Detroit Lions: Gunther Cunningham

After the 2014 season, Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew insisted his team’s offense and defense weren’t as far away as the numbers suggested as he explained some of the team’s offense-based draft picks and free-agent signings.

Turns out, he was right. Other than points allowed, sack percentage and run defense, the Lions have actually been remarkably similar to the defense from last season run by Jim Schwartz and Gunther Cunningham. This season’s coordinator, Teryl Austin, deserves credit for managing through injuries to starters, but the foundation was there already with Ndamukong Suh, Darius Slay and the rest.

And if you look at the league leaders, Schwartz has remained a strong coordinator. But here’s a look at the impressive Lions defense this year by the numbers and a link to the prior look at the offense.

QBR

Number/Rank: 44.0/4th

Last season: 48.8/12th

NFL leader: Buffalo -- 36.3

Quick thoughts: While yards per game is nice, this shows how well the Lions have been able to limit quarterbacks this season. Only four quarterbacks -- Drew Brees (73.0), Drew Stanton (70.5), Tom Brady (86.2) and Aaron Rodgers (95.3) -- had a QBR over 70 in a game against the Lions this season. Stanton is the anomaly, but the Lions have been consistently good here. Surprisingly, the number isn’t that much better than 2013.

Yards per game

Number/Rank: 300.9/2nd

Last season: 346.6/16th

NFL Leader: Seattle -- 267.1

Quick thoughts: This has been huge for field position and also for just limiting Lions opponents this season. A lot of this is bolstered by the Detroit run defense. Half-a-field a game less is massive when it comes to allowing points.

Rushing yards per game

Number/Rank: 69.31/1st

Last season: 99.75/6th

NFL Leader: DETROIT

Quick thoughts: The Lions were pretty good here last season. They were elite this season -- one of the best run defense units of the past decade. When you look at the yards-per-game difference, it all starts here. Also, the Lions have made multiple teams one-dimensional and were able to keep up the rate even without Nick Fairley. That’s on both players and scheme.

Passing yards per game

Number/Rank: 231.63/13th

Last season: 246.88/23rd

NFL Leader: Seattle -- 185.63

Quick thoughts: There actually isn’t that much difference here -- an average of one chunk play per game. The bigger difference has been the lack of big plays allowed by Detroit’s secondary, something that isn’t necessarily displayed in a yards-per-game metric. Still better than a season ago, though.

Interception percentage

Number/Rank: 3.4/4th

Last season: 2.6/19th

NFL Leader: San Francisco -- 4.2

Quick thoughts: This number climbed steadily throughout the season as Glover Quin and James Ihedigbo both went on lengthy streaks of games with an interception. Most of the team’s picks have come from those two. These often ended up being big plays as well, either clinching or turning games, especially from Quin in December.

Sack percentage

Number/Rank: 7.1/18th

Last season: 5.8/28th

NFL Leader: Buffalo -- 9.7

Quick thoughts: This has been a big difference -- and would be even greater if it were pressure percentage. One of the bigger criticisms of last season’s Detroit defense was the inability to finish sacks. This year’s group has and a lot of that has to do with the attention Ndamukong Suh takes up in the middle, freeing up the ends to make plays on single blocks. Interesting to me, too, is Buffalo’s defense being the best at this considering who the Bills' defensive coordinator is: Jim Schwartz.

Third-down conversions

Number/Rank: 37.2/9th

Last season: 30.3/1st

NFL Leader: Buffalo -- 33.2

Quick thoughts: This surprised me, mostly because I had forgotten how good Detroit was on third down last season. Considering that, it isn’t surprising the Bills are the NFL leader here. The Lions have been good in this area, though, and have gotten off the field in almost every big spot this season.

Red zone efficiency

Number/Rank: 53.1/17th

Last season: 38.1/2nd

NFL Leader: Kansas City -- 38.9

Quick thoughts: Again, forgot how good Detroit was here last season. Was somewhat surprised how high this number is, especially considering how good the Lions have been at keeping opponents from scoring. That it is a 15 percent jump from last season speaks to how good Detroit’s defense has been in other areas.

Points Per Game

Number/Rank: 17.6/3rd

Last season: 23.5/15th

NFL Leader: Seattle -- 15.9

Quick thoughts: The most important stat in the NFL. If you don’t give up points, you don’t lose. The Lions’ jump from 7-9 to 11-5 starts with giving up a touchdown less per game than last season. The Lions gave up more than 20 points 10 times last season. This season? The Lions have done that five times (Carolina, New Orleans, Atlanta, New England and Green Bay) and managed to go 2-3 in those games. Last season, they went 3-7.

Time of possession

Number/Rank: 28:18/5th

Last season: 28:06/4th

NFL Leader: Pittsburgh -- 27:35

Quick thoughts: Doesn’t matter the year, the Lions were good at getting teams off the field the past two seasons. The difference has been those points. Detroit is forcing teams off the field with turnovers or punts this season. Last season, it was more with touchdowns.
LONDON – He stepped on the plane Monday night along with the rest of the Detroit Lions, but few of them had Gunther Cunningham’s apprehensions.

It might seem odd that a man who was a German citizen until 2010 would have concern heading to Europe, but the former defensive coordinator and current senior coaching assistant has his reasons.

Cunningham left Germany in 1956 when he was 10 years old with his mother, Katharina, and stepfather, the late Air Force Sergeant Garner Cunningham. When he landed in Great Britain on Tuesday morning, it was only the second time he returned to Europe.

In 2006, he was in Italy with his family when the country won the World Cup – the only true vacation he has taken in his life. Then came his work trip this week.

He has never returned to Germany, though, since his initial departure. He has nothing against Germany – he rooted for them heavily in the last World Cup – but his own experiences have kept him away.

“If I get close, I know I’ll cross that border and go,” Cunningham said. “There was talk a few years ago that everybody [in his family] wants to go to Switzerland, and I said that’s really close. My family wants to go to [Germany] so much and I have a couple of uncles that are still alive there. My mother and stepdad went back one time and they really enjoyed it and always talked about going again and never did.

“Everybody says, 'We don’t understand why you don’t want to go,' and I said, 'I have my reasons.'”

