Kent Lee Platte, DLD Writer
It doesn’t take a forensics investigation to discover that the Lions defense fared poorly against the offensive powerhouse of the Cleveland Browns. The feelings of doom and gloom were not lost on the team, who immediately signed three players in the 24 hours after the game (They even signed one before the game, so THEY KNEW (Dun, dun, DUUUN)). I wasn’t thrilled to be going back to watch the game from a defensive perspective, as the first time wasn’t very pleasant. As is often the case, however, I was blessed with a different outlook the second go round that provided me with some distinct positives to go with the negatives (Which were even more negative).
Some Shining Light
Nick Fairley is a bad, bad man. The first time I watched the game I was looking for plays he made, the second time I simply tried to see if there were any plays he did not. It was boring and uneventful during that second bit. Fairley was dominant in every form of the word, and it was helped by the fact that so was Ndamukong Suh. Both players were upfield in a flash, and both handled double teams like it was nothing. Either player could unseat Geno Atkins as the best DT in the NFL, and it’s more likely than not that both will be part of the top three at their position by season’s end. Willie Young has two speeds, awesome and invisible. Ronnell Lewis showed well for a second week, fighting tooth and nail to get his shot at a roster spot at a clogged position.
When the Levy breaks
DeAndre Levy has hardly been the fan favorite since his drafting back in 2009. It’s possible this is due to playing at Wisconsin and football fans in Michigan loathe Wisconsin only slightly less than that team down south. Whatever the reason, Levy was signed to a decent extension at 2012 market value despite the bleak market in 2013, and this rubbed fans the wrong way since fan favorite Justin Durant was not retained. If asked who the best LB on the team is, most fans would respond with Stephen Tulloch, but it was Levy that has played the best this preseason. It’s probably the beard. Levy is fundamentally sound, takes correct angles, and his tackling seems to improved (angles and tackling, remember those terms, kiddos). Against the Browns, Levy was used in every aspect of the defense, and performed well in all of them. Levy was constantly around the ball, in several cases cleaning up the mistakes of others, and if this performance carries into the regular season, he will likely never leave the field save to catch his breath.
Second Team No More
Chris Houston is a LCB. Without going into a long explanation, some teams don’t use their CBs in a traditional #1, #2, #3 type of role, keeping their CBs based on position on the field. LCB is Left Cornerback, where Houston plays, and the team has been searching for a RCB since last season. They may have found more than that in Darius Slay. You see, while Houston is an ideal LCB, he is also an ideal #2 it’s just that the Lions haven’t had a #1 since Dre Bly. They may have one now, based on the past two games, and the fact that their rookie 2nd round pick is finally taking all the snaps with the 1st team defense is a promising sign. Through two games Slay has been targeted once, a pass that was perfectly placed despite tight coverage, and Slay immediately took his man down short of the sticks. Like Levy, Slay even played some clean up for the mistakes of others. His instincts look sharp, his athleticism is apparent, and he looks to be a keeper.
Playing College Football
5th overall pick Ezekiel Ansah didn’t make the splashy plays he made against D’Brickashaw Ferguson, but there were multiple occasions against Joe Thomas that made you say wow, provided you were looking at that position battle. Ansah pushed Thomas, considered the best LT in football, straight backwards into the pocket on multiple occasions, though in each case the coverage failed him. If you haven’t noticed the trend, Ansah was also playing clean up, tackling runners that had burst through the line and made it past the Linebackers. D-linemen that can save plays in the secondary are not seen often. The problem comes when you look at him mechanically, as Ansah is very clearly playing college football against pro Tackles. He is winning by athleticism and power only, which will only take him so far. We all know he has to grow into the defense, and early signs are VERY promising, but Ziggy still has a long way to go. That he can still make an impact despite this glaring flaw is amazing, and a good proof as to why he terrified me as a prospect.
The Great Divide
Going back to the Linebackers, in terms of how they’ve looked so far, there is Levy, Tulloch, and then this massive drop-off. Palmer is ahead of Whitehead by a small amount, and not enough to win the job outright because of up and down plays from both. The veteran STer had an ugly missed tackle in coverage that Tulloch was forced to clean up after a long gain. He would make up for it a few players later on a run up the middle with Palmer blitzing off the edge; the play was going nowhere because of Suh and Ansah but if they hadn’t been there Palmer would have cleaned it up from behind for a short gain. Later in the game, he would show the worst part of his game when he got swallowed by his blocker (Who was barely trying) and allowed Dion Lewis to cutback, though Quin was there to clean up the play. On a Campbell scramble, it was Palmer that would take down the QB with a shoestring tackle, saving a longer gain. He would end on a solid note with a few good plays in a row, but there’s no comfort in a player you can’t rely on to ALWAYS be where he should be and get off his blocks. Whitehead didn’t fare any better, making two good plays in the run game before taking an awful angle on a run that might have been a missed tackle if he hadn’t put himself so far out of the play on the inside. He also plays too deep in his zones, which allows the shorter catches to become medium distance ones, and that was on display here. Whitehead reminds me a lot of how Justin Durant played in Jacksonville before refining his game in Detroit. Both Palmer and Whitehead were involved in a terrible ST display on a long return that was negated by a hold, not a good sign for either.
The Even Bigger Divide
And then there’s Travis Lewis. Fans may remember Lewis as the goat of the game against the Jets, and he makes another strong case for that in this game. Lewis diagnosed plays well, but took poor angles, made poor tackle attempts, and couldn’t cover anyone. In a grade school display of coverage, Lewis not only bit on, but seemed to be confused by a play action and moved inside to cover an already occupied zone, allowing Dion Lewis to run uncontested upfield for a catch and TD. Lewis may be the first 2012 draft pick cut, and right now that would be for the best. Cory Greenwood looked decent in limited action, making a play for a roster spot.
A Blanket Statement
The coverage was terrible. Now on to some Quick Hits:
- Preseason favorite (undeserved) for the RCB spot, Ron Bartell, played as well as I probably could against the Browns allowing every pass thrown at him to be completed and drawing two penalties. If Slay wasn’t already playing well, he would have won the job by default given Bartell’s poor play.
- Glover Quin, hands down the best Safety on the roster, had a down night to be gentle. It was Quin who lazily allowed Cameron to the inside on the Browns’ first TD, and he was the best Safety in coverage against 1st or 2nd team.
- Bad angles and poor tackling were the order of the day, with Chris Houston, Don Carey, Tyrell Johnson, and Bill Bentley feeling like the LBs were having too much fun missing tackles.
- Bentley played a lot better than he did against the Jets, but was still targeted often.
Trevor Coston gave the Lions plenty of reason to make him a cut after the game, with Martavius Neloms leapfrogging him on the depth chart.
- Speaking of Neloms, looked very good though only against the 3s. Expect to see more of him.
- Myron Lewis had some poor play mixed in with a couple of nice plays on the ball, has at least justified his signing already.
- Chris Hope won’t make the roster based on his play, more of the same from last week.
- DeQuan Menzie could make the squad as a Nickel or situational specialist, blitzes well .
Tags: Ashlee Palmer, Chris Houston, Cleveland Browns, Darius Slay, DeAndre Levy, DeQuan Menzie, Glover Quin, Martavius Neloms, Nick Fairley, Preseason, Ron Bartell, Ronnell Lewis, Tahir Whitehead, Travis Lewis, Ziggy Ansah