By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Gunther Cunningham’s career is closing in on the half-century mark, and the measures offensive lines take against the Detroit Lions defensive line surprise even the 67-year-old coordinator.
Defensive tackle C.J. Mosley has not been around nearly that long. Not shockingly, the level of protection opponents employ again the Lions is foreign to Mosley, too.
“It is my ninth year, and I can say in my years, I’ve never seen this,” Mosley said. “Never.”
Just like defenses go out of their way and beyond their usual tendencies to guard against the ability of superstar wide receiver Calvin Johnson, offenses pull out the stops when it comes to the Lions’ defensive line. The unit that includes the formidable duo of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley has just 16 sacks through 10 games.
“Sacks are something that we always want, but it’s not a perfect world,” Mosley said. “We’re just not going to get those all the time when we have things like that seven-man protection, the chippers, the double teams and more.”
Defense end Willie Young sometimes tries to talk offensive players out of it.
“To some extent it’s funny because you can’t just blow your top and get all frustrated with it because once that happens, now you’ve really got a problem on your hands,” Young said. “It’s like, ‘Yo, come on, man, come on, man, come on, man, give me a break over here, man.’
“I talk to them all the time,” Young added. “‘Hey man, you know you don’t belong over here. You’re on the wrong side of the formation. You’re supposed to be over there.’”
Mosley, listening from his locker a few feet away, confirms the conversations do not do any good. The manpower opponents put toward limiting the Lions defensive line -and the way that protection is delivered, sometimes with legal blindside hits – frustrates the coordinator as much as it does the players.
“It makes me sick sometimes,” Cunningham said. “It is what it is. We see those same teams play against other teams that I think are good pass rush teams, and the receivers come out, they end up in five-, six-man protection schemes, and that’s easier to break, but when you have all your guys doubled up front, it’s pretty hard. We talked about the chipper protection, the ends line up, they rush in, those two wing guys, or two backs come up and hit you in the ribs.
“That’s what’s happening to them,” Cunningham continued. “The two tackles get doubled almost every play. Suh is doubled every snap.”
If the tackles keep getting doubled, it seems that would leave a clearer path to the quarterback for the defensive ends. According to Cunningham, that is not always the case.
“There’s a tight end with a tackle, they’re involved,” Cunningham explained. “So sometimes you’ll see a set go across the board, there’s a tight end and another one sitting right off the tight end’s hip. Those two guys have that end. So the line bottles up the inside. The left tackle has the back. The back comes off his edge so they’re all blocked.
“That’s when they go eight-man scheme,” Cunningham added, “and we get that a lot. Every time we see two tight ends together, ‘Here we go,’ and that’s what’s happening.”
Though the line keeps working, keeps pushing, keeps pressuring, the lack of results frustrates them, even though they know all the scheming equates to a compliment – sort of.
“I say a slap in the face at the same time because it’s frustrating,” Mosley said. “It frustrates us, but I guess if you have to give us that much attention, you could place it as a compliment.
“It’s aggravating because we want to fly around, we want to get loose, we want to fly around and make plays, make sacks,” Mosley added. “We want to do it for our defense and for our team. It’s very aggravating when that play isn’t happening as much as you want it.”
The focus other teams put on the unit seems to indicate a great line that is simply being stymied. Ranking it among other impressive defensive lines is difficult, though, because so many of the statistics are marginal at best.
“I don’t know if you can rank it because if you were, you’re going to go to categories,” Mosley said with a wry laugh. “Sacks would be the first one, the first category you go to. Sacks, TFLs, all that. So it’s just hard, but I guess it is just respect when it comes down to it.
“It’s respect,” Mosley continued. “Offenses know we can wreck a game.”
Sooner or later, he believes the Lions will have their chance.
“You’ve just got to put your head down and keep going,” Mosley said. “It’ll crack, it’ll give, and when that flood comes, it’ll come. They come in bunches, so I keep working.”