Nov 28, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch (55) sacks Green Bay Packers quarterback Matt Flynn (10) during the second quarter during a NFL football game on Thanksgiving at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Lions: Stephen Tulloch's Overlooked Season

When thinking back to last year’s storylines, you’ll often remember the Detroit Lions second-half collapse, Matthew Stafford’s inconsistencies, pizza incidents, and even DeAndre Levy’s breakout year on defense.

One thing that doesn’t get talked about enough in my opinion, is Stephen Tulloch’s efficient year on defense.

Following the 2012 regular season, Stephen Tulloch was ranked as the 63rd best player in the NFL by his peers on NFL Network’s top 100 list. He was unranked on the countdown this past year.

Granted, there is no science in determining these rankings, but it is interesting when you compare Tulloch’s performances from the last two years.

Tackles Assisted Sacks Interceptions Pass Deflections Forced Fumbles
2012 74 38 0.5 0 6 1
2013 93 42 3.5 1 2 0

As you can see, Tulloch had a much bigger impact last year when looking at his general stats, but that only marks the beginning to how much he really improved over the course of one year.

Run Stuffer

Run Snaps Tackles Assists Missed Tackles Stops Stop %
2012 388 50 11 10 31 8
2013 354 63 15 4 40 11.3

*A stop indicates a “loss” for the offense

Delving into Pro Football Focus’ signature stats for inside linebackers, you’ll see that Stephen Tulloch was much more efficient against the run last year than he was in 2012. In fact, Tulloch was so efficient last year that he was graded as the #2 inside linebacker via PFF.

In 2012, Tulloch was ranked 34th out of 35 inside linebackers in tackling efficiency with 6.5 attempted tackles per missed tackle. He upped that value to 15.7 last year, good for 6th in the NFL out of 40 ILBs.

It’s no wonder the Lions were so good at stuffing the run last year when their leader on defense was making plays left and right.

Won’t Give Up on Plays

Despite taking an occasional bad angle to the ball carrier, or biting on a play-action pass, Tulloch has an indomitable will and will never give up on plays.

Week 5 against the Green Bay Packers, Tulloch let the ball carrier slip by him towards the sideline, but didn’t give up on the play. He knew that Quin had an angle to at least slow the ball carrier down, and ended up tackling him inside the 25-yard-line.

Result of the drive: MADE 31-yard field goal

During the final game of the year against the Minnesota Vikings, the Lions saw themselves down a touchdown early in the second quarter with the Vikings marching down the field 15 yards shy of the endzone. Although the Lions lost their hopes of making the playoffs, they weren’t going to give up easily to their division rivals. (1)

The Vikings are lined up in a 12 personnel grouping (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR) and call a play-action bootleg to the right, in hopes of dumping the ball off to either the tight end dragging across the middle, or the right outside wide receiver in the flat.

Cassell is immediately pressured by Devin Taylor and decides to dump it off to a wide open Rhett Ellison.

Like everyone else in the box, Tulloch bites hard on the play-action fake, but keeps his feet moving and attempts to chase the ball carrier down anyway and ends up making the tackle just shy of the endzone.

If Tulloch doesn’t make that play, it’s an easy touchdown and the Vikings have a 14-0 lead. Instead, just three plays later, Cassell throws an interception to Louis Delmas in the endzone who takes it back for a 42-yard return

Result of the drive: No score. Intercepted by Louis Delmas for 42 yards.

Stephen Tulloch isn’t the type of player that will make flashy plays on defense or cause a ton of turnovers, but he is arguably the most efficient player on the Detroit Lions’ defense, and that is something that you can’t replace.

Tulloch is a solid coverage linebacker, but excels against the run. Very rarely will you see him take a poor angle to the ball carrier.

He sheds blocks fairly easily, gets low to the point of contact, and is almost like a brick wall on the field when opposing players run into him. When Tulloch makes contact with the ball carrier, they immediately take a seat.

Stephen Tulloch isn’t the type of player that will make flashy plays on defense or cause a ton of turnovers, but he is arguably the most efficient player on the Detroit Lions’ defense, and that is something that you can’t replace.

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