
"They have won their last two games and the game they lost before that was at Seattle and they had a 21 point lead," head coach Jim Schwartz said of the Bucs. "That’s got all of our attention right now."
The Lions have missed cornerback
The second-year cornerback was playing well in the nickel cornerback role before the injury. He’s given the defense a solid cover man and physical tackler in the middle of the field.
Bentley returned to practice this week and is listed as probable for Sunday. That’s good news for a Lions defense that could use another playmaker.
"You have to have that dog in you because (playing nickel) is kind of like playing linebacker," Bentley said. "You have to fill the run in. You have to cover the slots going in and out and it’s so physical.
"It’s all about doing your job and that’s the most important thing and that’s what you have to do."
NEEDING MORE PLAYS
We mentioned above how the Lions defense has struggled against the pass this year. More specifically, they’ve given up 36 pass plays of 20-plus yards on the season and 10 of the 40-yard variety.
Getting Bentley back on the field should help, as everyone can now move back into their more natural roles, but it still comes down to making the plays that are there to be made, according to Cunningham.
"We’ve given up 36 big passes I think, 21 of them are for first downs," he told the media Friday after practice. "You didn’t think I knew that, did you? When I looked at it yesterday, because I was getting really worked up about some issues, of the 21 long passes, it was a lack of finish on our part. We were in good position, but we didn’t go in and get the ball out.
"We need to get our bodies on those receivers more and that’s a lack of experience of different guys. You have to be real smart at this stage. Confidence is a real fragile thing and we need to get them to play better and there’s no question about that, and we will. They practiced well this week, so we’ll see if we get better."