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John Wendling’s woes and why the Lions’ cornerbacks aren’t blowing it so far

In the September San Francisco Sun, the secondary got scored on again (Getty Images)

I had a crazy thought before the season started. I, and the rest of the people who follow the Lions that are at an age where you don’t think that everybody on your team is really good, don’t like the Lions corners for obvious reasons. They’re not good. But is it possible to quantify how bad they really are?

For the first two weeks of the season I tried. I charted Sam Bradford’s passing in Week One and Alex Smith’s in Week Two. They turned up some nuggets, but for the most part the cornerbacks appeared completely average. Maybe I’m just a hater. Hey, Drayton Florence even made a couple of good plays on the ball.

Sure, there were a couple of lapses — Florence and Erik Coleman making a blood pact to run into the kicker together, Jacob Lacey giving 35-year-old, 49ers-edition Randy Moss a 20-yard cushion repeatedly, Jacob Lacey getting repeatedly brutalized by someone named Danny Amendola — but looking at the two games you couldn’t walk away blaming the cornerbacks for the miscues.

Look deeper. There’s two very good reasons for that:

1.)    John Wendling made all the mistakes for them.

2.)    The coaching staff hid the corners as much as possible.

Here’s something you already know: John Wendling is bad. The 49ers exploited him on their first touchdown drive. Michael Crabtree pull the shimmy without the shake on him to end up wide open for a gain of 17 yards. The next play Vernon Davis ran right by him to for a touchdown in the back corner.

It’s not Wendling’s fault. Injuries have raked the Lions secondary. As Chris Collinsworth pointed out (and you better believe he talked to him before the game) Wendling is a special teamer. He shouldn’t see the field unless he’s jogging to the endzone as the opposing player takes the knee.

But with him on the field, you start to forget that Jonte Green, a player drafted this year who admitted he didn’t know how to play zone coverage actually got time at corner in the Lions’ very first game.

(Judging by the two consecutive passes he gave up for 39 yards and a touchdown, that didn’t work out so well.)

The ironic thing is, zone is pretty much all the Lions corners play. Rarely, if ever, did the Lions corners matchup one-on-one with 49ers receivers. That left a lot of the drag routes across the middle and short to intermediate routes the ‘fault’ of the linebackers.

If you knew your cornerbacks couldn’t cover somebody one-on-one would you make them do it? It might be part of the Lions’ defensive scheme. Gunther Cunningham may have called the same coverages had Ed Reed and Darrelle Revis* been in the secondary. But zone coverage hides the cornerback deficiencies as much as you can.

Call it good coaching, but the defensive staff doesn’t really have a choice. It’s just a bit of a shame this strategy can’t give Wendling a bit of help too. At least he can jump high. 

*(Fun Fact: Revis’ middle name is Shavar)


Completely unrelated, your play of the game last Sunday: Kassim Osgood’s prolonged point of the ball falling off the tee, held nearly 15 seconds after the ref had blown the whistle and begun jogging on the field to fix it.

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