Will Lions Defense Roar, or Collapse?

Everyone knows that the Lions offense can move the ball. It's also been very well established that opponents can accomplish the same feat -- perhaps with more ease. Lions' head coach Rod Marinelli talked about Detroit's plan against Falcons' rookie Matt Ryan, who will start against Detroit in Sunday's season opener.

It's been established that, in all likelihood, the Detroit Lions will be able to move the football and score points in 2008.

It's also been very well established that opponents can accomplish the same feat -- perhaps with more ease.

Detroit's defense, the punchline of jokes for both the local and national media in 2007, earned its reputation. And while they were left hung out to dry by the offense (Detroit's inability -- and in some cases, refusal -- to run kept them on the field for what amounted to 19 games last season), it was nevertheless a train wreck.

Opposing quarterbacks completed a league high 70.1 percent of their pass attempts against Detroit. If that number seems staggering, that's because it is. It's the worst completion percentage allowed in modern day NFL history -- or basically, since the league started recording the statistic in 1970. They allowed an equally pathetic 96.8 QB rating, also good for worst in the NFL.

So if the fact that facing Falcons' rookie quarterback Matt Ryan doesn't inspire hope in Detroit with oddsmakers or the media, it's with good reason.

The Lions enter the season with a revamped defense, and in particular, a brand-new secondary. Tampa 2 defense veterans Travis Fisher and Brian Kelly man the outside, with superstar free-agent acquisition Leigh Bodden serving as what Rod Marinelli refers to as the "third starting cornerback." Gerald Alexander is paired with Dwight Smith as a formidable safety tandem, while the defensive line waived goodbye to stalwart but sometimes unreliable Shaun Rogers. They also added Tampa castoff Ryan Nece last week, who will play immediately in certain packages, but otherwise will backup starting outside linebacker Alex Lewis.

The outlook? No one really knows. But consider Marinelli enthused.

"All I can tell you is (what I've seen)," said Marinelli on Wednesday as the team continued to prepare for its season opener at Atlanta. "Anything else is speculation, right? Okay. All I can (tell you) is what I've seen in camp and preseason and I like what I've seen so far."

Detroit will unleash a flurry of blitz packages against Ryan, which includes bringing up the safety, and in some instances, a cornerback. In the preseason, the Lions first-team defense didn't allow a touchdown. Whether or not that translates into success at Atlanta is anyone's guess.

"They've been in the system, are system guys; they understand it," said Marinell of the new faces in the secondary. "And one thing they always have been and so far they've shown (is) they're very good tacklers and very good ball skills guys. Now they've got to go do it on Sunday."

Regardless, the Lions understand the importance of pressuring Ryan -- and sending the message that the team's defense isn't the doormat it was a year ago.

"Oh no, and see, there's different ways (to pressure Ryan)," said Marinelli. "There's physical pressure, but there's a lot about mental pressure. When you think it's coming and it's not - disguise, pressure, four-strong here, there, making him make checks, and sometimes you bring four. And I love hitting them, don't get me wrong, but the mental pressure is just as great, with disguising, being on top of the details. What we do, how we disguise -- that's why I keep saying it's about how we do things, how we align, our details, because there's two types of pressures: mental and physical."

The Lions are opening up as one-to-three point favorites in Vegas.

Notebook: Safety Daniel Bullocks will be a gametime decision. Although listed as a reserve, he is expected to regain his starting role lost to Gerald Alexander last year while injured. "Yeah, I think so. We just have to keep monitoring," said Marinelli. "That one is kind of like, all of a sudden you think you're in good shape and you could wake up the next morning sore. And he's doing a great job at it, and we've been smart with it."

Marinelli also confirmed that receivers Shaun McDonald and Mike Furrey would share return duties.

"They catch extremely well, which is important to me," commented Marinelli. "First rule of winning: don't beat ourselves. And their quickness, they'll get up in the pipe. Especially the punt return, I think we're in good shape there."


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