LIONS INSIDER

Detroit Lions coaches aren't opposed to adjusting defensive scheme to best suit personnel

Posted Jan 9, 2013

Both head coach Jim Schwartz and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said after the season that they aren’t married to any particular scheme and there’s always tweaking that goes on in the offseason.

When Jim Schwartz took over as head coach in 2009 he brought with him the “Wide 9” defensive scheme, which places a premium on getting the defensive line up the field to rush the passer.

One defensive end lines up on the outside shoulder of the tight end (nine technique), giving them a chance to build speed and velocity before engaging the offensive tackle. The rest of the line shifts around to multiple positions throughout the game to obtain maximum penetration. The scheme relies on linebackers to fill the gaps left by the forward pushing linemen.

It’s built to rush the passer and the Lions were one of the best sack artists in the league in 2010 (44) and 2011 (41), ranking No. 6 and No. 10, respectively, in the NFL.

That number dipped down to 34 this year (ranking at No. 16) and no individual reached double digits in sacks.

Defensive end Cliff Avril led the team with 9.5 and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh had eight. The four other defensive ends of the roster besides Avril – Kyle Vanden Bosch, Lawrence Jackson, Willie Young and Ronnell Lewis – combined for six.

Schwartz has always said that rushing the passer is a major priority of his and that’s been confirmed by the resources the Lions have placed into building their defensive line. They've drafted Suh and Nick Fairley, signed Vanden Bosch in free agency and placed the franchise tag on Avril last season at $10.6 million.

But both Schwartz and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said after the season that they aren’t married to any particular scheme and there’s always tweaking that goes on in the offseason.

“We evaluate every Monday after every single game. Adjustments we need to make, things we need to do better, things that work, things that didn’t work,” Schwartz said.

“You also do that on a yearly basis. Part of it is also tied into personnel that you have and you want your schemes to match your personnel. You have a general philosophy, but there’s some flexibility within that philosophy.”

That flexibility will depend on a number of factors heading into next year, including: personnel decisions, incoming rookies, how some young players from last year’s rookie class develop, and free agent acquisitions.

All of those will play a hand in what scheme best suits the personnel for next season. After a 4-12 season, the Lions shouldn’t be afraid to tinker with anything.

“To me the most important thing to address is each and every player and evaluate him separately, each guy,” Cunningham said. “You know, decide what they can do for the future and that’s the same thing with scheme.

“You know, the book that I end up giving Jim (Schwartz) at the end of the cut-ups, I think he wants to put it all on a computer because it’s probably too heavy to carry. We go through every aspect of it like any team in this league does. I think we do a real good job of that with personnel and the scheme. So, we’ll see what happens.”