Friday, July 31, 2009

Detroit Lions In-Depth Season Preview: Defense

Part Two: Defense

The 2008 Detroit Lions were the most notoriously bad team in NFL history, and it’s safe to say that their defense was chiefly to blame. They gave up more than 400 yards per game (worst in the NFL) and over 30 points a game (also the worst). They conceded the most rushing yards per game, and no one was even close. It seemed like each and every week, no matter who we played against, someone had a career game. Running backs went over 200 yards, quarterbacks threw 4 touchdowns; even random tight ends seemed to enjoy 2 TD games or gain 150 yards against Detroit. We allowed quarterbacks to throw a blistering 68.4 completion percentage, tied for worst in the league. The team we tied with, Indianapolis, gave up the LEAST passing touchdowns in the NFL - only six all year; that’s the Tampa 2 run to perfection. The Lions? They gave up the third most passing touchdowns - 25; that’s the Tampa 2 run by Rod Marinelli.

The list of ineptitude goes on and on. The Lions had only four interceptions – fewest in the league and not even half as many as Ed Reed had by himself. Which team gave up the most running TDs? Who gave up the highest yards-per-carry? Who gave up the most first downs? Detroit, Detroit, and Detroit. Like I said, the list goes on and on.

But perhaps this statistic is the most telling – the Lions yielded an average passer rating to opposing quarterbacks of 110.9! That’s more than 12 points worse than any other team, and one of the worst marks of all time. In fact, the Lions came dangerously close to breaking all sorts of records of futility on defense. And I’m really glad they didn’t, because the little-known truth is that there were plenty of teams last year who struggled just as badly as the Lions did on defense. The Bengals and Chiefs may have been ever worse. It’s just that their statistical struggles weren’t as exaggerated, and they didn’t just quit halfway through every game.

So what caused the Lions to rank so incredibly lowly in just about every defense statistic? Besides the lack of talent and skill I mean. Well, since you asked, there were a few things:

One – Horrible coaching. I’ll talk about this more later.

Two – No leadership. The Lions had no identity or pride on defense, and can you blame defensive captain Ernie Sims for this? He’s only what, 24 years old? No, once again, the blame goes on the coaches.

Three – Teams running up the score. Some teams did it on purpose, other teams just couldn’t help it. Once the game was decided and coaches sent in their backups, the backups would rip us to shreds. It was humiliating. Once again, I blame this on Rod Marinelli. If you don’t respect the guy roaming the sideline, it’s easy to run up the score without a heavy conscious.

So, looking forward, what is there to say about the new season? How can the Lions recover from such a pitiful season? Actually, it may surprise you to hear that it won’t be as hard as one would think.

The first step has already been taken; Marinelli and his fabulously idiotic son-in-law Joe Barry are history. Who thought it would be a good idea to let a terrible coach hire his son-in-law to coach a defense? Really? Football’s supposed to be a highly competitive industry; if you lose, you’re fired. How did this guy sneak a member of his immediate family onto the coaching staff without anyone noticing? Good Lord, it’s been months since Marinelli has been out of town and he still makes me irate. I have to move on…

When Jim Schwartz was hired shortly after the conclusion of the 2008 season, a lot of people were excited. None of those people were Titans fans, who lost their defensive mastermind and any chance at going back to the playoffs. But us Michiganders couldn’t be happier; sure, we didn’t land a big-name guy like Bill Cowher or Joe Gibbs. Who cares? You have to pay them more and deal with their egos. Schwartz is still relatively unknown and unproven, but he has all the makings of a great coach. He’s smart and tough, and under his leadership Tennessee’s defense outperformed anyone’s wildest expectations. He commands respect and discipline from his players, but at the same time he is likable and approachable. He seems like a cool guy, someone you would want to play for and work hard for; the opposite could be said for Marinelli.

With Barry gone and the Lions needing a new defensive coordinator, Schwartz hit it big by hiring former Chief guru Gunther Cunningham. Just like on the offensive end, he hired a former head coach, but unlike Scott Linehan, Cunningham was actually a pretty good head coach. He had a .500 record as a head coach, but before that he was a great defensive coordinator. A crazy, disgruntled old man with terrible manners. But still a great defensive coordinator.

