Terry Foster/ The Detroit News
Allen Park —Lions cornerback Chris Houston knows the test is coming.
He has returned two interceptions for touchdowns this season and word has spread around the league. That can only mean one thing: Quarterbacks are going to go after him more often and with a different game plan.
Lions Hall of Fame cornerback Lem Barney holds the Lions record with three interception returns for touchdowns in his rookie season in 1967. He predicts teams will try to use Houston’s aggressiveness against him instead of choosing not to throw his way. That’s what happened to Barney.
“He is up and running,” Barney said of Houston. “But once you make those returns the offenses are going to test him more so he had better be ready. They have companion routes they are going to use against him.”
In other words, that simple 5-yard buttonhook will turn into a hook and go, hoping to get Houston off-balance so teams can beat him deep.
“I am sure the coaches are teaching him and training him to watch for those things so that won’t happen,” Barney said.
The Lions defense has returned three interceptions for touchdowns and defensive end Cliff Avril returned a fumble for a touchdown. The defensive scores all had similar results. The Lions won each game and the scores sent a spark through the sidelines.
Houston knows teams will come after him. Opponents want to see if he is jumping routes or playing smart. Houston said his scores came off studying opponents. He knew the play was coming against Dallas and he ran 56 yards for the touchdown shortly after Bobby Carpenter returned one from 34 yards. The Lions turned a 27-3 deficit into a 27-17 game and eventually won in overtime.
The 100-yard touchdown against Denver came when the Broncos tried to run the same play on him. Houston agrees with Barney that teams are going to come his way more.
“They want to see if I am jumping routes,” he said. “I want to continue to play within the scheme and not jump routes unless I see something. I am just not jumping routes or guessing. I jump routes because I know something is coming. I am going to work within the scheme and know where my help is. I am not going to leave my teammates out to dry.”
Houston is athletic and fast but is allowing superior game study to guide him. Barney did the same thing. He was a student of teammate Dick LeBeau, who told him extensive film study would supplement his superior athletic ability and talent. Barney took it to heart and many of his career 56 interceptions were a result of knowing what the opponent was going to do. Houston is the same way.
“That first interception (against Dallas), they had scored on a pump route the year before,” Houston said. “I watched film and remembered the formation. When he (the quarterback) made the motion, I knew it was coming.”
When the defense scores, it gives a lift to the sidelines and makes it more difficult for the opponent to recover and win. Players jump up and down as enthusiasm and momentum take over.
“It gives you a spark no matter if you are losing or no matter the circumstances,” safety Louis Delmas said. “We play off that momentum.”
Offensive players get excited for their defensive brothers when they score.
“Man, it is so unaccounted for,” receiver Nate Burleson said. “When the defense scores, I hate to say it as a player but you are thinking we got this thing locked up.
“When the D scores it makes us more comfortable.”
Houston said seeing all that green grass in front of him on the return is exciting.
“It is an unexplainable feeling knowing your hard work is paying off,” he said.