Sunday afternoon was an anomaly as Detroit Lions’ victories go.
Matthew Stafford didn’t make a big mistake. Calvin Johnson played at an elite level, while running back Joique Bell contributed touchdowns through the ground and air to lead in a 34-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Most of the day, the offense dominated.
Yet in spite of that revived offense, all anyone could talk about was the defense. Led by a ferocious Ndamukong Suh, the Lions roughed up the Buccaneers and their quarterback Josh McCown to the tune of six total sacks for 43 yards lost. Linebacker DeAndre Levy led the charge with two sacks, and contributors such as George Johnson, Ziggy Ansah and Andre Fluellen weren’t left out, each collecting one.
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Detroit’s dominating defensive effort was fueled by the entire line. In the second level, the Lions allowed Vincent Jackson to go for 159 yards while Mike Evans scored two touchdowns. None of that seemed to matter, though, because of the efforts up front. McCown was battered and bruised all day long by Detroit’s staple of pass rushers that seemed to come in waves.
“I think they all feed off one another,” Jim Caldwell said Monday. “Ziggy (Ansah) continues to get better, George Johnson is a guy that gives you everything he’s got up front, Devin Taylor gets in there, Darryl Tapp makes plays, that entire unit, I could literally name every guy as a factor.”
The production from multiple different players was most evident Sunday, and personified best by Fluellen, who got in on the sack game as well. Caldwell certainly noticed, and took time to single out Fluellen Monday for his work during the season.
“He’s made a valuable contribution thus far, he’s come in and really given us some production,” Caldwell said, gushing over Fluellen’s abilities physically and mentally to be an impact player whenever called upon. The fact that Levy got in on the pressuring is also telling to the coach.
“Levy had two sacks, and a lot of that has to do with people have to pay so much attention to our guys up front, they miss scraping a linebacker,” Caldwell said.
Suddenly, the Lions have pass rushers at every angle capable of getting to the quarterback. With this, the defense gets better as a whole and has a better chance to excel across the board. “(The line) helps our defense all the way through, it helps in our coverage. It’s a formidable group,” Caldwell said.
Outputs from these players will make the biggest difference the rest of the way. If Detroit is able to get pressure on quarterbacks from everyone, there’s no telling the damage they could do, even against the likes of Green Bay in Lambeau Field. Consistency is what has always been missing, but if Detroit’s good down the stretch with their pass rush, they’re a team that could make noise in the playoffs.
Without such an impact, though, the Lions could be going home much earlier than they expect.
Consistency is what has always been missing, but if Detroit’s good down the stretch with their pass rush, they’re team that could make noise in the playoffs.
There’s still good news all around. The group is more than just Suh, Nick Fairley and Ansah on the edge. There’s serious depth, and whomever comes off the bench makes the impact plays of a starter. Even in games without a big gun dominating start to finish, someone always finds a way to step up.
A solid defensive effort also indirectly helps out the offense. Caldwell admitted his defensive unit does give him a bit more confidence to roll the dice in the red zone. “Having a unit that plays as well as our group is playing, you feel good about your chances, but in this league, you never want to give a team a short field,” Caldwell said, intimating that he’d still be cautious time and again.
It seems the most important question, though, is becoming how to stop Detroit’s line from completely taking over games and being the biggest story even in spite of offensive explosions.
How would Caldwell scheme for his own defense if he had to do so? “I’ll let the other folks figure that out, what they would do,” he joked.
If nobody is able to figure it out soon, the rest of the league certainly won’t be laughing.