Eric Goska column: Detroit has lion's share of trouble on defense

Oct. 1, 2010



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What fence?

If thereís one team that has failed to erect an effective barrier to discourage trespassing, itís the Detroit Lions. Whether the surface is synthetic or natural, opponents have been trampling the grass with impunity.

Bad defenses didnít originate with the arrival of statistic keeping in 1932. But the tracking of numbers encouraged comparisons in regard to which teams were best or worst at holding their adversaries at bay.

Detroitís defense of the last few years deserves an F, as in flawed and feckless. It may not rank as the most abysmal of all time, but it merits consideration.

Last year, the Lions became the first team in NFL history to give up 6,000 or more yards three years in a row. Whatís more, they are on pace to easily exceed that total again this season.

Six thousand yards is nearly three-and-a-half miles. It equates to 375 yards per game.

Triple that and the resulting fallout is more than the Lionsí career rushing and passing leaders, Barry Sanders and Bobby Layne, respectively, amassed on the ground (15,269 yards) or through the air (15,710).

Pick a category and Detroit, since 2007 at least, resides at or near the bottom. Total yards? Last, with 20,027 yielded. Points allowed? Last, with 1,533 tabulated. Yards passing? Last, with 12,891 given up. Yards per play? Last, with an average allowance of just more than 6 yards a pop.

Clearly, this is a lasting problem.

The Lions havenít had a top-10 defense since 1993 when they ranked sixth overall in yards allowed. They havenít finished No. 1 since 1965, a year before coach Jim Schwartz was born.

Detroitís opponents have gained more than 300 yards in 47 of 51 regular-season games since 2007, including the last 15. They have surpassed 400 yards on 23 occasions.

While Lions defenders have struggled overall, they have been slightly more effective against the run. Three teams ó the Raiders (7,776 yards), the Chiefs (7,361) and the Browns (7,185) ó have given up more yards on the ground than the Lions (7,136).

The pass has been Detroitís Achillesí heel. Their defensive passer ratings have been 96.8 in 2007, 110.9 in 2008, 107.0 in 2009 and 95.0 through three games this year. Opponents have compiled a passer rating of 100 points or better 32 times.

Packers statistics  |   Other NFL statistics  |  Standings  |  Matchups/Odds

The Packers have taken full advantage of this ineptitude. Green Bay has averaged 443.8 yards of offense and 35 points in its last six meetings with its rival from Michigan. Those averages are higher than the 392.7 yards and 30.1 points Detroit has been allowing per game since 2007.

Green Bay last failed to accumulate at least 300 yards at the Lionsí expense on opening day 2005. Detroit won 17-3 by limiting Brett Favre and Co. to 216 yards and by forcing three turnovers.

The Packers might well surpass that yardage total by halftime Sunday at Lambeau Field. The team has amassed at least 227 yards in the first half of each of its last five games with Detroit.

Gunther Cunningham was hired last season to fix what ails the Lionsí defense. Should the team fail to improve, it might join the Pittsburgh Pirates (now Steelers) of 1933-1936 as the only other team to have surrendered the most yards four seasons running.

Regular-season series

Overall: Green Bay leads 88-64-7.

At Lambeau Field: Packers lead 26-10-3.

Starting quarterbacks

Packers: Aaron Rodgers (19-16 overall; 4-0 vs. Detroit).

Lions: Shaun Hill (10-8; 0-0 vs. Green Bay).

Once a Lion, now a Packer

There are no former Lions on the Packersí roster.

Once a Packer, now a Lion

Defensive tackle Corey Williams (2004-07) and tight end Spencer Havner (2008-09) are former Packers.

Eric Goska is a Press-Gazette correspondent, a Packers historian and the author of ďGreen Bay Packers: A Measure of Greatness,Ē a statistical history of the Packers. E-mail him at

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