As any Lion fan or national pundit could even tell you the Lions run the "Wide Nine" technique. Recent signing, Jason Jones, and Israel Idonije and some comments by Idonije regarding his use and the Lions techniques has raised some question as to if the Lions are changing strategy or not.
To start with Jones and Izzy are definitely DE/DT Tweeners they are both athletic big men both being listed as 6' 5'' and 275+lbs and primarily as DE's. We all know though that last year both players spent time at DT as well. The signing of these tweeners seemed a departure from what we had come to expect which was fast DEs running as fast as the could towards the quarterback. But if we remember to when Schwartz just got here the first serious free agent push he made was for Kevin Carter who played both DE and DT under Schwartz in Tennessee from 2001-2005.(linky) The very next year Schwartz was comparing another DE/DT tweener that the Lions were pursuing to Carter, Anythony Hargrove (linky), where he said
You know the guy he reminded me the most of? Kevin Carter, He'd probably play end on first and second down and then rush from the inside on third down.
Sounds a lot like what Izzy was saying his role would be
I think the focus is first and second down, to be on the end," Idonije said. "Number one, just stop the run. In that the 4-3 style defense, stopping the run is the first focus. After that, whether it's inside on passing situations, or we're going to do something where I'm flexed outside in the (wide) nine to get after it from there.
It's the same defense
when talking about Detroit and Chicago's defense. At which point every Lions fan collectively in took a breath and were worried that Izzy might have brain trauma. Saying that its the same defense as Chicago is one thing but that we play the run? on first and second downs? That just doesn't jell with our recent wide nine experience.
But when we look back at who Schwartz and co. tried to bring in and then at his time in Tennessee we see a little different picture, one where Schwartz favored having a single large DE 280ish pounds who had the size who could slide inside and rush the passer but stop the run as a DE on 1st down. When we look at his starting line ups from 2001-2009 we that he had tweeners every year except 2008-2009, and 2006 but in those years due to injuries Jason Jones got multiple starts at both DE and DT in 2008 and 2009 really leaving only 2006 as the odd year out. So we have
as a sort of Jim Schwartz tweener DE/DT guys in his time at Tennessee. What is interesting is that overlapping that time the Titans were a hell of a defense ranking top 5 over all against the run. (linky) But what years were they really good against the run? Why the ones where they had a quality swing DE/DT
The table above shows the year and the player who was filling the swing DE/DT role over Scwartz's career. First of all we can see why Schwartz wanted Kevin Carter who I kind of imagine as a no stat all star because his presence seemed to bolster every teams defense he went to, but I don't really have any stats to back it up.
When we really get into the nuts and bolts of it the "playing the run on the way to the QB" and big tweener DE's comes together into a cohesive technique. By moving these larger guys outside who don't really have a speed move their initial attack is to get their hands on the tackle, for pass or run, allowing them to set the edge on run or giving them the room to us a variety of moves. If you watch any DT you can see that there are spacing issues when he starts using inside moves making it easier for double teams. Don't just trust me, Andre Fluellen said the same sort of thing in this 2011 story
In a Wide 9, you're putting a superior athlete against a bigger, slower guy with the offensive tackle, Even when he has to come out and block a Wide 9, he still has space to move, rather than if I'm tight in there. Offensive linemen, they're really good inside a small (area). They don't have to move that much and they can use their weight and leverage on you. When you're in a wider 9, they have to come get you, and that really puts them on an island, where if you come inside, they'll have their weight overextended. So that's kind of the theory of the Wide 9 against the pass and the run. It puts the offensive lineman in bad position.
We saw Izzy doing this in simcity's video review of him. Now this is not all sunshine and rainbows but gives us an cohesive idea of what Schwartz wanted from his players playing the run on the way to the QB. If they are making contact with the offensive player they can still hold the edge against the run but have the ability to still rush the passer. This is not what we got from Avril who really should have been in the 3rd down pass rusher role but we lacked the DE/DT tweener to take his place. I don't expect the Lions to magically jump to top ten in rush defense but given the fact that Football Outsiders has them ranked 24th against the run and Advanced NFL Stats (probably the best/most statistically rigorous NFL advanced metrics sight) has them ranked the same I can't help but think they improve against the run.