Gunther has almost 40 years of coaching experience, and none of it was better than those staunch Kansas City defenses he led in the mid 90s. During his first stretch as defensive coordinator, his Chiefs led in the NFL in fewest points allowed as well as highest turnover margin. It’s pretty rare that a defense is able to be stingy and also aggressive; usually turnovers come at a cost of giving up a few huge plays. But Gunther’s legacy is creating smart, disciplined defenses that don’t make mistakes and capitalize on opponent’s mistakes. He hates zone defenses and says his coaching philosophy is “to go after people.” He also used the term “quarterback-hunting.” He wants to ditch the wussy zone crap and turn the Lions into blitzing fiends. He sounds absolutely brilliant!

Let’s just be honest with ourselves; Rod Marinelli didn’t have a clue how to execute the Tampa 2 defense. It works brilliantly if and only if you’re Tony Dungy; but if you’re not, it sucks. The Tampa 2 was a sad chapter in our Lions-loving lives, but rest assured, stand up and celebrate, the Tampa 2 is dead! And that means all those stupid leftover Buccaneer players Marinelli scooped up will be on their way out the door too! This is the dawning of a new era!

What Gunther has in coaching experience and defensive intuition, he certainly lacks in personality. He is about as likable as the Grinch and kind of looks like him too. He’s an angry guy – he was born in Germany during World War II to a military family for goodness sakes. But the Lions have experimented in the past with all these “nice guy” coaches, and look where it’s gotten us. I say it’s about time we hire a hard-nosed grumpy old man to kick some discipline into the defense, and if they don’t like it they can sit on the bench. Gunther is going to bring sacks and interceptions back to Motown and all I can say is y’all are going to be blown away with how improved the Lions defense is in 2009.

Part One: Defensive Line

Last year, the Lions D-line was a mess. We couldn’t get to the quarterback, and we couldn’t stop the run. Usually teams sacrifice one of those objectives to excel at the other; we couldn’t even do a half-decent job at either one. The offseason brought all sorts of new players to the Lions defense, but not much was done to improve upon the defensive line.

By far the biggest news (literally) is the addition of Grady Jackson, the 345-pound monster who was brought in to anchor the defensive line. Jackson is an old man (36) who has battled injuries and drug suspensions in recent years, so let’s keep our expectations low, but for one or two years he should do a nice job in the middle clogging up the running lanes. He’ll certainly be better than Shaun Cody, who is on the Texans now, or even Cory Redding, who is on Seattle. So that begs the question, who is going to start at DT next to Jackson? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we let Redding and Cody go – they were lousy - but shouldn’t we have replaced them with two players instead of one? It looks like it will have to be Chuck Darby, for lack of anyone else, but Darby was so crappy last year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see any one of the four DTs on the Lions roster push Darby for playing time, and Schwartz and Cunningham have no loyalty to anyone.

There’s Andre Fluellen, who played a little at the end of last season, and Landon Cohen (last year’s seventh round pick), who played in a few games. Also there are rhyming rookies Sammie Hill and Johnny Gill. Sammie was drafted in the fourth round and will be given every opportunity to earn playing time; he’s big enough (330 pounds) and shows good speed. Gill was undrafted and is only good for taking up a spot on the depth chart. And just last week the Lions traded Ronald Curry to the Rams for Orien Harris, an unproven DT from Jamaica. I can't say for sure, but the early reports are that he be jammin.

Defensive end is possibly the most important position on the defensive end - particularly the right end, who is responsible for putting pressure on the quarterback’s blind side. The Lions don’t have an elite guy like Freeney, Peppers or Ware; we don’t even have a mediocre starter like all the other teams do. We got nothing.

There might be nothing more frustrating about following the Lions for the last decade than the complete negligence shown to the defensive line. Matt Millen didn’t see any marketability in a dominant DE, so he just let the position rot while he drafted thousands of wide receivers. Ever since the magnificent Robert Porcher retired, it’s been one crappy Jared DeVries season after another. And I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of it.

The projected starters are DeVries and Dwayne White, but that’s subject to change. There are a couple of young guys hoping for a chance to prove themselves, namely Alama-Francis and Cliff Avril. Crazy Keith is obsessed with Cliff Avril, and just about peed his pants every time the Lions sent Avril on the field last season. I’m not gonna lie, Avril was really good. He’s only 260 pounds and not overly fast, but he has a motor and a heart and that’s all I care about. He’ll never be a dominant, Pro Bowl type player, but he could start and be solid while the Lions take a few years to rebuild their defense. Alama-Francis is from Hawaii and he’s gigantic, but he has done next to nothing in his time on the field – one sack in 19 games. The smart strategy would be to move the Huge Hawaiian to DT on passing downs to try to generate a pass rush from the inside; if he’s used exclusively in that role, that’s okay with me.

