To get into the playoffs, the Lions' defense needs to get back to early-season form

Posted Dec 15, 2011

Slowly but surely over the last month of the season, the Lions’ defense has crept back into the lower third of the league rankings in points allowed.

The Lions have allowed 35, 27, 31 and 28 points to opponents over the last four games. That's not counting the 37 the Bears scored on them, but that had more to do with offensive turnovers than anything else.

Over the first eight weeks of the season, only the Cowboys (30) and 49ers (25) scored more than 23 points on the Lions. They were allowing 18.4 points per game over that time.

The Lions rank 23rd in the NFL in points allowed (23.5) right now.

“We had done a good job of keeping the score down and we haven’t (lately),” said Lions coach Jim Schwartz. “We have been giving 28, 30, 31 in that range and it puts a lot of pressure on the offense to score. We also scored on defense, particularly (against the Vikings) to sort of offset a little bit, but you don’t want to be that team that gives up 30 points.”

There’s a lot to attribute to the current slide, starting with injuries at the forefront of that list.

The Lions have been without half their starting secondary for nearly three games and they’ve been banged up along their defensive line, too.

It certainly hasn’t helped that defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has been sitting and watching games the last two weeks while on suspension, either.

“We have to eliminate the big plays, you know,” said defensive tackle Corey Williams. “We’ll stop them, stop them, stop them and then, bam, there goes a big play.”

The Lions have fallen victim to that formula each of the last three weeks against the Packers, Saints and Vikings.

Each of those offenses scored a touchdown on plays of 65 yards or more.

“Guys have to fit where they have to fit and cover who they have to cover,” Williams said. “It starts up front, we need to put more pressure on the quarterback.”

That doesn’t seem like it’s been the problem for the defense, though.

Lions defensive linemen have 29 of the team's 35 sacks this season, which is better than the total sack figures for 13 teams in the NFL.

The defense has forced 29 turnovers (18 interceptions and 11 fumbles), which is third-best in the league.

The unit has also been one of the best in short-yardage situations. According to ESPN statistics, opponents have converted a first down on less than half (47.6 percent) of plays on third or fourth down with two or fewer yards to go.

It’s been the big plays that are hurting the Lions defense, particularly in the run game.

The Lions have allowed 15 rushes of 20-plus yards this season, which is the third-most in the league. They’ve been victimized on the 40-plus variety six times, which is worst in the league.

If the Lions are going to get into the playoffs and make some noise, the defense has to get back to playing it was the first eight weeks of the season.

Getting corner Chris Houston back and eventually safety Louis Delmas and getting Suh back from suspension will certainly help.

“It’s a tough challenge. Every week it seems like it’s something else, but at the same time it gives us the chance to test our character and get guys ready and get guys to adapt,” said linebacker DeAndre Levy.

“I think we’re learning how to deal with it as we go – we’ve got offensive guys playing defense for us. Last week we had (Don) Carey, who hasn’t played a snap in our defense, out there starting nickel. I think the coaches are doing a good job dealing with it. Even today, we kind of went through some scenarios having guys playing out of position a little bit just to prepare for it.”