When a team can put up the sort of offensive numbers that the Detroit Lions can, it is easy to ignore what they do defensively. So far in the 2012 season, the Lions defense is giving up an average of 324 yards of total offense, good enough for ninth best in the league.
The strength of the Lions’ defense lies in its front four. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is still a terror in the middle of the field despite a drop in play from his dominating rookie season in 2010. Through the first five games, Suh has a total of 2 1/2 sacks to go along with ten tackles. His rare combination of size and speed makes him one of the most difficult matchups for any offense line. Expect the Chicago Bears to double team Suh as much as possible with center Roberto Garza along with left guard Chilo Rachal.
According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, defensive tackle Corey Williams—who missed the last two games after getting his knee scoped—is expected to return Monday night against the Bears. Before his injury, the nine year veteran had two sacks in three games, as well as six tackles. His return will keep the Bears from focusing solely on Suh like the Vikings and Eagles did in Williams’ absence, because of his abilities in both rushing the passer and stopping the run.
Nick Fairley has been considered a bust by some since being drafted 13th overall in the 2011 draft. Inconsistent play has plagued him from the get-go, but on Sunday against Philadelphia he may have played one of his best games. He finished with two tackles, batted down a pass, and was credited with a half of a sack. Fairley benefits from being pushed by guys like Williams and offers the potential to be a disruptive force in their defensive tackle rotation
Outside on the edge, the Lions like to implement the Wide-Nine technique with their defensive ends where both Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch line up on the outside shoulder of the tight end, slightly tilted towards the quarterback in an all out pass rush. Avril had a stellar 2011 season, amassing a career-high 11 sacks that led to him getting the franchise tag in the offseason. Vanden Bosch hasn’t made the big splash many thought he would when he signed with the Lions before the start of the 2010 season, but he has been a solid contributor.
Right tackle Gabe Carimi will likely be matched up against Avril, who is a pure speed rusher that relies on a quick first step as well as good hands to fight off opposing linemen. Carimi has struggled in pass protection this season and will have to use his own athleticism to counter Avril.
Vanden Bosch will present a different task on the other side for J’Marcus Webb, who has had his hands full through the first five games with speed rushers similar to Avril. Vanden Bosch is more of a power rusher who uses his strength and relentless motor to wear out his opponent. Leverage will be key for Webb in slowing him down, and the Lions’ use of the Wide-Nine technique leaves them more vulnerable in the run game.
The Lions’ three linebackers, DeAndre Levy, Stephen Tulloch, and Justin Durant, are not household names, but they do all the little things right and are mostly unheralded for their production. They are ranked one through three on the Lions’ leader board in tackles, with Durant claiming the top spot with 37. All three are solid tacklers and good against the run, but can be susceptible in the passing game. The Bears will likely try and form a mismatch with the bigger, more physical Kellen Davis or with the quicker and more elusive Matt Forte.
This past Sunday the Lions’ secondary got a boost with the return of safety Louis Delmas, who made his first start of the season. Delmas is the best player in their secondary and can do a multitude of things from his free safety position. His coverage skills are at a pro-bowl level and he is great when brought into the box to stop the run or blitz the quarterback. Delmas will likely be keeping a close eye on Brandon Marshall, and do not be surprised to see the Lions use 2-Man coverage to defend him.
After Delmas, the Lions’ secondary is very thin. Injuries have left cornerback Jacob Lacey questionable for this Sunday, leaving rookie Bill Bentley lined up opposite of Chris Houston. Bentley was viewed by some as a project for the Lions who would likely see time at the nickelback position. He is solid in man coverage but has trouble with bigger receivers. The Bears will try and match Marshall against him as much as possible, trying to expose the rookie’s inexperience.
Houston has solid speed and size but would likely be a number two or three corner for any other team. The Bears would have benefited from having Alshon Jeffery on the field, but due to his injury Earl Bennett and Devin Hester should see a lot of work on the field Monday night.
Matt Eurich is a contributor to Bearsbacker.com. Follow Bears Backer on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute news about the Bears. Also, check out Matt’s work on BleacherReport.com and follow him on Twitter @MattEurich.