The Lions’ Gate: Detroit Lions D-Line Death Cult

>> 4.29.2011

Last night, as Detroit’s time to pick approached, Spencer Hall a.k.a. Orson Swindle, of Every Day Should Be Saturday, Tweeted:

edsbs_detroit_fairley_suhFollowing the Lions’ pick, he followed it up with:

edsbs_detroit_death_cultFrom there, things kind of got out of hand:

edsbs_detroit_death_cult_2

edsbs_detroit_death_cult_3

detroit_the_lions_gate_defensive_line

With Nick Fairley, the Lions have added the player many thought was the best available talent in the draft—especially in that limbo between the college bowl season and the Combine. In Mel Kiper’s first mock (and many other early mocks, Fairley went #1 overall, to the Panthers. Instead of the “reach” that I was worried about yesterday, the Lions had an incredible player fall right into their lap—mostly thanks to four quarterbacks being taken in front of them, pushing a Top 5 talent all the way down to 13. The problem is, he plays the same position as Ndamukong Suh—doesn’t he?

Well, yes and no. First, Fairley spelling Suh would hardly be a bad thing: according to Pro Football Focus, Suh led all NFL defensive tackles with 997 reps. He barely came off the field at all! With Suh and Fairley, Williams and Hill, the Lions will always have two fresh impact tackles on the field. Beyond that, the Lions are extremely creative with their defensive line; they use weird sets, they stunt and loop, they shuffle guys around. Adding this weapon to Kocurek and Cunningham’s arsenal is dangerous, indeed.

Ultimately, it was a question of value. When the Vikings were on the clock, Adam Schefter reported that the Lions wanted, “badly,” to trade out of their subsequent pick. Apparently, the Lions feared Minnesota replacing the aging Pat Williams with Fairley, rather than roll the dice on a quarterback (as they did). This tells us what we need to know about the Lions’ draft board.

Yesterday, I wrote that the Lions, at 1.13, would be sitting on a pile of good-but-not-great prospects. At that point, the Lions would be loathe to stand pat—if they could find a partner, I’d thought, the Lions would try desperately to slide back. Faced with the possibility that Fairley wouldn’t be there, that’s exactly what they did. Clearly, for them, Prince Amukamara fell into that class of “a whole bunch of guys we’d gladly take at 20 but not so much at 13”—and considering he went 19th, that valuation must have been in line with the rest of the NFL’s.

For the Lions to have passed on Amukamara speaks volumes—not just about their thoughts on Fairley, but their thoughts on Amukamara. Obviously, cornerback is an area of pressing concern. Obviously, Amukamara was widely thought of as a Top 10 talent. Ndamukong Suh would be more than willing to tell the Lions everything they need to know about Prince. For them to not only pass on him, but be panicked at the thought of reaching for him at 13—well, as I said, it speaks volumes. It’s not that I think Prince will be terrible now, or something, but that if you woke up today thinking the Lions passed on the guy who’d immediately solve all their problems at corner . . . apparently, they didn’t.

It’s not all air guitars and pryotechnics, however, as not everyone is sold on Fairley and Suh becoming the Lions’ answer to the Mighty Ducks’ Bash Brothers. Pro Football Focus just posted an article called The Fairley Verdict, and the verdict was mixed, indeed:

It wouldn’t be the most ridiculous statement to say the Lions walked into the draft with the best combination of defensive tackles in the league.

So they didn’t need another one. Let alone a guy who on paper looks to suffer from the same weaknesses as Ndamukong Suh, as well as some pretty big character issues that caused him to drop in the first place. Presuming he plays up to his one good year in college, the Lions got themselves a guy who will likely be very good at penetrating, but perhaps lack a little in run defense. Just think how the combo of Suh and Fairley would leave them susceptible to draw plays and trap blocks? To say they don’t have the linebackers to deal with that level of linemen coming at them would be an understatement.

Eep. They even invoke "same old Lions," a phrase that sends a chill down my spine, and should induce shudders in anyone reading this. Yet, it’s important to note, Suh and Fairley will likely be rotating together in the same spot, not always playing side-by side—and, they are, Suh may be playing defensive end. Don’t forget, Suh has always had a little inside-outside to him, and rumors the Lions might play Suh more on the outside compelled Schwartz to publicly denounce them a few weeks ago. I’m not saying Suh is going to switch positions, but that he’ll be able to join the DE rotation for a number of different looks. Think about:

Avril * Suh * Williams * KVB

Jackson * Suh * Fairley * Avril

Suh * Williams * Hill * Jackson

These are just to wet your whistle. My calculator tells me there are 81 possible combinations with Avril, Lo-Jack and Suh rotating at left end, Suh, Fairley, and Williams at 3-tech, Williams, Hill, and Fairley at 1-tech, and KVB, Avril, and Lo-Jack at right end. As Jim Schwartz said:

"Well, we play 130 defensive tackle snaps in a game. So, if we're rotating three guys through and they're playing 45 snaps apiece ... No. 1, there'll be a little bit of pressure. We can keep rolling waves and waves."

