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Detroit Lions earn middling defensive grades at midpoint of season

Rookie Detroit Lions defensive lineman Ziggy Ansah has shown flashes of brilliance but also made typical rookie mistakes.

Rookie Detroit Lions defensive lineman Ziggy Ansah has shown flashes of brilliance but also made typical rookie mistakes.

The Detroit Lions are sitting pretty at 5-3 and second place in the NFC North as they go into their Week 9 bye. This is the second installment in a three-part series in which we hand out our midseason grades.

Yesterday we graded the offense. Today we pass down our grades for the defense. Tomorrow we will evaluate the special teams and finish with some concluding remarks.

Defensive line: C+

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is having a monster year. He already has 3.5 sacks, five quarterback hits, and 29 hurries, compared to 29 hurries all last year. Plus he’s been strong in run defense for once.

Willie Young, the 18th-ranked 4-3 defensive end per ProFootballFocus, has returned to 2011 form with two sacks, seven hits, and 23 hurries.

Pass rusher Ziggy Ansah (three sacks, three hits, but only 11 hurries) has shown flashes of athleticism and also typical rookie low points. He has been strong in run defense. If he can get his snap timing down, he can make some big plays in the future.

The disappointments on the defensive line have been defensive tackles Nick Fairley and Jason Jones. Fairley had a monster first game but hasn’t been the same since injuring his shoulder injury late in Week 1. Injury-prone Jones was already performing below average — struggling in run defense and pass rush — before tearing his ACL in Week 3.

Jones’ struggles opened the door for Israel Idonije and Willie Young to get more playing time. Idonije has been solid but not the same player he was in Chicago.

Rookie Devin Taylor had a sack against the Cincinnati Bengals and drew a big hold against the Dallas Cowboys to give Detroit much-needed time. Taylor should see increased playing time in the second half of the season.

Linebackers: A-

Stephen Tulloch has been a great leader, a good tackler, and overall a good player.

DeAndre Levy has four big interceptions; he has been great in coverage and all over the field in run defense despite some gap issues early. Re-signing Levy over Justin Durant was a great decision by general manager Martin Mayhew.

Ashlee Palmer is a two-down run stopper who has also done well special teams coverage. Rocky McIntosh, Tahir Whitehead, and Travis Lewis have all performed well on special teams.

Blitzing has been a problem, however, which is the reason for the minus.

Defensive backs: C-

Cornerback Chris Houston has struggled since Week 4 but rebounded against the Cowboys. He needs to step into the role of No. 1 cornerback and avoid getting burnt by double moves.

Rashean Mathis, who has grappled with a concussion and groin injury, has been a steady, solid veteran when on the field.

Second-round rookie Darius Slay continues to grow and gets better week after week despite shaky play early in the season. Bill Bentley has been inconsistent but has shown improvement covering slot wide receivers and in run defense.

The cornerback corps must work on the big plays allowed. They are a solid coverage unit for the majority of the game but those one or two big plays make life much harder for Detroit. They are giving up 24.7 points per game, including about 1.5 ppg off short fields and turnovers.

Oft-injured safety Louis Delmas has made some tremendous open-field tackles against both the run and pass. That he has been on the field for all eight games is a big reason why the Lions are 5-3.

Glover Quin has been good in coverage but needs to provide more run support alongside Delmas, who can be overaggressive at times.

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