Detroit Lions: Youth movement on defense pays off

The Detroit Lions Defense has led the way to the top of the NFC North
NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings

Oct 12, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (90) and defensive tackle Nick Fairley (98) sack Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) in the fourth quarter at TCF Bank Stadium. The Lions win 17-3.  (Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports)


(C+P) — In recent years, the Detroit Lions have not exactly been a model for a top rated NFL defense.  However, with the additions of young, relentless defensive players like Ezekiel Ansah (BYU 2012), Nick Fairley (Auburn 2011), Ndamukong Suh (Nebraska 2010) and Tahir Whitehead (Temple 2012), the Lions have become the top rated defense in the NFL in 2014.

The depth of the 2014 Lions defense has proven to be the difference as one substitute just adds another attribute of talent, instead of a lack of skill when in the past it gave opponents the opportunity to gain momentum. Most of the time when you think of depth, you think that there are players who can come in and give the starters a break.

The 2014 Lions defensive squad displays relentless pursuit of the quarterback, along with the mentality of getting into the backfield and stopping the run game.  Detroit not only possesses solid tacklers and great run-stoppers, but talented players capable of constant pressure that becomes intolerable.

The Lions are atop the NFC North (4-2) because of their defensive unit.  Many questions stemming from training camp have been answered as this Lions team has figured out a way to overcome their weakness and turn that weakness into key strengths.

Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin (27) celebrates his interception with teammates during the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium. (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)
Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin (27) celebrates his interception with teammates during the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium. (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

The Lions secondary came into 2014 with several question marks, yet has proven to be the most underrated secondary in the NFL.  The ability of Darius Slay, Rashean Mathis and Glover Quin to apply man coverage has opened up the possibilities of schemes that didn’t exist prior to spring camp.  Darius Slay has shown why he was such a high draft pick and why Detroit feels he could be a very good defensive back.

There’s a statistical side that people see and then there’s a true side.  The Detroit lions defense belongs in both.  They are relentless; they are full of confidence, and they come through in the clutch.  They produce.

If you have watched the Lions this season and still they do not belong at the top then just ask the Minnesota Vikings after their 17-3 loss to Detroit on Sunday at TCF Stadium in Minneapolis.

The Lions recorded their most sacks (8) since November 23, 1997.  The Lions sacked Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater four times in the first half and then repeated that feet in the second half, including twice on Minnesota’s second-to-last drive.

Minnesota could never find a rhythm as Detroit hit Bridgewater 12 times and forced three interceptions in the key divisional matchup.

Ezekiel Ansah led Detroit with a career-high 2.5 sacks despite coming out of the game several times due to multiple injuries.  Suh accounted for two sacks, setting a new franchise record for defensive tackles with 30.5 in his short career.  Seven different Lions’ players had at least a half sack as Detroit took advantage of the Vikings one-dimensional offense and the absence of Adrian Peterson, holding the Vikings to 69 rushing yards.


NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) passes underhand as Detroit Lions defensive end Jason Jones (91) pressures him in the fourth quarter at TCF Bank Stadium. (Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports)

Teddy Bridgewater, who made his second start of his rookie season, struggled from the beginning, and finished 23 of 37 for 188 yards and three interceptions, including the first two picks of former Temple linebacker and 2012 fifth-round draft pick, Tahir Whitehead’s career.  Bridgewater’s second interception was a tip by running back Matt Asiata that landed in the hands of Whitehead.

In six games, Detroit has only allowed 270.7 yards per game, which will surely keep them atop the NFL’s defensive rankings.

Detroit could benefit from more productivity on the offensive side of the ball.  However, Defensive Coordinator Teryl Austin has the defensive unit playing so well that the Lions and Matt Stafford can afford to come up a few yards short in games.

The Lions were neither surprised nor content with their impressive showing on Sunday against the struggling Vikings.  In a division loaded with talent, the Detroit Lions are proving to be the top dog with two key NFC North games already in the win column, including a 19-7 victory over Green Bay on September 21.

The Lions have yet to play divisional rival Chicago and the team ends the season at Green Bay.  They do have a relatively soft schedule between now and December 28.  This will assure that the Detroit Lions and their stingy defense remain in the race for the NFC North title and things look promising for the Lions to win the division outright.

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