Ric Tapia/Icon SMI - Will Cliff Avril be worth the money?
I watched this past weekend's football fully expecting to have Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tim Tebow shoved down my throat as a combined story lines of divergent ways that the future of NFL offenses may be going....Tom Brady and the Patriots embarrassing mutilation of the Broncos fully pushed into view exactly what the NFL thinks about the "Running Game/Sound Defense" theory of football teams...The NFL wants none of it. In fact, after the Broncos-Patriots contest, I was fully of the opinion that what the NFL truly wants is 100-98 basketball-type scores.
But then something funny happened...the Forty-Niners and Giants dethroned Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, respectively in what had to have the people back in the New York offices mighty upset. Where has the long anticipated opening day rematch of the Packers and Saints gone?
The old adage has always been "Offense puts people in the seats, defense wins championships." The NFL, via rule changes, questionable officiating, and broadcast television, have been trying for years to debunk this theory.
And for the most part they have. The five yard chuck rule, the overzealous flagging of hits to the quarterback, the horse collar tackle, the protecting of receivers going over the middle...all of this has led to defenses being almost completely hand tied in their attempts to slow down offensive juggernauts...just as the NFL has foreseen...
But this past weekend...SF and NY seemingly made stands for the way football used to be played. They won with enough defense to slow down these passing juggernauts...although in the SF-NO game, one could make the argument that the 49er defense simply managed to keep them in the game until the last five minute onslaught of offensive fireworks...but still...there was defense and there was a lot of rushing from Frank Gore and even Alex Smith scored on a 28 year QB keeper...
The old ways can still stand...but will they be allowed to next year?
So what did we learn?
1. Defense can still win, but I fear that the Lions are not built with the kind of defense that does. The Lions defense is built upon the defensive line, from the tackles out. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairly are cornerstones for the future...but the ends? I'm worried about the defensive ends.
Kyle VandenBosch is an incredible motor guy and an unquestioned leader...but I don't think it's too far fetched to say that he gets by on his work ethic and non-stop motor than he does with his baseline talent. If you look at the ends of SF and NY, you see lean long speedsters in the mold of a Julius Peppers (Justin Tuck, Osi Umeniyora, etc)...you might be able to say that KVB is a bit like SF's DE Justin Smith...but Smith is a much more powerful, younger, and faster version....this brings up the question of what to do about Cliff Avril, who will be negotiating for a new contract this offseason.
Avril is a somewhat known commodity as he has increasingly gotten better every season, this year he had a career high 11 sacks...but he is not in the mold of a Tuck or a Peppers or Umeniyora...he is a shorter, fast end...he is not in the top 5 in the league...11 sacks is respectable...but that's supposed to be what he averages every year...if he's truly great, that'd be a down year for a pro bowl defensive end...Is that worth top 3-4 DE money in the league?
On the other hand, this is the second new year under the new CBA--and most importantly, a rookie salary structure--and the prospect of trying to draft one or two of those long, lean speedsters and bargain basement prices might be best for the organization...especially when you consider the possibility of Calvin Johnson needing a new contract....
2. Great linebackers can make all the difference. In SF, Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman are studs. They are fast, mean, glass-chewing tackling machines. They are players with misguided, evil, malevolent hearts when they are on the football field and they can stop the run and cover tight ends out of the backfield. I don't think the Lions have a single linebacker that can do that.
Willis and Bowman rarely ever miss assignments, and they almost never miss a tackle. In the Lions loss to the Saints, Tulloch was out of place several times and Justin Durant missed several tackles.
The Lions were one of the worst teams this season in rush defense and while a lot of the blame tends to get heaped upon the D-Line, I'm sure a lot of it should also get shoveled in the direction of the Detroit linebackers who were unable to fill the proper holes and even when they did properly fill missed too many tackles.
3. Teams are going to start loading up on cornerbacks...probably taller cornerbacks if possible. Last offseason, I set my hopes on two cornerbacks...free agent Carlos Rogers...who was signed up by SF and is going to the pro bowl and Nebraska's Prince Amukamara...who was drafted by the Giants, had an off and on year, but was a big part of eliminating the Packers WR Jordy Nelson this past weekend and is now heading to the NFC Championship game...
Chris Houston had some awful games...Eric Wright didn't exactly light the league...
So, while the Lions are completely stacked at DT...there are still ALOT of positions that the need to be addressed this off season, both prudently and financially intelligently.