Ultimately, this was simply a Mayhew Pick. The Lions have a defensive philosophy: build the most dominant defensive line in the NFL and let them handle it. Mayhew took the best player available—to some, Nick Fairley was the best player available to anyone in this draft—that fit in with their approach.

Now pass me that Honolulu Blue Kool-Aid.


9 comments:

jhnhth,  April 29, 2011 at 1:44 PM  

I went in to this draft thinking we need an OT like Costonzo more than anything else. But I didn't think Fairley would still be there at 13. You're right - this is simply a Mayhew pick. The definition of BPA. Our defensive front four is going to be fun to watch this year - and for years to come!

Tiger April 29, 2011 at 1:49 PM  

Yeah, I like this whole write up Ty, good work. I also have been saying all day, that the Lions will be using more 5-2 variations of the 4-3 defense that Gunther Cunningham ran in KC with D.T. and Neil Smith. They ran a 4-3 system where Derrick Thomas was an "eagle back", where he was basically the rush linebacker on every play, essentially.

I don't think this is the only thing they will run, but you could see them flirting around with it last year, now this becomes a whole new possibility.

I will write more on this at a later time, but I can see a setup like this:

B B
E E T T T

E1-Avril, E2-KVB, T1-C.Will, T2-Fairley, T3-Suh

I expect to see some tastes of this.

telemakhos,  April 29, 2011 at 1:59 PM  

Like PFF, I'm split on this pick. Great player, but he doesn't make the team significantly better. It seems like I have to begrudgingly say that they got a truly great player.

Anonymous,  April 29, 2011 at 2:07 PM  

I wrote a similar post on another blog with another name, but I'm going to repost the thought here as well.

With the lockout situation and free agency situation all 32 teams were dealt a situation not seen in the modern era, the draft before the free agency period. And by the end of the day, most if not all profession draftniks had given the Lions one of the best if not the best grade of the first round. with the selection of Fairley.

Think about Mayhew's first picks of the two previous drafts. Stafford and Suh. Now remember the position groups of Stafford and Suh. By the season opener Kitna was trade and Cohen was released. Will Mayhew in year 3 continue the trend of trading or releasing someone from the position group of the first pick?

Could Fluellen have tweeted, "its been fun Detroit"?

Perhaps, but what I think Mayhew may have up his sleeve is a trade. And that trade will involve Sammie Lee Hill, and the trading of Hill will fill a position of need that the remaining rounds and free agency do not fill.

Never, sell Mayhew short on preparedness.

J. Hill,  April 29, 2011 at 2:26 PM  

This morning was great...I turned on ESPN, and people were talking about the Lions differently. They were using words like "respect" and "fear". It was nice to finally see the Lions are no longer the brunt of every joke in the NFL. Its been a slow and steady change these last few years, and its good to see people are finally noticing!

Mike,  April 29, 2011 at 2:33 PM  

The point of this being the first modern era draft before free agency is the best point I think anyone can make to those fans who are perplexed or upset by this pick. I think John Niyo said it best in an article I read this morning for detnews.com...

"I'd imagine they'll address one or both tonight in rounds 2 and 3, where the talent at each position better fits the pick. But I'd also imagine that when free agency finally gets underway — and maybe sooner rather than later? — Thursday night's pick will be part of the sales pitch.

Seriously, who wouldn't want to play behind that front four?"

I was talking about this very same thing when I saw Fairley talking on the phone with the Lions on the clock (after our initial reaction of "OH MY DEAR LORD NO ONE IS GOING TO RUN ON US FOR THE NEXT TEN YEARS", of course) was this changes everything about defensive free agency.

Consider Nnamdi Asomugha. He is seen as one of only two true shutdown cornerbacks in the league today (possibly three now with Patrick Peterson, but that's still a year or two away from being a sure thing). He had outstanding numbers in Oakland with an middling pass rush where opposing QBs didn't always need to rush the ball out of their hands and had enough time to check down away from his side of the field.

Now tell Asomugha that Detroit wants him. Tell him that QBs won't have time to check down through their progressions, that he's going to get more and more targets every game, and that the potential for more picks and passes defended are on the horizon. Detroit now becomes a very attractive place to be. Pair him with Chris Houston (who would be excited to be in Detroit if he was paired with Nnamdi), a healthy Louis Delmas, and a newly-comfortable Amari Spievey, and you turned a great weakness into a great strength without having to draft that position.

Dennis April 29, 2011 at 2:37 PM  

@anonymous. Why would they need to trade Sammie Hill? corey and sammie are our NT, Fairley is not a NT. You are more likely to see him at the 3 technique and spelling Suh

Anonymous,  April 29, 2011 at 5:07 PM  

Trade Hill? Until there is a good option for NT against the Run (and Adrian Peterson), I would think his job would be quite secure.

lionssuhperfan April 30, 2011 at 10:02 AM  

Thanks for the shout-out. Long live the Lions' Gate.

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