[+] EnlargeCunningham
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsDetroit Lions assistant Gunther Cunningham was born in Germany, but has never returned, almost 60 years after leaving.
Those reasons, what he saw during his first 10 years when Germany was still rebuilding from World War II, still follow him. Growing up a few miles from the Dachau concentration camp, the first concentration camp the Germans opened, he can’t unsee what he saw. He can’t unhear what his grandmother told him of watching prisoners marching through the streets during the war, presumably to their eventual deaths. More than 32,000 people were killed in Dachau.

He can’t forget visiting Dachau once after the war, seeing telephone poles labeled with skulls and crossbones he initially thought were danger signs for drivers. Or how, when he was eight years old, he stuck his fingers in the holes of his stepfather's Mercedes, not knowing they were bullet holes. He can't watch the movie "Schindler's List" because of the memories it brings back.

"It's one of the main reasons I have never been back there," Cunningham said.

By the time he left Germany, he had figured out what the overheard conversations meant and how it linked to what he would see on a daily basis. When his stepfather’s air base was transferred back to the Germans – the iron crosses of the German planes coming back to the base remains a vivid memory over 50 years later – Cunningham's family emigrated to America.

He spoke no English. After a pit stop for refueling in England, Cunningham landed at Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy Airport in New York) and had no clue about the years that would follow – becoming a kicker at Oregon and then a football coach from 1969 until the end of last season, when he became a senior coaching assistant with the Lions following the firing of Jim Schwartz.

“God bless America and the game of football because it has given me a great life,” Cunningham said. “When I stepped off the plane not knowing where I was, it still gives me chills thinking about those days.

“What was I going to do? What was going to happen to me? My stepdad raised me well, though.”

Much is known about Cunningham as a football coach, but he rarely talks about the early part of his life, of his time in Germany with his mother, the father he never knew and the stepfather who ended up being the reason he went to the United States.

Typically when someone asks, he’ll respond with, “You don’t know what I saw, so let’s just keep it that way.” And he would leave it at that. But what he saw shaped everything that followed.

How his family lived on about $100 a month when they arrived in the United States or how difficult it was to fit in early on in a small town as he learned English. How it steered him toward cultural anthropology because of his desire to learn of different cultures and of his love of Winston Churchill, whom he spent hours studying and reading about.

How it made him into the successful person he ended up being.

“It’s not a good thing in my mind, growing up like that. I never let go of it,” Cunningham said. “Maybe it’s what drove me all these years. I wanted to succeed and I had that chip on my shoulder about the war and our family back there and it’s just the whole thing.”

He eventually decided going to England was far enough from Germany that some of his angst subsided. His admiration of Churchill goes back to his childhood, when his grandmother would talk about the former British Prime Minister.

Cunningham, because of his history, has always wanted to learn about cultures and wars. If he had not been a football coach, he would have wanted to participate in archeological dives in the North Sea and English Channel, looking for wreckage and artifacts. Even now, he likes watching British Parliament on television when he can find it because of how vocal and passionate they are about their beliefs.

Germany, though? That’s still a bit difficult for him to fathom returning to, even though he is softening on the idea from how he felt in the past. The memories, more than a half-century old now, are still too fresh to book the trip.

“That country, Germany, has done a great job from what I’ve heard,” Cunningham said. “They rebuilt that country. They are always like that.

“Throughout history, they’ve done it. And I am very, very proud of it. I just have some other feelings.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions will finally play football against another team Saturday night at Ford Field and things will really start to ramp up.

Coaches will begin to have answers on who plays well during games. Players might get a better feel for their positioning on the roster. Fans will get to see football again.

And as always, there are questions. So here are some from this week in this edition of Lions Mailbag. To ask questions, either use the hashtag #LionsMailbag on Twitter or email michael.rothstein@espn.com.

Now, on to this week's queries:

@mikerothstein: In a word, no. Yes, Dan Orlovsky had an atrocious practice Wednesday night at Ford Field, but that will happen from time to time. For instance, there were practices during the spring where Calvin Johnson looked less than optimal. In Orlovsky's case, it just happened in public. Orlovsky is still the better option than Kellen Moore and will remain so. He has the experience Jim Caldwell and his staff covet as a backup. There's a reason general manager Martin Mayhew didn't really see Moore as a legit No. 2 quarterback option during the offseason -- it's because his game doesn't really translate that well to the NFL. At this point, I'd still take Orlovsky over Moore to win a game and that's the point of all this.

@mikerothstein: The short answer is if Jeremy Ross were to go down, the Lions would likely look to Golden Tate in the short term to do the job, at least on punts. Depending on how he ends up being used in the offense and how much Theo Riddick can handle as a backup, Reggie Bush would be an intriguing option at punt returns. When it comes to kick returns, Riddick would be a candidate. So would Ryan Broyles, if he ends up making the roster. Kevin Ogletree could handle the role as well. But the first option after Ross would likely be Tate.

@mikerothstein: Yes, Cindy, Gunther Cunningham is still a constant presence at practice and still dresses the same with his black attire. He's not coaching, obviously, but his opinion is still worthwhile. He's a strong evaluater of talent and has always been a good game planner so he's being used that way as a senior coaching assistant. The man has a wealth of knowledge about the game so having him around can only be beneficial.

@mikerothstein: He's been fine. He has had a couple of really good days, but other than that blends in with the rest of the second- and third-teamers on defense and special teams. I'd be curious to see what happens during games, because cornerback is clearly a position that is unsettled on the back end of the Lions' roster. Right now he feels like a better candidate for the practice squad to see what happens in a year or two. His combination of height, weight and hitting is pretty impressive, though.

@mikerothstein: They've been positive about what Matthew Stafford has been doing so far and Stafford appeared comfortable with how things have been going when he spoke Friday as well. He said he's being coached a lot differently now than he was in the previous regime, and that goes beyond learning a new scheme and terms. It extends to his footwork and what he's being asked to do. I've said this pretty consistently -- there could be some rough patches early for him, but by the end of September it will be obvious whether the approach of the new staff is working.


Fritz in Eugene, Oregon asks: Is coach Caldwell doing anything different with the Lions than he did with the Colts when he was their Head Coach? If so, what are the differences? If not, why are the Lions going to do better than the Colts did under his tutelage?