DeVries and White are both average and slow, but serviceable. They don't generate much of a pass rush without help from blitzers, and they don't tackle well at all. White led the team in sacks last year with an underwhelming 6.5, but also forced three fumbles and recorded an interception for the second straight season. Jared DeVries has played 118 games with the Lions and has only 16.5 career sacks - two last year - which might make him the least efficient defensive end in NFL history. Over the course of an entire decade of Lions lousiness, that's a terrible average of one sack every seven games! (He also averages one forced fumble every two years and has never intercepted a pass). I don't think any Lions fans would be sad to see him replaced by Cliff Avril, who had five sacks and four forced fumbles in only 15 games last year, playing off the bench. Let's see if Avril can sustain those kind of numbers as a starter, because if he can, holy crap!
Other prospects at DE include Eric Hicks, a ten year veteran with limited skills, and 35 year old Kevin Carter, who isn’t on the team but is being pursued by coach Schwartz and has a history of being a sack-master.

The defensive line at the beginning of the season is probably going to look like this: DeVries, Jackson, Darby and White. But by the end of the season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jackson as the only remaining starter. And whether the defensive line is terrible again or not, I’m sure we are the only team in the NFL with defensive lineman from Hawaii and Jamaica. So there’s that.

Part Two: Linebackers

Paris Lenin joined the Patriots and Alex Lewis got cut. We replaced them with five-time Pro Bowler Julian Peterson and former Wolverine and two-time Super Bowl Champ Larry Foote.

And don’t forget, Ernie Sims is still on the roster, and he’s still our best linebacker.

So yeah, there is absolutely a reason to get excited about the Lions defense this year. In order to keep up with the rest of the NFC North, it was imperative for the Lions to shore up the linebacking corps. For once, the Lions did what they had to do and even exceeded expectations. Myself and every other Lions fan booed the Stafford pick because we wanted Aaron Curry, but little did we know that negotiations with Foote were already in place. (I still would have rather drafted Jason Smith, mind you, but bygones are bygones).

In his nine year career in the NFC West, Peterson has averaged about 80 tackles a season, factoring in injury-shortened seasons. What I love are the 46 sacks and 16 forced fumbles, proving that Peterson is a fantastic playmaker and blitzer. Cunningham wants to use J-Pete as the centerpiece of his aggressive, attack-style defense, and it's safe to say that Peterson will blitz more than just about any other 4-3 linebacker in the NFL. Peterson gives the Lions three things that they lacked last year: athleticism, versatility, and credibility. He's obviously a superior athlete with speed and sure tackling which is something the Lions haven't had at the strong-side linebacker position, umm ... ever? Thank God we don't have to worry about giving up 200 rushing yards a game this year.

Peterson is also one of the best linebackers in the NFL at rushing the quarterback, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him line up at defensive end on third downs and be used in every possible blitz, stunt and spy package. But the other thing Peterson gives us may be the most important - he's a three time All Pro linebacker and a locker-room leader who knows to how win, he's a legitimate NFL superstar, and he takes enormous amounts of pressure off of Ernie Sims.

The knock on Peterson is his coverage ability, and that's where Larry Foote comes in perfectly. Foote is virtually nonexistent as a pass rusher and isn't a great tackler (63 tackles per 16-game season), but he's perfectly used to his role as an interior linebacker. On the Steelers Foote played alongside elite blitzing linebackers Harrison and Farrior, and provided the security of short coverage against tight ends and slot receivers. Foote is a proven NFL player and that's more than most Lions defensive players can say. What he brings to the table more than anything is a winning attitude; he was a dependable starter on a Super Bowl team and won four division titles. He can be the voice who tells the defense "It's okay to win."

And as good as Peterson and Foote are, Ernie Sims is still the best player on the Lions D. Only now, he doesn't have to do everything. Last year, he was our only linebacker capable of tackling in the open field; he had to chase from the weak-side to the strong side and all over the field and probably had to work harder for his 113 tackles than any linebacker in the NFL. Sims is a natural weak-side linebacker, which means he is the man most responsible for chasing whoever comes out of the backfield. This requires speed and good pursuit instincts, which Sims has. But it also requires help from the strong side, which Sims finally has too.

