Lions secondary stepping up

Dre' who? Without their departed cornerback, whom they'll face next Sunday, the Detroit Lions are leading the league with 13 interceptions in seven games -- one more than they totaled all of last year. Four of those came this past Sunday at Chicago, when Rod Marinelli issued a demanding challenge to his previously struggling secondary. Much more inside.

The Detroit Lions will see a familiar face when they square off with Denver on Sunday -- that of cornerback Dre' Bly. The team drew criticism after trading Bly to the Broncos during the off-season, which seemed questionable considering Bly had been the team's top performer -- defensively or offensively -- for the past several years.

Thus far into the season, the Lions are leading the league with 13 interceptions through seven games -- one more than they totaled all of last season.

The Lions picked off four passes -- three in the end zone -- as they won Sunday at Chicago, 16-7, and improved to 5-2.

Facing quarterback Brian Griese for the second time in four games, the Lions didn't want to rely as much on zone coverage as they did Sept. 30 in a 37-27 victory. They decided to play more man-to-man coverage, which had been a weakness.

"Brian is really good at reading coverages," said coach Rod Marinelli, who once was on Tampa Bay's staff when Griese was a Buccaneer. "Brian's really good. And I just didn't think we could give him the same look the whole game."

Marinelli gave the game plan Wednesday. He reinforced it Thursday and Friday. Then, in the team's Michigan Avenue hotel Saturday night, he drove it home by challenging the secondary in front of the team. Wide receiver Roy Williams said Marinelli did it in a way you can't say on TV or write in a family newspaper.

"He just said, 'Playmakers stand up,' " safety Gerald Alexander said. "All of us on the team consider ourselves playmakers, and when our opportunity comes, we have to cash in. ...

"You got the point. This is going to be a big game, a big-game atmosphere, and we've got to go out there and make plays for us to win. And we did that."

The Lions pressured Griese, and Alexander, Fernando Bryant, Kenoy Kennedy and Keith Smith all picked off passes. Three of the four picks were in man coverage.

"It all works together," Marinelli said. "Once they trust that rush and the ball comes out quick or on time, and they're breaking on the ball well."

Notes and Quotes

  • The Lions are gaining confidence. "Guys are seizing the opportunity right now of where we're at," quarterback Jon Kitna said. "You don't get a lot of opportunities in this league to do special things, and we have that chance, and that's what we've given ourselves by the way we've started the season."
  • Special things? Does that mean making the playoffs or winning a playoff game? "I don't play this game for any other reason but to win a Super Bowl," Kitna said. "I'm not trying to go to the playoffs. I'm not trying to win 10 games. I'm not trying to do moral victories. I'm trying to win a Super Bowl. If (I) don't feel like I can win a Super Bowl, I'm out."
  • The offensive linemen have shown improvement. They helped running back Kevin Jones rush for 105 yards Sunday, and they protected Kitna well. The Lions allowed four sacks, but Kitna said they all were coverage sacks. "The thing I like about them right now, they're going downfield," coach Rod Marinelli said. "That ball's thrown, and guys are cleaning up piles and hustling and finishing plays. And that's what I want. I like that. They finish every play. They're getting better and better each week."

    Player Notes

  • WR Calvin Johnson is sore after aggravating a lower back injury Sunday at Chicago, but the problem isn't as bad as it was originally.
  • K Jason Hanson had three field goals and an extra point Sunday, moving him ahead of Al Del Greco into 12th place on the NFL's all-time scoring list with 1,591 career points. He is three points behind former Lion Eddie Murray for 11th place.
  • RB Kevin Jones rushed for 105 yards Sunday, giving him his first 100-yard game in almost a year, since Nov. 5 against Atlanta.
  • QB Jon Kitna took four sacks Sunday. He said all were coverage sacks and he needed to get the ball out quicker, but he also said he didn't want to make careless throws.
  • TE Sean McHugh started and played with a protective device on his left hand to protect a fractured bone.

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