@mikerothstein: That's tough to answer because I have never covered the Colts, but I'll answer your last question -- if you're the Lions, you'd take Caldwell's first two seasons as a head coach. Indianapolis won divisional titles in 2007 and 2008 and reached the Super Bowl in Caldwell's first season. Considering the Lions have never made the Super Bowl and have not won the NFC North with this current grouping of teams, that wouldn't be a bad way to begin. The biggest difference I've noticed -- and from what players have said -- is the efficiency in practices. Everything is fast and has a purpose and Detroit is hoping it translates to a similar style on the field. 

Good morning and ROOOOOAAARRR!!!!

His exact role with the Detroit Lions may still be somewhat unclear and he is yet another holdover coach from the Jim Schwartz regime over the past five seasons, but new coach Jim Caldwell sticking with old defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham will end up being a good call.

The Detroit Free Press reported Cunningham will be a senior assistant with the team, and his presence should only be a benefit to first-time NFL defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. At the very least, Cunningham can be another voice and ear for Austin to rely on as he figures out what goes into planning a defense during his first season, especially since Cunningham has different expertise than Austin.

Austin has been primarily a defensive backs coach. Cunningham, when he has been a position coach, has worked primarily with linebackers and the defensive line. So he'll offer a different perspective and a voice of experience. Plus, he'll be another set of eyes evaluating talent.

And now, a look around the Interwebs in search of Lions news:
Two days after officially coming on board as the Detroit Lions head coach, Jim Caldwell already has a majority of his staff in place -- including one of his coordinators.

Teryl Austin, who had been the Baltimore secondary coach the past three seasons, will get his first shot at being a defensive coordinator in the NFL. He was Florida's defensive coordinator in 2010.

"He's a guy, obviously, that is extremely bright," Caldwell told WDFN in Detroit on Friday morning. "He's a guy that has, without question, has a great balance in terms of overall experience. Energetic and really has an outstanding feel for defensive football. Outstanding communicator as well."

Here's a look at what Austin has done in the past and what his defense could look like.

Caldwell also has some of the other staff ready to go.

Bill Sheridan, who was Tampa Bay's defensive coordinator in 2012 and 2013, has been hired as the team's linebackers coach. Sheridan is a Detroit native who spent time on both the Michigan and Michigan State staffs in the past coaching linebackers. He also coached linebackers at Miami from 2010 to 2011.

So far those are the only two new coaches Caldwell has brought in, although he has chosen to retain a lot of members of the staff.

Offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn will return, along with assistant offensive line coach Terry Heffernan. Tight ends coach Bobby Johnson is also back, but Dave Birkett from the Detroit Free Press is reporting it is as an offensive line assistant.

Jim Washburn (assistant defensive line), Kris Kocurek (defensive line) and Curtis Modkins (running backs) were also retained, although it is not clear if all will remain in their same roles.

As reported Thursday, special teams coach John Bonamego will also return.
This means defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, linebackers coach Matt Burke and secondary coach Marcus Robertson were also not being brought back. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, wide receivers coach Tim Lappano, assistant wide receivers coach Kyle Valero and quarterbacks coach Todd Downing were previously announced as not retained.

The biggest holes left to fill for Caldwell now are offensive coordinator, wide receivers coach and defensive backs coach, although Austin has extensive experience coaching the secondary.

Here's a look at the coaching staff chart (with obvious flexibility for staff movement):
Head coach -- Jim Caldwell
Offensive coordinator -- TBD
Defensive coordinator -- Teryl Austin
Quarterbacks -- TBD
Running backs -- Curtis Modkins
Wide Receivers -- TBD
Tight ends -- TBD
Offensive line -- Jeremiah Washburn (asst. Bobby Johnson or Terry Heffernan)
Defensive line -- Kris Kocurek (asst. Jim Washburn)
Linebackers -- Bill Sheridan
Secondary -- TBD
Special Teams -- John Bonamego
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The plays look fairly similar, but the innovation in Chip Kelly’s offense with Philadelphia comes not necessarily through what those plays are designed to do, but through two other things.

The difference is the pacing and tempo, the speed at which the Eagles run their plays compared to most of the other teams in the NFL.

This is where Kelly is hoping to have that advantage in Philadelphia, why his Eagles are 7-5 and in a tight NFC East race with Dallas. It’s not the plays, see, it’s everything that happens once the ball is actually snapped.

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Harry How/Getty ImagesNdamukong Suh and the Lions' defensive line is preparing to play at a faster pace against the Philadelphia Eagles' up-tempo attack.
“We don’t do anything different than anybody else in the NFL,” Kelly said. “Everybody else runs open sets with three receivers on one side and one on the other, and one back sets. That’s kind of what everybody else in the league is doing, and what everybody at every level is doing.

“It’s nothing revolutionary.”

No, it isn’t, although not every team in the NFL runs sets and packages like Philadelphia and Kelly.

But the Lions, who will see the Eagles on Sunday, understand the main difference in all of it. It is that speed and how Philadelphia will try to spread out the Lions.

“They spread you out, obviously,” safety Glover Quin said. “So when you’re spread out, you have to do a good job in space. You got to do a good job in tackling. You’ve got to do a good job covering 1-on-1’s, things like that.

“It’s going to be a bunch of space, and they are going to spread you out and they have a bunch of options on every play, and so everybody is going to be on top of their game.”

To prep for Philadelphia, Detroit defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said he went back and watched some film of Oregon along with tape of the Eagles. Kelly, though, said his offense is different now than what he did in college.

There are elements, sure, but his offense is more of a combination of what he ran at Oregon and New Hampshire, along with some of what Pat Shurmur did in Cleveland. There are both elements of college and NFL offenses in the Philadelphia offense, much of which causes them to look a little different.

And one thing Detroit is going to be paying attention to is what happens when the Eagles fake handing the ball off to running back LeSean McCoy.

“The primary thing is they fake the run and throw what we call a bubble screen to (DeSean Jackson), who is sitting right behind the offensive tackle,” Cunningham said. “So he’s doing a lot of things like that. [The] issue for the defensive coaches is the work, the preparation work for the game and to let your players know to stay patient, let’s do what we do and let’s get the ball back for the offense. That’s the approach I think teams need to take.”