Believe it or not, the Lions actually have solid depth at linebacker this season. I can't believe I just wrote that sentence. Not great depth, like the Patriots or Giants, but solid enough depth that if one of the three goes down to injury or if Foote doesn't pan out as well as we all hope he does, there are two or three guys who could be plugged in and I wouldn't be too worried. They aren't proven, but maybe that's better than proven losers.

Jordan Dizon was in line to be a starter before Peterson came to town, but don't be surprised at all if he works his way onto the field in certain packages. He has unique skills and is outstanding in coverage (he played safety in college), and has drawn great praise this off-season from both Cunningham and linebackers coach Matt Burke (who coached along with Schwartz in Tennessee for three years.) Dizon is just a cool guy: he's got an economics degree from Colorado, is a sub-par golfer, and grew up in Hawaii where he used to hunt wild boar with nothing but a knife. (True story). Dizon's coverage skills and speed contribute to the versatility that Cunningham covets, particularly on third downs, when Dizon could be subbed in on nickel and dime packages. In fact, don't be shocked if the Lions play some 3-4 on third downs and 4-3 on regular downs; unpredictability is a defense coordinator's best friend.

The other linebacker to keep an eye on is DeAndre Levy, an athletic strong-side linebacker from Wisconsin who Detroit drafted in the third round. Levy will spell Peterson and have a hard time getting on the field, but is great injury insurance and has some wonderful veterans to learn from. Two or three years from now, Levy and Dizon might be perfect complements to Sims if we can hold on to all three of them.

Rounding out the rest of the linebacking corps are: Cody Spencer, who did very little with the Jets last year; Zack Follett, a seventh-round rookie out of U-Cal known for his hard-hitting intensity; Cutris Gatewood, a second year pro who's yet to play in the NFL; and Darnell Bing, an ex-USC linebacker who's on his fourth team in three years. Bing was promising coming out of college but suffered a neck injury in 2006 with the Raiders and has just moved around onto different practice squads ever since - if he's back to 100% he could see some action on passing downs; he is another former college safety. The most promising of these prospects is Follett, who despite being a seventh-round pick was signed to a three-year deal. The Lions must see something they really like in him.

But Follett and Spencer and Bing all those other guys are experiments and depth. For once, we don't have to trot them out onto the field and hope they can produce. We have three proven and excellent linebackers, and the road away from 0-16 begins with them.

Part Three: Secondary

The story in the defensive backfield is similar to the linebacking story: a lot of new faces are going to be in the starting line-up. But the similarities end there. There is no Super Bowl champ or 5-time Pro Bowler. There is no one as good as Ernie Sims. In fact, the three best players on our defense are our three starting linebackers. Not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, but at least we have three good players! I know that's a good thing.

But just because our new doesn't mean I am less excited about the changes in the secondary as I am about the changes in the midfield. Just cutting Travis Fisher was a huge thrill; replacing him with proven NFL players rather than practice squad fill-ins is even better. As bad as the entire 2008 Lions squad was, the secondary may have been the weakest of many weak links. They couldn't stop the pass, even on third and 25, and none of them could make a tackle in the open field. Watching Turner, or DeAngelo, or Peterson, or Forte, or whomever it was, break through the line of scrimmage and turn a first down into a 60 yard touchdown because the secondary was too slow and stupid to make a tackle was just downright infuriating. The Lions defensive backs picked off only three passes last year. That's pitiful. They should be able to do that in a single game. Especially considering they got to play against some pretty crappy quarterbacks. But no matter how bad an opposing offense was, the Lions defense was always worse. This year, that is going to change. It really is. It begins with the linebackers, but the secondary will be improved as well. There is a lot of competition and ambiguity in the four starting secondary positions, and as training camps progresses it will be interesting to see who nails down those starting gigs and who disappoints.

Let's begin by looking at the all-important cornerback position. Leigh Bodden came in last year and was supposed to be the Lions savior; instead he did as close to nothing as humanly possible (1 interception in 16 games, crappy tackling) and was sent away after one year. Now we have three guys in a similar position, each coming in from another team with hopes of helping turn around the 0-16 trainwreck.

