(This is the last in a series examining the Detroit Lions’ highly-scrutinized secondary.)
Cornerback Chris Houston has heard all of the criticism.
His unit is mostly blamed for last season’s late defensive meltdown and it’s still being targeted as the Lions’ weak link entering this season.
Some of it Houston understands — after all, the Lions did allow a total of 928 passing yards in their last two games, against Green Bay (regular-season finale) and New Orleans (playoffs).
But some of the backlash has gone too far and isn’t a true reflection of the secondary, in Houston’s opinion.
“The last two games of the season, there was a drop-off,” Houston said. “We had a lot of injuries and guys trying to play through injuries. That comes with the game. There’s no excuses.
“But before that — those 13, 14 games – we were up there at the top. If we can stay healthy, we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”
Is Houston’s assessment fact or fiction? Does he have a point or is he in denial?
Let’s take a closer look:
* In the first nine games, the Lions allowed fewer than 200 yards passing six times. Kansas City was held to 116, Minnesota 189, San Francisco 111, Atlanta 199, Denver 117 and Chicago 107.
At that point, Detroit was giving up 184 yards through the air per game. Pittsburgh led the NFL, allowing 171.9 for the season, while Cleveland was second at 184.9.
* Through 13 games, the Lions had allowed an average of 209.1 passing yards per game.
If they would have continued at that pace the last three regular-season games, they would have ranked ninth in the league’s final rankings.
So, yes, Houston does have an argument.
And, yes, the secondary was beat up by late in the season when key contributors such as safety Louis Delmas, Houston, nickelback Aaron Berry, safety Amari Spievey and reserve safety Erik Coleman were all either out or trying to play through injuries.
The biggest loss was Delmas, who missed the final five regular-season games because of a knee injury.
As a result, the secondary got exposed:
*In the final four games, including the playoffs, Detroit gave up an average of 393 yards passing per game.
*Instead of being a top-10 pass defense, the Lions dropped all the way to No. 22 because of the poor finish.
Not surprisingly, there has been somewhat of a shake-up in personnel. Starting cornerback Eric Wright, a free agent, wasn’t re-signed and ended up getting a lucrative deal from Tampa Bay.
The Lions, meanwhile, added two free agents — safety Sean Jones (from Tampa Bay) and cornerback Jacob Lacey (from Indianapolis).
The club also drafted three cornerbacks — Bill Bentley (third round), Chris Greenwood (fifth round) and Jonte Green (sixth round).
Jones is expected to compete with Spievey for a starting job. Lacey filled the nickelback role (fifth defensive back) during last month’s minicamp.
The Lions are hoping the three rookies provide quality depth immediately and that at least one of them eventually develops into a starter.
On losing Wright, Houston said, “He can help take away the best wide receiver. We’re going to miss him.”
Houston, however, said he also believes that Berry, who recently was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, is underrated and ready to fill the void.
Houston, 27, is entering his sixth season in the NFL, and third with the Lions. He was a second-round pick, 41st overall, by Atlanta in 2007. The Lions acquired him in a trade for two late-round draft picks.
Since coming to Detroit, Houston has started 28 games in two seasons. He led the team with five interceptions last year, two of which he returned for touchdowns (56 yards against Dallas, 100 yards against Denver).
“He goes out there, and does his job every week,” Berry said of Houston. “When you’re consistent in this league, that’s saying something big for you.”
The Lions’ secondary, as a whole, obviously wasn’t consistent last year. They were solid early but soft late.
Which is the real thing? Houston and some of his teammates think it’s the former but they’re in the minority. They’re going to have to prove it for an entire season.