Prepping for Philadelphia is two-fold. First is McCoy. The Eagles' lead back already has 1,088 yards and five touchdowns this season, but has only rushed for more than 100 yards in a game once in the second half of the season -- a 155-yard game against Green Bay in Week 10. In 12 games this season, Philadelphia has run the ball more than it has passed it seven times, passed more four times, and had perfect balance between run and pass once -- last week against Arizona.

Having McCoy able to run the ball has opened things up for quarterback Nick Foles, who has 19 touchdown passes and no interceptions this season. Foles has been the key for a more balanced attack in Philadelphia during its four-game winning streak.

“Our whole offense is based on what the defense can give us,” Kelly said. “I’ll throw it a thousand times a game, I’ll run it a thousand times a game. Depends on what the situation is.”

Considering Detroit’s run defense this season, perhaps expect more pass. The Lions have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season. Over the past month, they have not allowed a team to average more than two yards a carry.

Scoring on the ground? Forget it. Detroit hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown since September.

Much of that has to do with Detroit’s front four, the group that could be most affected by the pace Philadelphia plays with. So the mantra this week for the Lions has been simple, even as they deal with the Eagles' offense.

Three-and-outs would mean a less tired Detroit defense.

“The quicker they run the plays, the quicker we can get them off the field,” Quin said. “The quicker they run, the quicker we get them off the field and get the ball to our offense.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The beard started, DeAndre Levy said, around a year ago for no particular reason.

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AP Photo/rick OsentoskiLions linebacker DeAndre Levy's game has grown with his beard.
And it is just purely a coincidence that Levy is having the best season of his career with his bushy facial hair. There is not a Samson complex going on here, just a linebacker for the Detroit Lions playing with consistency and confidence in his fifth season in the league.

It is something, like the beard, that started last season. But Levy said injuries limited his opportunities then -- something that has not happened this season.

"There's been ups and downs. I think the big thing for me is being consistent," Levy said. "Opportunities last year were a little bit, the hamstring kind of slowed me a little bit. So I kind of feel like I came together a little bit last year but having more opportunities this year, been healthy."

They have come in bunches for the Wisconsin native. Levy is on pace for his best statistical season, having 95 tackles through the first 12 games. And the numbers have been consistent. He has had no fewer than five tackles in any game and hit double digits twice.

But his importance and improvement goes beyond the tackle numbers, which should be in triple digits for a linebacker who plays almost every snap. It has come in his ability to read plays. He has done an exceptional job this season snuffing out opposing screens and has been good against the run for the most part.

His biggest leap might have come in pass coverage. He has six interceptions this season -- one more than he had the previous four years of his career combined -- and four pass breakups.

Those six interceptions lead the NFL -- not just among linebackers, but among all defensive players.

"He's been the same player," linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. "I just think as a player you grow every year and that's part of his growth. Right now, he's turned that corner in becoming consistent and coming into a guy that makes plays when they are coming his way and takes advantage of his opportunity."

This was something he and Tulloch, who is also having a good season as Detroit's middle linebacker, have discussed before. Not just knowing where they need to be on plays and being in position, but being able to adjust in the midst of a play to actually make the play.

Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said part of it is the way Levy now reads offenses and what he is recognizing as opposed to earlier in his career.

"He understands the game better, there's no question about that," Cunningham said earlier this season. "You could see it at OTAs and other times throughout the year that he was on point and it's paying off."

It's paying off for everyone involved. Levy is having the best season of his career. The Lions have a stalwart at linebacker now who gives both the defensive line and secondary added comfort that either a guy in front of them or behind them could make the play, depending on the scenario.

And then there's this: The way Levy is playing, it would be surprising if he didn't get a trip to Hawaii, meaning the Pro Bowl, after the season.

"That'd be cool. It'd be nice," Levy said. "I mean, it's kind of hard to think about right now because it's a big stretch for us as a team right now.

"That's kind of priority number one."

Part of the way Levy has played this season has been more free. He is more instinctual. He has let himself be more open, more free flowing.

Kind of like that ever-growing beard he said he doesn't maintain. He has trimmed the thing only a couple of times, and mostly that was so it could grow even longer once split ends stopped natural hair growth.

Levy appears to have pride in the beard, too. When he talked about it last month, one in which men often grow out their mustaches in support of fighting prostate cancer, Levy dismissed the thought of Movember for himself.

"There's no such thing as Movember," he said. "It's no shave ever."

Whatever has been working for Levy, all the Lions want is for it to continue.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Willie Young settles in at the line of scrimmage, waiting for the snap for yet another play. He’ll look at the opposing offensive line, the tight ends, the running backs, everything stacked against the Detroit Lions' front four and starts a conversation.

It’s how he keeps himself calm when he sees what he and the rest of the Detroit Lions defensive line will have to get through just to even get a shot at an opposing quarterback.

Double teams. Running backs chipping. Tight ends staying in to block. Detroit doesn’t bring much pressure at all outside of its front four, but opponents have to keep almost all of their players in to try and keep those four guys from finding their quarterback.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
AP Photo/David DurochikNdamukong Suh, center, and the Detroit Lions' defensive linemen can always count on facing a lot of traffic on their way to the quarterback.
“To some extent, it’s funny. You can’t just blow your top and get all frustrated with it, because once that happens, now you’ve really got a problem,” Young said. “It’s like, ‘Come on, man. Come on, man. Give me a break over here, man.’

“I’ll be talking to them all the time, like, ‘You know you don’t belong over here. You’re on the wrong side of the formation, you’re supposed to be over there.’ I mess with them, but that’s just the mindset that I take of working the game.”

It's one of the ways Detroit processes what is happening to its defensive line this season. The Lions' front four, statistically, has been inconsistent in part because of the mass of humanity opponents use to slow them each week.

Ndamukong Suh? He sees double teams on nearly every play. Nick Fairley? He faces double teams a good amount, too. Ends Ziggy Ansah and Young? They deal with a tackle and a running back or a tackle and a tight end. Or maybe two tight ends.

