O'Hara's Final Thoughts: Delmas is the guy the Lions' defense has been missing

Posted Dec 9, 2012

Since Game 11 of last season, the Lions have played more than twice as many regular-season games without Delmas as they have with him.

GREEN BAY - To paraphrase and rephrase an old line, flattery might be the sincerest form of pinpointing a problem that has haunted the Lions’ defense all season.

In his weekly scouting report for Sunday night’s Lions-Packers game, Bob McGinn, the respected Packers beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, quoted an offensive coach on a team that played the Lions in the last month about safety Louis Delmas.

“That’s the guy they’ve been missing back there,” the coach said. “Without a doubt, I feel he is the best player in their secondary from the standpoint of tackling and getting those guys lined up.”

The Lions will have their hands full Sunday night against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, just as they did when the teams played three weeks ago at Ford Field. Rodgers led an 82-yard drive to the go-ahead touchdown, hitting Randall Cobb in the left corner of the end zone.

Delmas did not play in that game because of a knee injury that has plagued him for the last two seasons. It required surgery in training camp this year and has limited his availability.

Since Game 11 of last season, the Lions have played more than twice as many regular-season games without Delmas as they have with him. He missed the last five regular-season games last year and has played only five of the first 12 this year.

That makes 12 of the last 17 games Delmas has missed. Seven players have started at safety this season. Delmas has five of those starts. The turnover at cornerback and nickel back has been almost as severe.

“You know what the issue is,” defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said in his weekly Friday media session.

“You can survive X amount of time. I’ve had to to this in one other year, and that was in 2008 in Kansas City, when I started seven rookies on defense and we would play them to-to-toe in every game.

“Fourth quarter was tough on us. We can’t allow that to happen here. We have to figure a way to get that solved, and solve it fast, obviously.”

Avril in December: Let it blow, let it snow – Cliff Avril is on a hot streak as the Lions’ top pass-rusher. Avril has four sacks and two forced fumbles in the last three games. With 8.5 sacks, Avril is closing in on his career high of 11 sacks, set last season.

In four games in December last year, Avril had four sacks, a pass breakup and an interception that he returned for a touchdown. The TD came in Game 15, when the Lions beat San Diego at Ford Field to clinch a playoff berth.

Avril had two tackles and a sack in the loss to Green Bay three weeks ago. In that game, right tackle T.J. Lang started at right tackle, opposite Avril. Lang’s regular position is at left guard.

Rookie Don Barclay, who made the team this year as an undrafted free agent from West Virginia, is likely to start at right tackle. He should have his hands full against Avril.

However, the weather could play a factor. If the field is soggy because of snow, it will play into Barclay’s favor. Avril is a speed rusher and one of the quickest linemen in the league off the ball.

Middle men: The Lions’ defensive tackles should get pressure on Rodgers and add to his sack total of 39. He’s been sacked more times than any quarterback in the league.

In the first Green Bay game, the Lions had three sacks, five quarterback hits and seven tackles-for-losses.

Deuces were wild for tackle Nick Fairley. He had two sacks, two tackles for losses and two quarterback hits. All three starting linebackers – Stephen Tulloch, DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant – had a tackle for  loss as the Lions held the Packers to a 3.3-yard average per running play – 95 yards on 29 attempts.

Ndamukong Suh and Fairley are among the league leaders for tackles with combined knockdowns and hurries. According to STATS, Suh is second with 22. Fairley is fifth with 16.5.

Look ahead: ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher has a Grade 2 hamstring injury, and it usually takes 3-6 weeks to recover.

That could put Urlacher out of season finale vs. the Lions at Ford Field.

Personally, I want to see Urlacher play. He’s one of my all-time favorites. The Lions’ offense might have a different opinion.

If there are no playoff implications – NFC North title, wild card or playoff seed – the smart thing will be to rest Urlacher.