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Lions' secondary the clear Achilles' heel

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Posted Sept. 20, 2010 @ 6:58 p.m. ET
By Eric Edholm

The Lions have allowed 609 passing yards through two games. But they also have 10 sacks, which is a credit to the efforts of a revamped defensive line. It has become clear what many suspected: The Lions simply don't have the defensive backs to be a top-level defense right now. And it's not clear how much they can do to alleviate the situation this season.

The PFW Spin

First, the good news: The defensive line is playing well. The additions of Corey Williams, Kyle Vanden Bosch and rookie Ndamukong Suh and the elevation in play of Cliff Avril and Lawrence Jackson have paid some nice dividends. Although the run-stopping must improve in spots, the pass rush has been good. Head coach Jim Schwartz agrees.

"The D-line is doing a good job of getting pressure," Schwartz said. "I mean, you have those 10 sacks and probably another dozen times or so that we hit the quarterback in this last game."

But Schwartz stated the obvious as an immediate follow-up.

"We're not playing well enough in the back end," he said. "We're not playing well enough at the linebackers or the DBs to … complement what our defensive line is doing."

Sunday's game against the Eagles showed a clear goal by Schwartz and coordinator Gunther Cunningham: when in doubt, send pressure. The end result was six sacks in the game, but it also left a lot of single coverages in the secondary, and those matchups favor almost every passing game the Lions will face this season.

The team has brought in several bodies to fill out its secondary, and the several moving parts have made it tough for the new players to get on the same page, especially when Louis Delmas — their best defender back there — missed a big chunk of the preseason. But Schwartz, to his credit, wouldn't use that as an excuse.

"Miscommunication means missed assignment, it means mental errors and that's where our problems were," he said. "(The Eagles) didn't give us anything different than what we had at practice. Miscommunication means that somebody messed up and … we need to play better back there."

Schwartz also pointed out an inherent flaw in relying on a defensive line to make up for the other units' shortcomings. He noted that if a defensive lineman misses an assignment, the end result usually isn't dramatic. But when the secondary screws up, bad things tend to happen in the form of long gains.

"And that's what we can't have as a defense," Schwartz said.

The Lions will continue to work with who they have, and they are not above combing the waiver wire for help. They landed CB Alphonso Smith, who had a pressure and three tackles on Sunday, and unearthed Randy Phillips, who was the product of good scouting. There might be one or two other bodies who can help this season, but it is becoming clear the team simply is limited back there and might be held hostage in games in which the defensive line does not completely take over.

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