Thursday, November 28, 2013
Detroit's defensive line becomes dominant
By Michael Rothstein
Detroit's defensive line stuck to its team approach Thursday, getting after Green Bay QB Matt Flynn.
DETROIT -- In some ways, the Detroit Lions' defensive line was sleeping most of the season. It had been inconsistent. It was a group in the middle of the NFL in sacks, a group long on talent and short on statistics.
They would see stacked protections -- to the point that defensive end Willie Young would joke with opponents they were on the wrong side just to try to find an opening. They would pressure the quarterback but never actually reach him.
Then Green Bay offensive lineman Josh Sitton spoke. Called the Detroit defensive linemen dirtbags. Scumbags. Insulted Lions coach Jim Schwartz. It might have been all the poking Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley needed.
"It's waking up sleeping dogs," cornerback Rashean Mathis said. "But that's how he felt. He expressed it.
By the time the Lions' 40-10 thrashing of the Packers ended, the Lions' once-hibernating defensive front was wide awake. And there could be another easy word to describe them.
Dominant. Utterly and completely dominant.
"It's just the performance we always believe we can have," defensive tackle C.J. Mosley said.
When the Detroit defensive line plays like it did Thursday -- with 16 tackles, seven quarterback hits, five sacks, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and a safety -- the Lions can be one of the top teams in the NFL.
The pressure Detroit's front four can place on an opposing quarterback -- and it appeared the Lions blitzed linebackers and safeties Thursday more often than they usually do -- changes the entire game.
When Detroit can combine that with taking away a quarterback's first read, which the Lions did to Matt Flynn, it'll give the Lions enough time to reach the passer.
This was, by far, the best the Lions defense played this season and, by far, the best the Lions have played overall. The way the defense played eliminated pressure on Matthew Stafford and the offense because they knew they might get extra opportunities and wouldn't have to score on every possession to win.
It begins with the defensive line, a group that insisted it approached things the same way every week, always rushing the quarterback, but due to quick-twitch passers or protections featuring linemen, tight ends and running backs, it was unable to actually sack the quarterback.
"Every game, we go out and do the same thing over and over," rookie defensive end Devin Taylor said. "Every time, something happens. We get closer and closer.
"Finally, today, we were actually able to get back to the quarterback."
It all started before the game. Instead of coming out individually during introductions, the defensive line -- and safety and the soul of the defense, Louis Delmas -- ignored that. When Young was announced, the entirety of the line came out.
After the game, the Lions' defensive linemen said it had nothing to do with being called scumbags and dirtbags by Sitton. It was an idea, Suh said, that came from Andre Fluellen to show solidarity.
How they played backed that up. With perhaps a little bit extra because of Sitton.
"Unreal," center Dominic Raiola said. "They looked unblockable today. Seriously."
They pretty much were. It wasn't just the line, either. The defense held Green Bay to 24 rushing yards and sacked Flynn almost as often as he completed passes (seven sacks, 10 completions).
Ndamukong Suh reached the end zone for a safety. That's more than the Packers' offense did all day long.
"It's embarrassing," Sitton said. "We got our a-- beat. Plain and simple. They smacked us today."
Of course, Sitton influenced that. While Detroit's defensive line -- those guys Sitton thought were scumbags and dirtbags a couple of days ago -- tried to downplay what he said, the line played differently Sunday.
The linemen played as if they were trying to prove something. To themselves. To Sitton. To the rest of the NFL.
From the veterans such as Young, who had five tackles and a fumble recovery, and Suh, who had the safety sack, to the rookies such as Taylor and Ziggy Ansah, who each had three tackles and two sacks, the entire group appeared both present and almost possessed by a singular goal of flattening Flynn.
"I know it motivated some guys, especially the D-line," offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle said. "I feel like it did motivate them.
"[Green Bay] kind of hurt themselves by saying that, I feel like. Just because it was another thing to add into the pot of extra motivation for those guys."
It was something already percolating, too. Detroit had heard a lot about the dirtiness of its defensive line over the past month, from Chicago's Brandon Marshall to Sitton. Combine that with a two-game losing streak to teams with losing records. And giving up two leads in the fourth quarter the past two weeks.
Motivation wasn't going to be an issue. Add Sitton's words and it turned combustible.
It blew up on Sitton. The Packers are now under .500 and well behind Detroit in the NFC North race.
It blew up for Detroit. The Lions once again gained tenuous control of the division, with a 1½-game lead on Chicago because of the tiebreaker they have over the Bears.
It all started with the defensive line, a group that can now be called whatever they want.
"It was, you can say it was a dominating performance. It's just something we've got to string together, man," Mosley said. "I think that'll kind of take us to the next level where we want to be as far as the postseason.
"We've got to string performances like this together."
If they do, the Detroit Lions, up one week, down the next, might just end up making the playoffs after all.