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Detroit Lions Film Room: The Defensive Line Shines in the Season Opener


Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

I wrote this offseason about how the Detroit Lions needed to get more production from their defensive line in order to get back anywhere near their 10-6 season in 2011. It’s been said many times before about the Wide 9, but it bears repeating that the entire defense runs through the line. The Lions invested a lot of resources, including a top 5 pick, in the offseason to ensure they could pressure opposing quarterbacks in 2013. If the Vikings game is any indication, the Lions will be reaping the benefits of those investments this season.

According to Pro Football Focus, the Lions defensive line had a total of 24 pressures on Christian Ponder during the season opener — including 8 from Ndamukong Suh alone.

With the Vikings facing a 3rd & 8 on their first drive of the second half, the Lions’ defensive line stepped up in a time of need. The Lions were only down one point and were looking to swing the momentum in their favor to begin the second half.

This play really shows how fundamentally different the Lions defensive line is when compared to previous years. Although they still have their defensive ends in a wide set, the Lions use Ziggy Ansah and Jason Jones to collapse the pocket rather than simply rush around the offense tackles with reckless abandonment.

This was often a point of frustration last year as Lions fans would continuously see Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch run wide past the tackles leaving gaping holes for opposing players run right through.

At the snap, both defensive ends bull rush into the opposing tackles, while Nick Fairley stunts into what turns out to be a wide open gap. Jason Jones manhandles Phil Loadholt and walks him 8 yards into the backfield, while Ziggy Ansah does similar work against Matt Kalil.

Fairley gets credit for the sack, but he should be thanking Suh for helping clear so much room. Suh takes on two blockers at the point of attack and occupies the attention of another as Fairley is able to stunt around unblocked on the way to the quarterback. It was a beautifully called, and executed play by the Lions.

Maybe more impressive than the Lions pass rush was the way the they were able to contain the game’s best running back and reigning MVP. Sure, Adrian Peterson busted a 78 yard touchdown on the Vikings first offensive play, but afterward the Lions did a tremendous job of limiting him. According to PFF, Peterson had fewer than 2 yards on over 70% of his rushing attempts, and discounting the 78 yard run he averaged under 1 yard per rush attempt.

The Lions set out with a game plan that dared the Vikings to beat them through the air, and it was the run defense that allowed the Lions to work themselves back into the game. Rather than letting Peterson control the game and wear down the clock with the lead, the Vikings were constantly forced to play from second and third down with long yardage to go.

On this play, the Lions line up with an eight-man box. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Lions put 8 men or more in the box on 12 out 18 of Adrian Peterson’s runs.  At the snap, the entire defensive line slants down the line of scrimmage.

Willie Young blows by Matt Kalil and ends up making the tackle behind the line of scrimmage, but Nick Fairley really makes the play possible by pushing Vikings center John Sullivan 5 yards in the backfield. It really can’t be understated how dominant the Lions defensive line was throughout this game. They were able to set the tempo and the Vikings offense couldn’t keep up.

As the Lions experienced on the first defensive play of the game, it doesn’t take much for Adrian Peterson to beat you — a few missed tackles and he was gone.

Overall the Lions put together a great game plan against their NFC North foe. By playing sound defense up front and forcing Christian Ponder to try to beat them through the air, they were able to claw back into the win column despite a litany of miscues and misfortunes.

*All images were created using NFL Game Rewind, unless otherwise noted. (subscription required)

Justin Simon is a Staff Writer for SideLion Report and Editor of Restoring the Roar. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.