The Lions play a right and left cornerback scheme RCB/LCB) as opposed to a No. 1 and No. 2 (1-2) CB scheme. There is an important distinction between the two schemes and how it relates to the Lions secondary.
In the 1-2 CB scheme, you match your top CB against the opponent’s most dangerous receiver and play a predominately man-press coverage. This scheme is best employed by teams who have a shutdown stud CB like Derrelle Revis (NYJ), Antoine Winfield (MIN), or Patrick Peterson (ARI) as examples.
Lacking a shutdown CB, the Lions chose to go with a RCB/LCB scheme. This scheme is dependant upon the LCB being left-leg dominant and the RCB being right-leg dominant. This deserves a brief explanation, so here’s what I want you to do:
Stand up. Now stand on one leg for five seconds. I’ll wait…
The leg that you stood on is your dominate leg. For a CB playing in a RCB/LCB scheme this is critical when playing man-press coverage because this is the leg that generates that first explosive step when “breaking down“ into man coverage. In the RCB/LCB scheme, the cornerbacks are seldom ambidextrous enough to perform at the same level at both positions. This explains why the Lions seldom play man-press coverage. The Lions play a rather soft zone to avoid being left in the dust by larger, or speedier receivers.
Why is this so important at this point in time?
The Lions lost two RCBs in the Week 6 win over the Eagles. Jacob Lacey (concussion) and rookie Bill Bentley (shoulder) were the only natural RCBs on the roster. As a result, the Lions were forced into a 1-2 CB scheme where LCB Chris Houston had to be matched up against DeSean Jackson, the Eagles most dangerous receiver, while rookie Jonte Green (a natural LCB who struggles at RCB) had coverage on Jeremy Maclin.
The long TD pass to Maclin was a miscommunication between Houston, who, along with Green, was playing soft zone and FS Louis Delmas, who had “top” coverage on Jackson, but misread Maclin’s route.
The Bears Matchup Nightmare
The Lions will play the NFC North division leading Bears on Monday Night Football at Soldier Field without their two best (and only) natural RCBs. This presents a matchup nightmare for Detroit’s CBs, who will be tasked with covering one of the NFL’s leading receivers in Brandon Marshall. Marshall’s 35 receptions are more than the next three Bears statistical leaders in receptions combined.
Needless to say, Marshall will draw double coverage from Detroit’s best CB standing, Chris Houston, and get help from FS Louis Delmas. The problem arises when the Lions play rookie Jonte Green on an island against WRs Alshon Jeffery and Devin Hester. A daunting challenge.
Taking Inventory of Detroit’s Secondary
Detroit will be forced into playing a 1-2 CB scheme as a result of the rash of injuries to the secondary. Is there an answer to the critical depth shortage in the secondary? Let’s take inventory:
Rookie Chris Greenwood hasn’t practiced until this week after recovering from a sport hernia. Activating Greenwood now would have to be considered a last resort emergency action plan only.
Safety Amari Spievey seems the logical choice to either start as the No. 2 CB, or play the nickel. He’s taken some snaps at RCB in training camp and is a converted RCB. This is the most likely scenario.
Moving Spievey to CB means that safety Ricardo Silva will have to be activated as a backstop to starting safeties Louis Delmas and Erik Coleman.
Safety John Wendling has been relegated to special teams, but will have to be available should the secondary suffer another injury.
The two rookie CBs on the Lions practice squad (Conroy Black and Lionel Smith) are non-factors after reviewing the above mentioned alternatives.
Signing a free agent CB days before an important divisional showdown isn’t even a distant consideration.
The Lions depth crisis in the secondary has to be the most urgent challenge to be met in this week’s preparations. Is there anything that can mitigate what appears to be mission impossible for the Lions secondary?
The Jay Cutler Factor
Yes, there is hope for the Lions to pull off an upset and it begins with the Lions front defensive seven. The Lions defensive line will have to turn in the collective game of their lives in Chicago, harassing Bears QB Jay Cutler relentlessly. This would greatly alleviate the pressure on the secondary, who could find some opportunities on hurried throws from a rattled, harried QB.
Ball Control and the Lions Offense
That hoary old adage that the best defense is a good offense couldn’t be more apt than in this game. The Lions must do everything possible to keep that Bears offense off the field even though they are going up against the third best NFL defense overall and the top rushing defense in the league according to statistics provided by NFL.com.
Getting the run offense more involved is a must. We can expect to see two TE sets for the most part and an increased role for rookie road grader, Riley Reiff. Reiff will play as a TE, or OT on most snaps.
Whether it’s productive, or not, the Lions have to run the ball about 30 times. This should provide some space for possession receivers to move the chains on play-action passes.
If Calvin Johnson can occupy two defenders deep down field, QB Matt Stafford should find some success in the short passing game. It goes without saying that should the Lions find themselves on the short end of the score, Megatron should be the primary target on almost every play.
The Lions secondary is on life support, but this situation isn’t hopeless even though the cornerbacks will be compelled to play a non-traditional 1-2 CB scheme. A strong effort by the defensive front seven and a ball control offense could swing the advantage in the Lions favor.
This is a huge game for both teams with subplots galore, but no subplot is more compelling to this analyst than how a Lions cobbled up secondary responds to the challenge.