defense wins . . . training camp?

>> 8.05.2009

“Defense wins championships”.  It was nice bit of sports wisdom, which became a saying.  Then it became a truism, and then trite, and then a cliché.    It’s been said so often, it’s not even a cliché anymore; it’s seared into the mind of every sports fan.  Listen to NFL analysis long enough, and you’ll start to hear it in your dreams.  Follow football blogs and forums long enough, and you’ll read it so often you’ll see it with your eyes closed.  I wouldn’t be surprised if “defense wins championships” is encoded somewhere in our DNA.

We certainly found out what happens when you have no defense: the 2008 Lions were one of the worst defenses ever to take the field, and, well, 0-16.  I’ve often said that last season, the Lions fielded a 6- or 7-win offense, and a -10 win defense.  It makes sense; the Lions had the most physically dominant wide receiver in football, and a workhorse rookie running back.  With some credible coaching and a similar defense, the Lions well might have had six or seven wins.  Over the offseason, though, the Lions have drastically improved that offense.  They’ve drafted a franchise quarterback, added veteran #2 and #3 wideouts, drafted the most impressive 2-way tight end prospect in years, and added a veteran third-down back to take pressure off the second-year running back.  They’ve added, almost literally, a ton of veteran size and depth along the offensive line.  This 6- or 7-win offense should be more like a 9- or 10-win offense now.  So how come the defense looks better?

That’s right; the early word from training camp is that the defense looks better than the offense.  Early Monday morning,’s Alex Marvez tweeted that the defense “dominated the offense in pass drills”.  Tom Kowalski confirmed this with an article that went a little bit more in-depth.  On Tuesday, the story was no different—again, Killer provided us with a first-hand account of the defense having the upper hand in red zone 7-on-7 work.  In the same breath, though, Kowalski cautions us not to read to much into this; the defense is attacking and blitzing as they plan to do during the season, and the offense is still being put together.  It takes a lot fewer reps to for a defense to successfully blitz a linebacker than it does for an offense to seamlessly pick him up.

However, I do think there’s significance to this.  The offense is going to be the strength of the team this year—there’s too much more talent and youth for it not to be true.  That offense is going to go up against some very stout, aggressive defenses right away: Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Washington, and Chicago.  Don’t forget New Orleans, with new DC Gregg Williams, and the Packers under new DC Dom Capers.  This offense needs to get used to feeling the heat from all spots on the field.  They’ll see overloads, jailbreaks, zone blitzes, safety blitzes, 3-4s, and 4-3s.  The earlier, and oftener, the offense is tested with these aggressive looks, the more quickly they’ll adapt and grow.

Most folks’ objection to the Lions starting Matthew Stafford from day one stems from concerns about the offensive line.  Why?  If the line can’t protect Stafford, he’ll spend more time running for his life than running the offense.  Nobody wants to see Matt Stafford become the next David Carr; a can’t-miss prospect who can’t drink water, because it just drains out of all the cleat holes in his torso.  But part of avoiding the blitz is on the quarterback—there’s only so much an offensive line can do! 

Matt Stafford has to learn to protect himself with quick reads, quick decisions, and a willingness to throw the ball away if the play’s not there.  We saw Ben Roethlisberger do that in Pittsburgh last season;  the Steelers’ offensive line was regarded as below average at best--yet Big Ben stayed upright and made plays all year.  How?  He made great reads, made great decisions, and had great pocket awareness.  The only way the game will slow down for Matt Stafford like that is if he gets a lot of reps under pressure from day one.


Pacer,  August 6, 2009 at 12:00 AM  

Ty-a few words-Tim Horton's, of course, I'm a Canadian. From the morning post, technically Michigan is north of Ontario, where the Tim Horton franchise was born-just outside of Hamilton.

Ben was sacked 46 times last year and somehow managed to finish the season-but the guy is a big strong QB.

I'm not particularyly worried about the OL this year. I believe the addition of Loper has gone largely unnoticed and the swing men Jansen and Salaam are experienced pros who can fill in at any position. Loper will be a great addition, particularly since he will be beside Backus. I believe those 2 will have a good year. Pettigrew is going to help in the run game and will make an excellent outlet and middle receiver. Everyone thinks he will be a red zone threat but his history especially in 2008 does not indicate that. How he does in the red zone will come done to coaching.

Keep up the excellent work.

popeww,  August 6, 2009 at 9:13 AM  

the D looked all world in the preseason last year as well. we'll be giving up 25 ppg plus, barring a miracle.

Ty,  August 6, 2009 at 4:32 PM  


I do enjoy Tim Horton's, quite a bit. They only expanded to Lansing area about two years ago, but I've enjoyed their coffee and food many times before during excursions to Ontario.

It's true that Stafford isn't quite as huge and strong as Ben--but he's certainly no Pennington, either, and he's much faster than Ben on the run. Ben's incredibly mobile in a two-step range, but Stafford will be able to buy time with his feet as well.

I'm astounded at how little play all the OL acquisitions have gotten. Loper looks to be huge and talented, and he's quite young--and if Backus or Peterman or Cherilus struggle, there will be massive veterans with 10+ years of starting experience breathing down their necks. It's a whole different depth chart from last season, even if 4/5 starters return. Also, word out of camp is that Yarno is a much more effective teacher than Colletto; he's a positive-reinforcement guy which is working better with the young guys.


Ty,  August 6, 2009 at 4:34 PM  


Believe me, after the way the defense looked last preseason, I was convinced that 2008 was going to be the year we really saw Marinelli run his defense like he'd always wanted to.

Er, oops.

I'm trying to stay levelheaded; even if the defense is mediocre, they'll be incredibly fun to watch. There WILL be sacks, picks, fumbles, and defensive scores--even if there will also be long drives and high points allowed.


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