The heart and soul of the Detroit Lions is, of course, their defensive line. Also casually known as "Silver Rush," this unit is one of the most intimidating and tough groups in the NFL. Their physical, aggressive play has come under attack recently, and there's no doubt elements of discipline need to improve in 2012 for the team to be taken seriously.
How good will the Lions' defensive line be? Will they avoid the issues that plagued them in the past? We delve into all that and more as we preview "Silver Rush" today.
Who's The Guy? Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Boesch. These three are the clear statistical and emotional leaders on the line. Suh needs to bounce back after a statistical slump in 2011, and he also needs to control his emotions. Avril's play has been fantastic, but he'll want to stay consistent to gun for a big contract. Vanden Boesch, in need of health, will remain a fierce terror off the edge, pressuring opposing quarterbacks despite getting a bit older.
Second In Command? Nick Fairley and Corey Williams. These two are the second most important players "Silver Rush" feature, and their improvement and attention to detail will be critical. Both are explosive pass rushers and run stuffers at times, yet each suffer from penalty issues and mental lapses which prevent them from having their decent play celebrated. Each will need to clean those issues up in 2012 and improve their play.
Others Worth Noting: Willie Young, Sammie Lee Hill and Lawrence Jackson. Three exciting complementary pieces.Young has evolved into a terror off the edge and is looking to make a bigger impact in 2012. Hill is an excellent young defensive tackle, who's wide frame is best used for run stuffing. Finally, Jackson is another end who's improved since finding a home in Detroit, and can come off the bench to pressure the quarterback and create turnovers.
Biggest Key To Positional Success? Run defense and controlled chaos, also known as discipline. If there's one thing this unit struggles with, its their propensity to be over aggressive. Being tough, flocking to the ball and hitting is fine, but taking things to the next level and constantly hitting after the whistle is not. The biggest offender lately is Fairley, and his play needs to improve along with his personal responsibility. Scaling back the unneeded penalties will help the group remain feared and respected. Gunther Cunningham needed to address run defense in the offseason. Sometimes, aggression in the pocket will hurt focus on the opposing running back, so the Lions must strive to improve this in spots during 2012.
Best/Worst Case Scenarios: Best? The line is intimidating once again, as Suh improves upon his sophomore slump and looks more like 2010's rookie of the year. Avril has no drop off in production, and the complementary pieces like Young and Hill become major contributors. There is a reduction in personal foul penalties. Worst? Discipline issues persist, forcing everyone to talk about the group's "thug mentality" and juvenile attitude.
Outlook: The Lions will still get their share of personal foul calls from time to time, but the truly unneeded events (think Suh's stomp) will go away. The group will remain feared and pressure opposing quarterbacks. Run defense might not be fantastic, but the Lions will show improvement from 2011, when they could stop literally nobody.
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