The more the defense sagged at the end of last season, the hotter the debate raged about the effectiveness of the Lions' wide-nine technique.
But after breaking down the defense's entire body of work, assessing the strengths of his returning personnel, deliberating about making some subtle changes, coach Jim Schwartz's faith in his system remains unshaken.
"We are very confident in the defensive schemes we play," Schwartz said. "And they do change from year to year. Some things become more useful as time goes on and some things less. Other things fit your personnel better.
"But (the wide nine) is something that fits our personnel very well and we've been effective with it. We don't view it at all as a detriment. We view it as a positive."
In a wide-nine technique, the defensive ends set up outside the offensive tackles and the three linebackers are bunched up inside them. Ideally, the deployment gives the defensive ends a straighter path to the quarterback, surrounding him and forcing him up into the inside rush.
But when a spate of injuries weakened both the defensive line and the secondary in the second half of the season, the system fell apart.
The Lions gave up 45 points in each of the last two games - losses to Green Bay and, in the wild-card playoff game, to New Orleans. They gave up 240 points (30 per game) in the final eight games of the regular season; after yielding 147 (18.3) in the first eight.
But the culprit, in Schwartz's view, was injuries and not scheme.
The Lions fought through significant injuries on the defensive line (Nick Fairley, Lawrence Jackson, Corey Williams and Willie Young all missed time) and especially in the secondary (Chris Houston, Aaron Berry, Louis Delmas and Amari Spievey).
"The cornerback position is a place we still have work to do," Schwartz said. "We talked about our depth up front and we saw that they were able to stay relatively productive (despite the injuries). The secondary wasn't the same. When we had injuries at the end of the season, we didn't respond the way that we need to."
Schwartz shook his head at the notion that he'd scrap the wide nine.
"I don't think it would've made a whole lot of sense to put the franchise tag on (defensive end) Cliff Avril," he said, "and then all of a sudden change the technique he was asked to play."
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