“It makes me sick sometimes, but it is what it is,” defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said. “We see those same teams play against other teams that I think are good pass-rush teams, and the receivers come out and they end up in five or six-man protection schemes, and that’s easier to break, but when you have all your guys doubled up front, it’s pretty hard.”

In 10 games, the Lions' defensive line has 14 sacks, right around the middle of the NFL for defensive line sack production. The difference is, Detroit blitzes less than any team in the league -- 16.9 percent of an opposing quarterback’s dropbacks. The Lions are one of three teams in the NFL blitzing on fewer than 20 percent of the plays.

So the amount of pressure on Detroit’s front four to actually reach the quarterback on a consistent basis is higher than any team in the league. If the Lions can’t get there, the defensive backs will likely have issues, since they can only cover for so long before a receiver will eventually break free.

Most of the inconsistency goes to teams changing protections. The Lions recognize it in-game and try to switch, but four-on-seven or four-on-eight will only lead to so much success.

Not that Lions don’t keep trying.

“I know one thing,” Fairley said. “We probably will be up-and-down some games, but we’re steady coming. We keep it going. We don’t just be like, ‘Dang, we not getting there, we didn’t get sacks this game.’

“We come back, watch film from this game, and just correct our mistakes and see how can we make it better the next go-round.”

The defensive line’s season-long inconsistency was extremely evident last Sunday against Pittsburgh. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked more often than any other quarterback this season entering the game.

The Lions only sacked Roethlisberger once -- from Fairley.

Pittsburgh did something most teams have been unable to do. Roethlisberger, who joked before the game he’d have to be more careful facing Fairley and Suh or he might end up dead, got rid of the ball faster than any other quarterback against Detroit this season.

Besides added protection, that’s how teams counter Detroit’s four-man pass rush. If a quarterback can make a read and throw in around two seconds, Suh, Fairley and the ends have little time to make any plays.

All of this could lead to frustration for Detroit. But that is part of what defensive line coaches Jim Washburn and Kris Kocurek have to stress to the Lions’ defensive linemen each week.

Stay patient. Stay focused. Keep rushing. Understand you’re going to see double teams all the time.

“If you’re a defensive tackle growing up and you play in this league, you’re going to have something like 700 pounds on you every play,” Cunningham said. “You’re going to get doubled. However you handle those players, you have to be really good. Anything you pay a defensive line coach, he’s worth it if he can do that. To me.

“Motivating those guys, sticking with them, making them understand is the most difficult job they have. It’s just a nightmare, it really is.”

The question is, who is the nightmare for. Right now, it’s the Lions, who are seeing more guys blocking them than ever before. But they understand the reason. Opponents are just doing it to keep their own quarterbacks from having their own nightmares.

Or worse. Having their actual quarterback being pummeled in a game.

JFK Remembered: Gunther Cunningham

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
2:40
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CunninghamAndrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsGunther Cunningham worried about the immediate consequences of President Kennedy's assassination.
Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, who was born in Munich, Germany, in 1946, reflects on the 50-year anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy:

"I was outside the physical education building getting ready to go to football practice and I'll never forget it. I stood there in shock. I remember it was a gray loudspeaker that the principal was on and he told the tale of what happened. It's funny, I've talked to people lately and it's on the 22nd of November and I knew that weeks ago that it was coming up. We don't watch TV [now], obviously, we don't have time.

"I came from Germany, so it was really an impact on my life to see all that happen. I watched it all on television as I remember correctly. Then. I try not to watch things like that anymore. The world's tough enough without having to go back and have nightmares come to you.

"I was probably 17, something like that. My dad, he was in the military. The only thing I can really recall is all the turmoil, listening to it, watching it. And being outside that gym and hearing that and wondering, 'What are we going to do now?'

Young kids and all my friends, we all thought the war was coming and we were just about ready to be 18, so we paid attention. At that time, it was the Cold War and the Russians. All kinds of things went through your mind and it was monumental. We all sat in front of televisions. I can't even tell you if we played the game or not, but I can tell you the event. It has stuck through my whole lifetime. Whenever November 22nd comes around, I remember.

"I do. A lot. That something like that could happen. I was fortunate enough when I was at Kansas City as a coach, [President] George W. Bush visited us to watch practice in River Falls, Wisconsin, in preseason and it was one of the greatest things to ever happen to me, to meet the President of the United States and not grow up here. So anything that happens in that area, my stepdad was in the military for over 30 years and I have all kinds of flags at home that were sent to me by different guys.

"The last incident, after 9/11, I got really involved with writing a lot of emails and things to the guys overseas and I got a flag one day at Kansas City. I can't even tell you the kid's name anymore, I know his first name was Jim, but I wrote him many, many times when he was over in Afghanistan and he passed away and his father brought me a flag.

"Then a pilot from Kansas City flew a helicopter gunship, a Cobra gunship into Fallujah and they always put American flags in their belly. The guy hand-delivered it to me and the other one to George W. Bush. So I felt like I arrived.

"And when I got to Detroit, I became a citizen, finally, after 50-something years. I've always been, I love this country and how many kids get a chance to come here and become an NFL football coach. It's been a great ride. I wouldn't change anything."

-- Gunther Cunningham, 67, as told to ESPN.com Lions reporter Michael Rothstein.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Louis Delmas sat on his stool in the Detroit Lions' locker room the other day, and a couple of seats over, Glover Quin’s head shot up from his phone.

Delmas was continuing his running joke of calling Quin “slow," even if they both ran comparable 40-yard dash times at the 2009 NFL combine.

This is no insult to the teammate whom Delmas trusts implicitly, but rather a compliment to his complement in the Detroit secondary and what he has learned from him. Slow, you see, doesn't mean what it sounds.

[+] EnlargeLouis Delmas and Glover Quin
AP Photo/Paul SancyaGlover Quin (left) and Louis Delmas complement each other, in their personalities and in their play.
“It’s crazy because he plays, he’s always in the right position to make plays on the ball and I always wondered why,” Delmas said. “He plays fast, but slow with his eyes. Sometimes you look at him on film and it makes it look like he’s playing very slow, but he’s always in the right position.

