Lions Cornerbacks Overmatched?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Detroit's starting cornerbacks Philip Buchanon and Anthony Henry will not play today. In itself, that isn't much of a concern. They would probably both play if this was the regular season, but they are nicked up and no reason to risk aggravating anything. The Lions know what they can do.

On the other hand though, this may be a sign of things to come.

We all know that the corners are a weak spot on the team. I am fairly certain that the play will be better than last year, simply because it can't be worse, but this group of corners - particularly after Buchanon and Henry - may really limit Gunther Cunningham's options of what kinds of defenses he can run. Gunther has promised the Lions' fans an aggressive blitz-happy defense that puts a lot of pressure on opposing offenses. This can only be effective if the coordinator is comfortable putting his corners on an island, and that can only happen if they can be counted on to hold coverage for a few seconds. It is somewhat questionable whether Buchanon and Henry can be counted on for this. It is definitely doubtful that their backups can.

While there are no definitive statistics that measure the quality of a secondary, you can determine their relative worth with a glance through the numbers. Last year Detroit finished dead last in yards per attempt at 7.9, with the next worse a full half yard better and league average 6.2. Detroit finished dead last with 4 interceptions. Only four teams had fewer than 10 and the league average was 14.5. Detroit allowed a practically unfathomable opposing quarterback rating of 110. By way of comparison, only five quarterbacks in NFL history have had full season ratings as high as Detroit allowed its average opponent.

I'm not exactly sure how relevant the statistics are. Detroit will be starting at least three new players in its secondary, with the only possible holdover being safety Kalvin Pearson. By the time the season begins it is very possible that Pearson will be the only returning player in the defensive backfield. Last year's problems were both awful starters compounded by awful backups. Detroit had no good young players in the secondary, and the entire unit needed to be rebuilt.

And while this year will be different, it may still be ugly.

Detroit's #1 corner (presumably) is Buchanon who only left Tampa Bay because he would no longer start there. He came to Detroit because it is one of the few places where he would.


Henry was part of one of the other defensive backfields that had fewer than 10 interceptions last year, and at this point in his career would probably make a better safety than a corner but there isn't anyone behind him who is even close to pushing him inside.

Double yikes.

In a way, today's game might be good for Lion Fan because with Peyton Manning throwing the ball around the field against the Eric Kings and Ramzee Robinsons of the world we will be a little more grounded on what this season has to offer. Buchanon or Henry will inevitably miss time throughout the year, but even with them we might experience some ugly flashbacks. I expect Cunningham will be forced to deploy the Tampa 2 with soft zones as a way of disguising inadequate cornerback play. Gunther might be prevented from putting either safety in the box very often and opposing running games might gash Detroit in the way with which we are already so familiar.

I hate to be so pessimistic, but it is hard to find the light at the end of this defense's tunnel. Not this year. But the nice thing about the glass-half-empty approach is that the Lions will have ample opportunity to prove me wrong.

Feel free to disagree with me Here, in The Den