Wrapping up our series of grades for February 2011, we turn our attention to Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham. We have already handed out grades to head coach Jim Schwartz, general manager Martin Mayhew and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Now it's Cunningham's turn to receive a grade for his performance as Detroit's defensive coordinator.
Cunningham, like Linehan, has been here since Schwartz took the head coaching job in 2009. He has preached an aggressive attitude and is one of the fieriest coaches I've seen. He doesn't hold back what is on his mind, and usually that provides for some interesting things to read about the defense (and, unfortunately, comments that help lead to tampering charges).
In his first year as the DC, the defense struggled quite a bit, mainly because there just wasn't much talent on the roster. This year, however, with a strong defensive line and improved play with the secondary, we got to see the defense play much better. The added talent allowed Cunningham to use some interesting formations that confused offenses, such as Ndamukong Suh lining up as a linebacker. Throughout the season, despite the injuries being racked up (especially in the secondary), the defense seemed to get better. They led the Lions to a win over the Packers, holding the eventual Super Bowl champs to only a field goal, and during the winning streak turnovers and sacks became a big part of Detroit's success.
Keeping in mind what happened in 2009 and this past season, what grade do you think Cunningham deserves? Vote in the poll below and leave your thoughts in the comments. My vote is after the jump.
Some coaches can overachieve and win without a whole lot of talent, but typically defenses in the NFL require at least some skilled players to succeed. That is why I sort of just want to throw what happened with the defense in 2009 out the window. Cunningham didn't have much to work with, and the stats reflected that considering the Lions were at the bottom of the league in defense.
This past season, however, Cunningham had guys like Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Chris Houston, among others, added into the mix, and the defense definitely improved. Was it Cunningham's coaching that led to the improvement, the new talent or a combination of both? I'm sure some will argue that it was more about the talent than the coaching, but I think it was a good balance. While the added talent undoubtedly would have made the defense better regardless of the coordinator, I really liked all of the different looks Cunningham utilized to allow guys like Suh and Cliff Avril to make plays. Watching the defensive line confuse opposing offenses was a lot of fun, especially when the different formations led to big-time plays.
Again, there's no doubt the infusion of talent would have helped improve the defense regardless of who was coaching it, but I think Cunningham did a good job utilizing all of that new talent. As a result, I will give him a B for his job as Lions defensive coordinator so far. There is obviously room for improvement, like all of the coaches we have graded so far, but Cunningham has done a solid job so far all things considered.