“That’s something I always struggled with because I always thought, ‘I need to get there, need to get there, need to get there.’ By watching him, an older guy as far as more experience and playing more games than me, being in the organization he was in, he learned that a long time ago.”

As Delmas was explaining, Quin shook his head at him. Delmas barked back at Quin.

Welcome to the playful friendship that has been all positive for Detroit’s defense.

Delmas kept going, animatedly describing how watching Quin taught him that quickness is more important than speed. How reading the play correctly is paramount to being there first and hopefully on time.

As Delmas is having arguably the best season of his career -- he said he won’t say that until he makes it through the year healthy -- some of the success is attributable to Quin. Same for Quin to Delmas, even if they have as opposite personalities as you could find.

Quin is the consummate professional, quiet, disciplined, focused and consistent. Delmas is the fiery, energetic, passionate soul of the Detroit defense.

Or, as defensive-backs coach Marcus Robertson put it, Delmas is the “spark plug,” while Quin is the “quiet storm.” Even the titles of their positions, with Delmas as the free safety and Quin the strong safety, fit their disparate personalities.

However it happens, it has worked for the Lions. Delmas and Quin are third and fifth on the team with 30 and 26 tackles, and both have two interceptions. Delmas has six pass breakups. Quin has five. Similar stats. Different approaches.

“Too much of anything isn’t good,” Quin said. “So if me and [Delmas] both had the same personality, it might not be good. We might bump heads. If we both played the same way, it might not be good.

“We need to balance.”

With the balance comes trust, and that came instantly when Detroit signed Quin from Houston in March. Delmas was still home rehabilitating his injured knees, but he and Quin texted and called each other, expressing their mutual excitement at playing alongside one another.

There was never any concern, just the comfort that Delmas would finally have the same player next to him every day and that Quin would have a counterpart with the confidence to make plays.

Even as Delmas dealt with injuries the past two seasons, he was a constant presence when he was able to play. Next to him, though, the only consistency Detroit had was a lack of it. Through Delmas’ first four seasons in the league, the Lions had what Detroit coach Jim Schwartz called a “revolving door” playing next to him.

When you’re trying to build cohesion in a group and communication to the point of comfort, the always-changing safeties weren’t safe at all. Delmas never slid into complete familiarity and trust with anyone he played next to as the last part of protection in the Detroit defense.

[+] EnlargeLouis Delmas and Glover Quin
Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty ImagesGlover Quin offers stability for Louis Delmas and the Lions.
“For such a long time, Lou hadn’t had that consistent counterpart there,” Robertson said. “When we made the initiative to go out and get GQ, I think that was one of the things that truly helped him out because he knew he was going to have somebody there beside him that he could depend on. Somebody he could count on, somebody that was going to have his back.”

In Quin, Delmas got a counterpart he had known since he entered the league -- they first met at the 2009 combine -- and someone he trusted immediately. He also had someone who, even though they have the same number of years in the league, he could look up to.

Delmas learned that he needed to bolster his physical skills by understanding everything else. And communication is key. Delmas and cornerback Rashean Mathis are consistently telling each other “keep me in it” or “talk to me, talk to me, talk to me” as a way of picking up on any changes they might notice before, during or after a play.

More important is the way Quin and Delmas communicate together.

“They communicate a lot off the field, on the field, you can see,” defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said. “Lou probably played some of his better games this year. He’s not gambling as much. He’s playing the system better, and he knows he’s got a guy on the other side.”

That guy is Quin, whom Delmas describes as a “very quiet, humble dude.” Then, he added, “you’ve got me. The fireball.”

And while Delmas has learned from Quin, he is also rubbing off on his strong safety.

“I’m pretty sure, I’m definite, that I’m feeding off of him a little bit,” Delmas said. “Because every time I get in his face and getting riled up, I can see him hopping around a little bit, getting excited.

“We’re different, very much different.”

For Detroit this season, that’s working out just fine.
A weekly examination of the Lions’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 24 | Last Week: 16 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

Welcome to the top 10, Detroit. The Lions haven’t been here since the last week of the 2011 season -- also the last season Detroit made the playoffs. Since then, Detroit has been as low as 28th (the end of last season) and mostly lived in the middle of the Power Rankings pack.

But a win over Chicago this past weekend gives the Lions an early first-place hold in the NFC North and some confidence heading into Green Bay on Sunday. The thing is, these Lions are appearing more legitimate by the week. They have two big-play threats on offense in Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush, an accurate quarterback in Matthew Stafford and an offensive line that is blocking well for both the running and passing games.

The key has been the Lions' defense. After failing to intercept a pass from Jay Cutler the past two seasons, they picked off the Bears quarterback three times on Sunday. The defensive line also allows for defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham to scheme well in the back seven. Detroit, more and more, looks like a playoff contender.

Sunday’s game between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears has some major implications for both teams a month into the season.

A Chicago win would give the Bears a two-game lead over the rest of the division. If Detroit wins, it would share the early lead with Chicago and give the Lions a potential edge in important tiebreakers when it comes to division titles and potential wild-card berths.

For Detroit, it is a chance for a rare win against the Bears. Chicago has won nine of its past 10 games against the Lions.

ESPN Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and ESPN Lions reporter Michael Rothstein break down some of the keys to the game.

Rothstein: Let’s start here. Chicago has won nine of the past 10 in this series. Is there any sense of overconfidence in the Chicago locker room, or has the Lions' start really kept that down?

Wright: Not at all because the Bears know they could be 0-3 as easily as they became 3-0. Remember, Jay Cutler led the Bears on back-to-back late comebacks to start the season, and they almost let Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh get away from them. So they know how fortunate they are to be the only undefeated team in the division, and they’re not taking the fast start for granted because, remember, just last season the Bears started off 7-1 only to lose five of their last eight to miss the playoffs. This game is essentially for first place in the NFC North. What’s the feeling in the Lions' locker room with such a high-stakes game coming up and the team coming off a big road win at Washington?

Rothstein: That it is early in the season. The players have stressed the importance of divisional games in the past, as has their coach, Jim Schwartz. But the truth is, this game would be a huge deal for Detroit if it won. It would give the Lions early control of the division and a two-game winning streak heading into a place they haven’t won in a long time -- Green Bay. There is definitely confidence in this group and the feeling that it can make enough plays to win games. That said, this is the first time Detroit will see the Bears under new coach Marc Trestman. How much different do the Bears look?

