Thursday, November 7, 2013

Detroit Lions mid season grades: D line

The Detroit Lions have a lot invested in their Defensive Line. Three of the four starters there were first round draft picks and all three were drafted in the upper half of round one. It is important to keep that in mind when we start to evaluate their production. The problem with that is there are not stats for everything a good D lineman can do. Sacks are crucial but just as crucial are hurry ups and knockdowns. Total stat geeks can go find those kind of numbers but most fans like to take a more impressionable look at what they perceive a elite D lineman is, or what he is capable of. Guys like Reggie White could change games, and as good as the men are on the Lions D line we have not seen them impose their will on a game for 60 full minutes to this point.

With that being said I think the D line on the 2013 Lions is a strength for the team. I also happen to think that they have invested too much in it, based on what they could have gotten back for those draft picks. Could those picks been better spent on other areas of need? Of course that impression will change the moment this core of Lions players wins a playoff game.

The measurable stats here aren't all that pretty. The Lions have 13 sacks as a team and the four starting D lineman have 10 of them. It is hard to say how good or bad that is, because as I said most of what lineman in the NFL do, their value, isn't stat measurable. A team wants its D line to be disruptive to go in and disrupt what they other team does, 13 sacks and 5 forced fumbles by the front four starters is pretty good. However, we can argue they do not get to the QB enough and we might be able to blame some of that on the scheme. A team also wants D lineman who attract double teams so it frees up other players to make plays. I think in those terms this front four does a very good job.

What happens with the larger team greatly defines what we think about the D line. At 5-3 we could easily say hey things are great, but with three first round picks invested there I got to be honest and say I expect more. I want each of those first round picks to grow into the kind of talent that can dominate games. We simply have not seen that yet and I am not sure any one of them can do that on their own. As a unit however they are very good. the disrupt, they need to be accounted for, but health might be an issue there, especially for Nick Fairley.

A team wants its D lineman to eat up blockers so that the Linebackers can make the tackles but two of these front four for the Lions have nearly 20 tackles. That means they get to the ball carrier and again they disrupt what the other team is trying to do. Those are very good qualities and maybe over time these four men playing together will drive each other to become that much better.

We do know this when Ndamukong Suh can control himself and be a leader this defense is that much more effective, but we are still waiting for him to show he can impose his will on a game. We saw QB Matthew Stafford do just recently and this defense really needs Suh, or someone else, to do the same.

With that being said I think this unit should get a very solid C grade for their work so far in the 2013 season. If we were not talking about three first round draft picks that grade/expectation might be higher/lower.  There is a lot of room for improvement here and hopefully the coaches can get this unit to do just that.

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