The Detroit Lions are coming off a season where they ranked 22nd against the pass and were shredded for 928 yards in their final two games, including 459 in a 45-28 loss to the New Orleans Saints in the wild card round of the playoffs. Lions cornerback Chris Houston doesn't want to make excuses, but he thinks there were mitigating circumstances for those poor performances. The 2007 second round pick out of Arkansas by the Atlanta Falcons, who is entering a contract year, believes the Lions' secondary is actually underrated, writes Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
"Definitely," Houston said of the underrated label. "I think so. ... The last two games of the season it was kind of a drop-off. We had a lot of injuries and guys trying to play through injuries. But a lot of people didn't see that (when) they're coming to the game.
"There are no excuses, but for those 14, 13 games, we were up there at the top. So if we can stay healthy we're going to surprise a lot of people."
A quick check of the injury reports for Week 17 and the following week's playoff game show that Aaron Berry (a potential starter this season) and free safety Louis Delmas were "Doubtful" and Houston and safety Amari Spievey were "Questionable" for the regular season finale. Delmas, Houston and cornerback Alphonso Smith were listed on the injury report the following week as "Probable", as most players tend to be for playoff games.
Advanced metrics support Houston's claim that the pass defense was very good for much of the 2011 season. Over the first 10 games of the 2011 season, the Lions secondary allowed an average of 192.8 passing yards per game. In the final six games of the season, a stretch of the scheduled that included two meetings with the Green Bay Packers, a road game against the New Orleans Saints (played without a suspended Ndamukong Suh) and a game against a San Diego Chargers offense that averaged over 275 passing yards per game on the season, the Lions allowed an average of 317.2 passing yards per game. When you adjust for opponent, which Football Outsiders does, the Lionshad the league's fourth-best pass defense in 2011. The 21 interceptions, the fifth-highest total in the league, also cannot be ignored when evaluating the performance of the pass defense last season.
That was last year, though, and all anyone may remember is Matt Flynn and Drew Brees torching the secondary for big plays in a pair of Lions losses to end their season. With starter Eric Wright signing a five-year, $37.5 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the opening days of free agency, and the Lions addressing that loss with Jacob Lacy and three mid-to-late round draft picks, it's understandable why there are so many question marks about this unit. With a little help from the front seven, Houston thinks the secondary can deliver.
"The secondary can definitely help this team," Houston said according to Terry Foster of The Detroit News. "But it goes hand in hand. The defensive line and linebackers got to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback and when the ball is up in the air, we got to make plays. That is how it goes."