Wright: Chicago definitely features more diversity with formations on offense than it did a year ago, but don’t expect anything elaborate or mind-boggling in terms of actual play calls. Trestman and the offensive staff have been adept at finding weak spots in opposing defenses and drawing up the plays that will work best given the matchup. The biggest difference you’ll see is the improvement in protection, and the fact that Cutler now spreads the ball to other receivers as opposed to relying solely on Brandon Marshall. Because of the improved protection, running back Matt Forte no longer has to stay in and chip-block, and that frees him up to get out on pass routes. So Forte is another weapon for Cutler, as is Martellus Bennett, Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. If teams take away Marshall, Cutler now has plenty of options in the passing game. In the past, the Lions’ front four has given Chicago problems. How potent is Detroit’s defensive line this year with guys like Ziggy Ansah, Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh in the mix?

Rothstein: This group might be the most talented and deepest in the NFL. Suh is having a standout season, even if he isn’t putting up big numbers. His pressure of opposing quarterbacks has forced two interceptions in three games. Plus, the attention that opposing offensive lines place on blocking Suh opens things up for Fairley, Ansah and Willie Young. Ansah has 2.5 sacks and has a high-level speed burst for a defensive end. All of the linemen complement each other well, and that forms a highly productive unit. The biggest key there is the four linemen can pressure quarterbacks on their own, and that allows defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham to scheme differently than normal in the back seven. The Bears appear to have done a good job protecting Cutler this year, at least statistically. Now they face one of the toughest defensive lines in the NFL. What's the strategy for holding up there?

Wright: Chicago showcased its new offense in Week 1 against a formidable Cincinnati Bengals defensive line and didn't allow a sack, and the protection held up well Sunday night against a blitzing Pittsburgh front seven. So the Bears feel they’re battle-tested in terms of protection, and obviously a major component of the success they’ve experienced on the offensive line is new additions such as left guard Matt Slauson, rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills on the right side and tight end Martellus Bennett. Schematically, the Bears aid the protection with a faster, more rhythmic passing attack with drops designed to get the ball quickly out of Cutler’s hands. The Lions lost defensive end Jason Jones to a season-ending knee injury, so who’s the next man up, and what does he bring to the table?

Rothstein: It’ll likely be a combination of players, but the immediate answers are veterans Young and Israel Idonije, along with rookie Devin Taylor. Young is having a productive season with 10 tackles, a sack and the ability to pressure the quarterback. Bears fans should be familiar with Idonije, who played in Chicago the past nine seasons. Taylor is the question mark. He’s best known for lining up as the defensive end opposite Jadeveon Clowney at South Carolina, but he is extremely athletic and could be a matchup problem if he can get over his inexperience. Shifting to Chicago’s defense, working with the assumption Reggie Bush plays Sunday, how would you anticipate Chicago defending the Lions?

Wright: The Bears won’t deviate from playing their standard 4-3 over front, where the focus is penetration and gap control. Bush is certainly a dynamic threat on the edges in the passing game, but the Bears probably won’t experience much difficulty handling him because they’ve dramatically improved the athleticism of the linebacking corps with the additions of James Anderson and D.J. Williams to play alongside Lance Briggs. So they won’t put in any new wrinkles. If anything, the Bears will probably just focus more this week on defending the screen game, and accomplishing that task will also involve the club’s athletic defensive linemen such as Julius Peppers. Bush said he could’ve played against the Redskins. What’s the latest on his injury situation, and what does he add to Detroit’s offense?

Rothstein: I would be very surprised if Bush did not play Sunday -- especially now that wide receiver Nate Burleson is out for the foreseeable future. The Lions' offense is just so much different with Bush in the lineup -- whether he lines up in the backfield, out wide or in the slot. His ability to accelerate out of screens, dump-off passes and if he gets a small crease in the backfield is a skill few players in the NFL have. That Detroit has him along with the league’s best overall wide receiver in Calvin Johnson offers a tough matchup to defend when both are healthy. One of Chicago’s biggest playmakers is Devin Hester. Is he returning to early career form in that area, or was that more of a coverage issue by opponents?

Wright: Hester isn’t thinking as much, and he’s a fresher player than in years past because he’s no longer playing receiver, which has allowed him to focus solely on duties as a return man. Shortly after Trestman took the head-coaching job, Hester indicated to the coach a desire to focus solely on special teams. From there, Trestman said he “was all in” with the move. Hester no longer spends time during the week in offensive meetings with the receivers. The club has allowed him to concentrate exclusively on contributing as a special-teamer, and that’s paid dividends. Detroit’s biggest playmaker is Calvin Johnson. Given all the attention teams give him, how important has it been for the Lions to diversify distribution of the ball in the passing game?

Rothstein: It has been key, although it’ll be interesting to see how that changes now that Burleson is out. The obvious option is receiver Ryan Broyles, who played for the first time this season against Washington this past weekend. He is almost definitely going to receive more snaps and more targets. The other option could be an increased role for tight ends Joseph Fauria and Tony Scheffler. They both have receiving skills for tight ends, and at 6-foot-7, Fauria has already turned into an enticing red zone target. Now he may end up on the field in more than just scoring situations.

 
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions had no real approximation during practice this week for what they will see Sunday. They know this. No matter how much Kellen Moore tries as a scout team quarterback, he doesn’t have the speed, skill and arm strength combination of Robert Griffin III.

Griffin hasn’t run a lot this season. The Lions, of course, think Griffin will run often Sunday.

“You have to expect him to run,” linebacker Ashlee Palmer said. “You know what I mean. Regardless of knee injury or not, he’s a running quarterback, and they like to get him on the edge.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsThrough the first couple of weeks, the Redskins have taken Robert Griffin III's legs out of the offense.
“He brings that element to the game where he can run by people.”

At least he did last season, when Griffin rushed for 815 yards.

This is the predicament for teams preparing for Griffin. There is the anticipation of his rushing ability after his rookie season, in which he also threw for 3,200 yards, a dual-threat blur who carried what he accomplished at Baylor into the NFL.

