Without Suh, Carving Up The Sixth-Ranked Lions' Pass Defense Should Be A "Brees"

Ndamukong Suh

If anyone has turned on ESPN over the course of the last week, he/she has seen the continuing coverage of one aggressive NFL defensive lineman.  The Detroit Lions, now in third place in the NFC North with a 7-4 record, have slowly fallen back down to Earth as the season has worn on.  During the first half of the 2011 campaign, people were beginning to believe that the Lions were not only for real, but that they were a serious playoff contender.  While I can’t honestly say that I was buying into all of the hype, it appeared as though many analysts and writers were, and Detroit suddenly became one of the most intriguing stories in the NFL. 

With this sudden crash back down to reality, though, things have looked much different for the once embarrassing franchise.  Instead of a potential playoff push, the Lions are now looking up in the standings at a Jay Cutler-less Chicago squad and the still perfect Green Bay Packers.  Add on the fact that Detroit’s first round Draft pick from a year ago, DT Ndamukong Suh out of Nebraska, is now facing a two-game suspension (which he unsuccessfully appealed) following his stomping of a Packers O-lineman on Thanksgiving Day, and Week 13 is slowly becoming a “L” for the Lions.

Now I can see why many analysts would write the Lions off for this weekend’s contest against the Black and Gold.  When you look at the big picture, things look grim in a multitude of ways heading into Sunday night’s contest.  The game, now on Sunday Night Football on NBC (Because honestly, who wanted to watch the Colts get destroyed by the Patriots instead?), will be played in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, a home where the Saints have been unbeatable in 2011 (5-0 at home).  Also, the Lions’ injury report hasn’t looked promising, as three names in the secondary, CB Chris Houston, CB Brandon McDonald and FS Louis Delmas all did not participate in practice this past week.  Considering that New Orleans is currently ranked number one in the NFL in pass yards per game (324.2), the loss of any member of the secondary could prove to be fatal as QB Drew Brees marches onto the field.  Oh, and did I mention that the Lions’ leading rusher, Jahvid Best, has been placed on the injured reserve list?  All in all, it isn’t looking pretty for the boys in blue. 

But let’s get to our special topic of the day:  how badly does the loss of Suh hurt the Lions’ chances of achieving victory on Sunday?

[caption id="attachment_286" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Chris Avril"][/caption]

The Detroit Lions have been decent at getting to the QB in 2011.  As of Week 13, Detroit is ranked 15th in the league with 29 total sacks, as they bring down opposing QBs on 6.8% of their defensive plays.  Suh, considered to be a dominating force as a pass-rusher, is tied for the fourth-most sacks on his defense behind Cliff Avril (7), Kyle Vanden Bosch (6) and Lawrence Jackson (4.5) with three QB takedowns.  For the season, Suh has 31 total tackles (22 solo), with three of those being for a loss. 

Overall, the big man’s presence is one that will surely be missed on Sunday night, as a solid pass rush has been the “kryptonite” of the Saints’ offense this season.  No one contest stands out more than the St. Louis Rams’ upset victory over the Black and Gold back in Week Eight, as the Rams’ defense registered six sacks and DE Chris Long brought Brees to the turf three times. 

Without Suh, the Lions’ 2011 first-round pick, Nick Fairley, will have to step in and take his place.  Ever since returning from a preseason foot injury, Fairley has seen every one of his tackles qualified as a stop.  He has found limited success since his return, and this weekend may be a grand opportunity to perform well on the national stage.  Also, backup Sammie Lee Hill will see his share of playing time.  I found this nugget regarding Hill on ProFootballFocus.com:  “Backup Sammie Lee Hill (+2.4) will also see extended playing time here. He has had four pressures on 31 pass rushes over the past three weeks, as well as a +2.2 run defense rating over that time.”  In other words, he’s no Suh, but he’s been halfway decent over the past few weeks.

In the end, though, the key for the Lions is simple:  if they can get to Brees, they can pull out a victory.  That makes it the job of the Saints’ O-line to keep the Detroit defenders at bay.  The trio of C Brian De La Puente and guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans have allowed Brees to be hit or sacked a mere eight times this season (once again, via PFF.com), putting themselves in the upper echelon of the NFL.  Although the Lions have been solid against the pass this season (Detroit has allowed a mere 202.2 pass yards per game in 2011, ranking them 6th in the league.), their injuries in the secondary may come back to bite them.  With ample time in the pocket, Brees is able to shred even the most dominating defensive backfields on a week-to-week basis.  Add in the injuries to Houston, Delmas and McDonald (Delmas is the squad’s starting FS; Houston is Detroit’s starting left CB.), and suddenly that sixth-ranked pass defense doesn’t seem too intimidating. 

Without Suh, getting to Brees will be an even more difficult hill to climb in the Superdome.  Needless to say, Saints fans surely cannot count out the likes of Vanden Bosch and Avril exploding off the edges of the line of scrimmage, as New Orleans has had their issues at the OT position this year (once again, look at the St. Louis contest). 

In the end, it will be a battle in the trenches for both Detroit and New Orleans on Sunday night.  If the Saints are able to control the LOS, it could get ugly for a wounded Lions defense.  If Detroit is able to explode off the snap and cause problems for the Saints’ O-line, then Drew Brees may truly become a “saint” before the clock finally expires.

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