By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – One the most menacing units in the NFL, the Detroit Lions defensive line has many scratching their heads as to why it is not racking up more sacks.
The group has 13 on the year, but with the havoc its players create, it seems like the unit led by ferocious defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh should have more statistics to show for their efforts.
In advance of Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham provided a thoughtful and detailed analysis of why the sacks have not been coming, why the group is close to getting them, what opposing offenses are doing to combat the Lions line and how the unit will come up with those big plays in the future.
To start, sacks are not quite as important as what everyone makes them out to be.
“Everybody talks about you make a tackle, you get a sack, you hit a home run in baseball, you make a 3-pointer in basketball,” Cunningham said. “To me, the idea is to disrupt the quarterback’s rhythm. We are not getting the guy on the ground right now. I looked at a lot of tape this week, talked to [defensive line coach] Kris Kocurek and [assistant defensive line coach] Jim Washburn, and we are like inches away.”
To Cunningham, the perfect example of this is Detroit’s first game against the Chicago Bears, back on Sept. 29.
“The first game against Cutler, we got three sacks, but there should have been about five other ones,” Cunningham said. “So many people see the home run. What they don’t see is the disruption of the quarterback. The idea is to make him move off his spot. He takes a three-step drop, back foot hits – don’t let him stay there. And that’s what our guys do a good job of.”
Evidently opposing offenses do not take the Detroit defensive line more lightly just because it has recently come up short of recording sacks. Cunningham and the other coaches study game tape of each week’s enemy, but once the game begins, the offense suddenly looks more fortified than it did on film.
“We were laughing the other day because we get what we call chipper protection – five offensive linemen, two guys on the edge, whether it’s back or two tight ends,” Cunningham said. “They drill the defensive ends, basically double-team everybody up front. Well, we’re breaking that. We’re still getting in the quarterback’s face, and the DBs are getting better at their job. We go into games and that’s not there. We don’t see it on the pictures of the other teams playing. they come and play us and there they are, seven guys blocking again, which means three-man routes.
“So all in all, I can’t answer the question about the sacks other than I like to see them on the ground too, but our opponents must be worried about something,” Cunningham said. ” The idea is to disrupt his throws, and I think we’re doing that. And I think as the development of the young guys comes, we’re going to get home, so I’m not that concerned about it.”
All in all, extra men being drafted to protect the quarterback is probably the best compliment a defensive line can get.
“They don’t want us to hit the quarterback,” Cunningham said. “My God, you’d need a Sherman tank to get through all the guys they hold in to block.”
Besides beefing up the security around the passer, teams have their quarterback get rid of the football fast. All teams invest tens of millions in their starting passer, and apparently the risk of having someone like Suh or fellow defensive tackle Nick Fairley hit that big-money man has just become too great.
“That ball is coming out now,” Cunningham said. “It’s coming out now. They’re not holding the ball.”
Another compliment. With the way the Detroit defensive line is playing, other teams will probably keep employing preventative measures. With the way this line is playing, that is probably a smart idea, sacks or no sacks.