Presuming a defensive overhaul for Lions

January, 3, 2013
1/03/13
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We noted earlier that Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew admitted he was wrong to count on tailback Jahvid Best to play this season. But that was just one of several acknowledgments and candid comments Mayhew made during an interview session with local reporters, and his most striking comments implied a major and immediate overhaul of the Lions' defense.

Much of the Lions' defensive nucleus is made up of pending free agents, and you wonder how many Mayhew wants to bring back after reading some of Mayhew's quotes. He admitted it's "quite possible" he misjudged the defense's talent level entering the season, and said it needs more playmakers.

[+] EnlargeChris Houston
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsCornerback Chris Houston, right, is among the pending free agents on a Detroit Lions defense that delivered few big plays this season.
"We need good players," Mayhew said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. "It doesn't really matter how we get them from my standpoint. But we need good players, and we need impact players, especially on the back end on the defense.

"We need guys that can impact the game," he added. "We've got a lot of guys that are good guys. They line up right, they know what their job is, but they don't impact the game. We need interceptors. We need guys that sack the quarterback. We need guys that cause fumbles, guys that make plays on third down. Those are the kind of guys that can change the game for us."

What's amazing is that even the most amateur observers have been questioning the Lions' secondary for years. It's true that safety Louis Delmas is a difference-maker when healthy, but for the most part it appears Mayhew went into the season counting on players to do things they had never or rarely done before.

Who did Mayhew expect to be his interceptors? Cornerback Chris Houston had five in 2011, but has never had more than two in any of his other five NFL seasons. Cornerback Jacob Lacey had five interceptions in three previous seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. Safety Amari Spievey had five in two previous seasons. Cornerback Bill Bentley was a rookie, and thus his production was impossible to project.

Mayhew said the only defensive player who improved from 2011 was defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, a warning shot for everyone who is eligible for free agency and a few others as well. (I assume he skipped over defensive tackle Nick Fairley, because he was injured for most of last season.)

The free agent list includes defensive linemen Cliff Avril, Corey Williams, Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson. Linebackers Justin Durant and DeAndre Levy are on it, as are Houston, Delmas, Lacey and Spievey. Given Mayhew's comments, you would think that many of them will be looking for work elsewhere this spring.

Of course, Mayhew's search for "playmakers" is no different than what every other team is looking for. He won't find playmakers at every position, but in 2012, the Lions were pretty thin across the board. Most fans directed their ire at the Lions' inconsistent offense, but it rarely got help from the defense. The Lions recovered the NFL's sixth-fewest fumbles (six), had only 11 interceptions (No. 23) and ranked No. 22 in sacks per opposing dropback (5.6), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Again, I appreciate Mayhew's honesty. There is not much to criticize here that he did not already acknowledge. The Lions stood pat last offseason and paid for it. That doesn't appear to be a possibility in 2013.

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