Plenty of fans and analysts have railed on the Detroit Lions defense with familiar insults in 2012. They don't pressure the quarterback, their corners stink, the group's way overrated. All of these insults, both justified and not, have become a familiar refrain week in and week out following every loss. Yet, as simple as it is to proclaim them, it's not the whole story.
The problem remains deeper than the play of linemen or the mistakes of corners. The heartbeat of every secondary is located within the middle of the field. In 2012, including the newly signed Tyrell Johnson, the Lions have had four other players start at safety than usual starters Louis Delmas and Amari Spievey and capable backup Erik Coleman. That's way too big a number to enjoy defensive consistency in the NFL.
Don Carey, Ricardo Silva, John Wendling and Johnson. Without Delmas, Spievey and Coleman in the fold, the Lions have had to try and survive with perhaps the most patchwork of quilts. Replacing two starters in the middle, one of which is an emotional leader, is nearly an impossible task. Imagine the Baltimore Ravens replacing Ed Reed with a band aid almost 85 percent of the time. It just rarely works.
In numerical and football terms, four will never go into two, especially when four is made up of special teams caliber players, practice squad signees and career backups. For all of Delmas' problems, he does contribute more than Carey or Silva can ever hope to. Even though Spievey is still learning safety, he had made good enough progress to be considered a much better option instead of Wendling. Say what you will about Gunther Cunningham's defensive coordinating abilities, but he's had the deck stacked against him since the beginning of the season at the most important position of his group.
Consider that the Lions had both Delmas and Spievey healthy most of 2011 and the results showed it. The corners played better, the linebackers looked more cohesive and the defensive line was free to make plays. Then, when Delmas got nicked up near the end of the season and Spievey did as well, things started to unravel, especially in the playoff loss against New Orleans. From week one on, we've seen the same thing this year on a more disastrous level.
If you're looking to blame anyone, blame Martin Mayhew for not ensuring better secondary depth exists on his team. This numbers game only hurts when capable depth is a problem. If players aren't qualified or capable to step in for starters, the group loses significant steps. In the offseason, Mayhew needs to look to upgrade the safety position in order to avoid these issues in the future.
Going inside the numbers statistically hasn't been pretty for the Lions in 2012, but things look even worse when you delve inside the amount of back ups Detroit has had to feature at the safety position. Realistically, that can help sum up all of the defensive problems this year.
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