Last Sunday culminated a difficult week in the life of Lions linebacker Alex Anzalone. His parents were over in Israel as part of a church tour group, and they were among a large group of Americans trapped there as the conflict ramped up. They got out of the country safely though, and they were at the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
A free mind is a heck of a thing. Anzalone was all over the field against Tampa Bay, leading the Lions with nine total tackles (seven solo) as he also had one tackle for loss and two pass breakups.
Anzalone has 44 total tackles through six games, and he has earned Pro Football Focus grades of at least 80.0 in three straight games. His overall PFF grade through Week 6 (76.3) is third-best among Lions' defenders and 20th-best among all linebackers. His run defense grade is 73.3, with a 75.0 pass defense grade.
Great play up front has helped spur the Lions' No. 1-ranked run defense this season. Anzalone had a nice quote to describe the mindset of the unit when it comes to stopping the run.
"We take the run game as you’re testing our manhood."
Alex Anzalone will be the driving force for Lions' defensive effort in Week 7
The Lions get another road test in Week 7 against the Baltimore Ravens. Talk of a different offense under new offensive coordinator Todd Monken has yielded the second-highest run play ratio (51.8 percent) and the fifth-best rush offense in the league (144.8 yards per game) thus far.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson of course accounts for a big chunk of that production on the ground, 327 of Baltimore's 869 rushing yards as a team this season. Mobile quarterbacks were a problem for the Lions last year, but it hasn't been an issue this year against guys like Patrick Mahomes, Desmond Ridder and Jordan Love.
Jackson is on a different level as a runner though, and he will be a real test for the Lions' defense on Sunday. Anzalone's performance, before and after the snap, will be critical to keeping the 2019 league MVP in check on the ground. Jackson is also completing a career-best 69.9 percent of his passes this season.
Secondarily, the Ravens have one of the best tight ends in the NFL in Mark Andrews. He missed Week 1, but since then he has a 22.5 percent target share from Jackson and he has at least 65 yards in three straight games.
The Lions have been better over their last couple games, but they have still allowed the third-most receptions (39) and the fourth-most yards (376) to tight end this season. Anzalone should be matched up against Andrews regularly, when the coverage deployment calls for him to be in man-to-man.
Anzalone has reached a new level of play so far this season. Week 7 will be a stern test of his all-around abilities as a run and pass defender, based on the Ravens' two best offensive players. His performance will be a key barometer, and likely the most critical barometer, for how the Lions' defense is doing throughout Sunday's game.