Phillip Buchanon. Anthony Henry. Eric King. Get used to those three names, and forget all about the wretched Travis Fisher and Brian Kelly all the other no-talent ass-clowns who made our lives miserable for the past several years. It's a new year, and fortunately, it's a brand new secondary. And at corner, it's a three way battle between Buchanon, Henry, and King.

Phil Buchanon was signed to a two-year contract and seems to have the best chance at a starting gig. He was drafted seven years ago in the first round and played three really good years with the Raiders before being traded to Houston. That's when his career fell apart; in less than two years he went from one of the best CBs in the NFL to being cut by the Texans. No injuries, just inexplicable badness. He's played the past two seasons for Tampa, and done okay; he's a speedy guy, with good hands and adequate size. But for some reason, he just doesn't play well during games. I once heard him described as "the Kwame Brown of the NFL." Yikes. Like it or not, he's going to be penciled in as a starter, and that won't change unless both of the next two guys unseat him in training camp.

Anthony Henry is an eight-year veteran, with four years on the Browns and four with the Cowboys. He has 29 career interceptions and averages about 50 tackles per season, not bad from the cornerback position. Henry was traded straight up to the Lions for Jon Kitna, the disgruntled quarterback who was put on season-ending injured reserve last year despite his insistence that he wasn't even injured. (Remember that? That was some funny stuff.) Henry's skill-set makes him versatile enough to play corner or safety; the Cowboys wanted to move him to safety last year but their cornerbacks kept getting hurt. Schwartz keeps talking about moving Henry to safety, but the surprisingly great play of rookie Louis Delmas and veteran Marquand Manuel makes me think that Henry will remain at CB, where depth is more of an issue. Henry's a hard-hitter with good ball skills, but lacks the speed to play in isolated coverage. In Marinelli's Tampa Two, Henry would be asked to chase guys like Steve Smith down the sideline and try not to get burned; in Cunningham's attack defense, slower corners like Henry should get a lot more help from the safeties and can be more useful in run support.

Eric King is a four-year pro who played on Schwartz's Titans for the past three years. He is a career backup who is yet to intercept a pass, record a sack, or have more than 30 tackles in a season in his young career. However, King is loaded with potential and understands Schwartz's defense. He gives us better depth at cornerback than we've had in a while and will probably fill the nickelback position on obvious passing downs, unless he has a great camp and earns a starting role.

Despite these three additions, cornerback was identified as a primary area of need for the Lions in the 2009 draft... and so of course they did not draft any. (Makes the late-round WR and RB picks who won't play look even more pointless, but that's the Lions for ya.) Keith Smith and Ramzee Robinson are back from last year, and Dexter Wynn was brought in immediately after Brian Kelly was cut. None of these guys are very meaningful as cornerbacks, but they will all be competing for playing time on special teams and possibly participate in dime packages. Just yesterday (7-28) the Lions announced the signing of CB William James, formerly known as James Peterson. Under his old name he was a contributing member of some pretty good Giants and Eagles defenses, but now he has a new name and is buried on the Lions depth chart. My guess would be that Keith Smith fills in the #4 CB spot on the depth chart, but it's all up for grabs in training camp.

The Lions have always run a pretty unconventional scheme when it comes to the safety positions. There is no "weak" and "strong;" rather, it's just two interchangeable safeties playing on the left and right sides. Last year it was primarily Bullocks and Pearson, neither of whom played well at all. There was also a lot of Dwight Smith, who played even worse, and the occasional sighting of Gerald Alexander, who also played badly. Notice a trend?

Schwartz has always preferred the philosophy of having a 'right' and 'left' safety, instead of weak and strong, so the Lions will continue to operate that way for the most part. But there will be changes. There has to be changes.

Marinelli's motto with the defense was always "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Problem was, it was broken, he was just too damn stubborn to realize it. Our new coaches are smart enough to recognize when something is smashed to shitty little pieces (like our 2008 defense), and they aren't going to lie to themselves. And that's why I am starting to absolutely love Louis Delmas.

At the time, I hated it when the Lions picked him 33rd overall in the draft. We needed linemen on both sides, and a linebacker. Our safeties were bad, but they weren't our biggest area of concern. I thought the Delmas pick was one of those Millen-style "Let's draft a guy from a local college and hope it makes all the fans excited" picks (like when Millen used to pick GVSU guys every year in the sixth round). But all the analysts (and Crazy Keiths) informed me that Delmas was the top safety in the draft, even if he did go to Western Michigan. And then I watched a few tapes of Delmas, and heard the coaches rave about him, and read the articles about his uncanny ability to diagnose plays immediately and his ferocious hitting and his ballhawking skills that remind everyone of Ed Reed. "Ed Reed only faster" reported one scout. That was enough for me; I'm sold.

A few months ago I wrote that it would take the coaches til halfway through the season to realize that Delmas should be starting. Apparently I underestimated Gunther and Schwartz. They seem to be much smarter than their predecessors, because Delmas has already been named the starter at free safety going into week 1. Even though he is a rookie, I'm pretty sure Delmas will be the fourth best Lion, and best non-linebacker, on the defense.

Hear me out: I know you're going to think this is an exaggeration, but Louis Delmas has many striking similarities to the three best safeties in the NFL: Reed, Bob Sanders, and Troy Polamalu. They are all effective against the pass and the run; they are all hard-hitters and extremely aggressive; and they are all super smart and know what the quarterback is going to do before he does it. Read any scouting report on Delmas and the only weakness you find (besides a slight lack of size) is this: a little too aggressive, sometimes overpursues. That's a bad thing at the linebacker or cornerback spot, but a brilliant thing at free safety. Aggression is the name of Gunther Cunningham's game. If Julian Peterson is the most versatile weapon Gunther has to work with, Delmas is second. I expect Louis to have at least 3 or 4 picks this year, 50 or 60 tackles, and at least 2 or 3 sacks. He's going to be all over the place. By the end of 2009, he will be every Lions fan's new favorite player. He's already mine.

Strong safety is a position that's pretty much up for grabs. Gerald Alexander was traded to the Jags; Dwight Smith was cut; Daniel Bullocks remains, as does Kal Pearson. The job is basically a competition between Bullocks and Pearson, but if neither guy earns the job outright, Schwartz won't be afraid to entertain thoughts of Marquand Manuel or Stuart Schweigert. The word from camp is that Pearson is practicing primarily with the first team defense, and Bullocks has fallen to third string behind Manuel, who started at safety for a terrible Denver defense last season. Schweigert is an interesting fit; he plays a sort of deep center field against the pass, but is terrible against the run. That complements Delmas quite well, but I doubt we'll see Schweigert in any formation other than deep prevent.

One thing's for sure when it comes to the Lions secondary: the options are pretty much limitless. Schwartz and Cunningham can put their brilliant defensive minds together and brainstorm all sorts of ideas; Delmas can be used in everything from one-on-one coverage to run support. Henry can play cornerback or safety. The Lions hope to be able to change their defense from week to week to adjust to their opponent; throw blitzes at easily flustered quarterbacks, stack the line against great running backs, etc. With this secondary, plus the versatility of three really good linebackers, they just might be able to accomplish this.

Or, maybe not.

Time will tell.

Part Four: Summary and Final Thoughts

Everyone in the Lions camp, from Schwartz to Stafford, from Calvin to Ernie and from Cunningham to Linehan and so many of the players they have recruited this season, has a common goal of reclaiming pride in Detroit and improving upon the worst season in NFL history. The challenge is tremendous, but that's what makes it alluring. Guys like Foote and Grady Jackson came to Detroit when they could have played elsewhere, because they want to be part of this turnaround. They are embracing the challenge. Jim Schwartz is embracing the challenge. The entire state of Michigan is embracing the challenge.

And it beings with the defense. It really does. Because Schwartz is the new head coach and his background is all defense, that will be the point of emphasis on the entire team. The Lions' "identity" if you can call it that, will be (hopefully) a team that plays tough, aggressive, opportunistic defense. Come week one, there will be no more than four returning starters from last year's dreadful season. By October, that number could be down to just one. Change has come indeed. If you can't get excited about this new Lions defense, this new coach and all these new playmakers, are you really a Lions fan? 0-16 is not the time to despair; don't give up, don't ever give up. The Lions will arise from the ashes like a phoenix and it could happen as soon as 2009.

To wrap up my in-depth analysis of the 2009 Detroit Lions defense, I'd like to tell this true story: according to an article in Sports Illustrated many years ago, new Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham holds the unofficial NFL record for most times (118) using the f-word in a 40-minute practice.

So even if we don't allow over 500 points and 6500 yards this season, at least our defense will hold at least one record. And that's something we can all be proud of.

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