This season has been different.

Washington has trailed in games, altering part of its game plan. Then there is the health of Griffin, one of the biggest questions in the preseason and the first two weeks of the year.

Griffin insists there is no longer a knee issue. The statistics offer a different story, and this is what makes the preparation difficult.

He has nine carries for 25 yards over the first two weeks of the season -- displaying a lack of rushing production. His potential, how he ran and frustrated teams last season, is another matter entirely.

The reason for the lack of running depends. It could be the injury. It could be what opposing defenses are trying to take away. It could be the blowouts.

“I think it just hasn’t presented itself,” Griffin said. “Once again, we hurt ourselves by getting behind so early, and that doesn’t help. We want to get into a little bit more of our game plan, and that’s what we’re planning to do this week.”

Hence the preparation quandary.

“I really don’t care what he does, as long as we beat him,” Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said. “He’s one heck of an athlete. I’ve never seen a guy throw the ball the way he does right now. He throws it out his left [hand] to his left and his front foot is almost 15 degrees behind him.

“That arm he has makes up for it. I saw him make some great plays. He hasn’t run as much, and they are getting a lot of pressure to run him. I believe he’s going to do whatever it takes to try and beat us.”

While the run might become more of a featured portion of Washington’s offense, even the way the Redskins have passed this year has changed.

When Griffin has thrown this season, it usually hasn’t been a deep ball. Per ESPN Stats & Information, Griffin has attempted only seven passes in which the ball has traveled in the air more than 20 yards, completing one of those passes. Most of his work has been within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, as he has thrown over 62 percent of his passes that distance. Last season, he threw a far fewer percentage of passes in that range.

Whether he runs more, throws deep or keeps doing what he has been doing, there is one thing that can be guaranteed for Detroit. Whatever happens Sunday, Griffin will be a factor.

"He’s a great quarterback, dual threat, can do anything," cornerback Darius Slay said. "Capable of moving the ball in any direction.

"So basically preparing for him is going to be a great opportunity."

Just what, exactly, the Lions are preparing for is the question.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz showed his team a clip from the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” last Saturday night before his team’s game against Minnesota. When he was done, after he spoke, his defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham was impressed.

Then again, Cunningham said he had used the same movie clip before in his first season as the head coach in Kansas City. But Cunningham wasn’t impressed as much by the clip, but by the speech Schwartz made after. About explaining how some things you can’t control and about resiliency.

“The night before the game, the way he presented things that are going to happen in the game was really good,” Cunningham said. “I was really impressed with his talk to the team. Lo and behold, it happened.

“We rallied back and played.”

This particular movie is a common staple amongst teams at pretty much every level of sports. So it’s nothing new. But it is what Schwartz used to help reinforce his message to the Lions last week.

Schwartz downplayed the showing of the clip Friday. He wouldn’t say how he decides his theme each week, other than that it comes to him.

But the “Saving Private Ryan” clip, he’s pretty sure it’s been used everywhere.

“There’s 32 teams in the NFL, good gracious,” Schwartz said. “I bet you "Saving Private Ryan" has been played a couple hundred thousand times for different teams. There’s a lot of those movies the DVD grooves are worn out from stuff like that.

“All of that has a message, all of it is designed to reinforce a message and prepare players and things like that. That doesn’t take the place of scheme, doesn’t take the place of players, doesn’t take the place of practice or working and all those different things. That stuff wears off pretty quickly once you take the field.”

But sometimes it does get the mind right, and for the Lions last week, it worked.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The first time Willie Young faced Minnesota in his rookie season, the defensive lineman lined up opposite the offensive tackle. The ball was snapped.

But before he could even make a move and touch the offensive lineman, his entire focus changed. It was too late.

Adrian Peterson, the top running back in the NFL -- the player Detroit’s front seven will be doing everything it can Sunday to at least contain, if not stop -- already had the ball and would make anything Young was about to do useless.

“A lot of other backs, it’s almost like there’s a slight bit of hesitation when those running backs get the ball,” Young said. “In this case, this scenario, as soon as [Peterson] gets it, there are instances where before I engage with the offensive tackle, he’s already got the ball and I’m already in pursuit.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesLions players marveled at Adrian Peterson's ability to leave defenders behind before they even know it.
“And I didn’t even touch the tackle yet.”

What he is saying is not any different than what others have said about Peterson in the past. He is that difficult to stop. He’s the top running back in the league, a guy who gained more than 2,000 yards last season, for a reason.

It is that speed and ability, Detroit linebacker Rocky McIntosh said, that makes Peterson different from other backs. From the very first step he takes on any carry, Peterson believes he can score. From anywhere. In that single step.

It leaves opponents with a mix of determination, fear and excitement. Determination because shutting down Peterson could make a name for yourself. Fear because of what he could do. Excitement because if you can tackle him or stop him, you can say you hit a surefire Hall of Famer.

Everyone has a different opinion, too, about what makes Peterson as tough as he is. Some, like Young, point to his speed. Others see what he does with his eyes.

“The vision he has,” Detroit rookie cornerback Darius Slay said. “He has this vision where he can bounce it inside between the tackles and he can outrun you on the edge. He has great speed, great size.

“Ain’t too many people that’s bred that way. He’s got the whole package of the complete running back.”

Somewhat surprisingly, Detroit hasn’t fared too badly against Peterson in the past.

In 11 career games against Detroit, Peterson has averaged 105.9 yards a game and scored nine touchdowns. It may seem like a lot of yards, but consider this -- he has actually averaged more yards against both Chicago (108.5) and Green Bay (120.2). So, relatively speaking, 105.9 yards is decent.

Yet Peterson is still one of the few players in the NFL who can destroy any defense at any time.

“They’ve got that kingpin, 28, back there,” Detroit defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said. “And he makes me not sleep very well at night.”

The Lions added size on the defensive line this offseason, drafting 6-foot-5, 271-pound defensive end Ziggy Ansah in the first round of April’s NFL draft and signing 6-5, 276-pound Jason Jones and 6-6, 275-pound Israel Idonije as defensive ends in the offseason to go with tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.

So there is some size there to pressure the Minnesota offensive line and attempt to get in the backfield to thwart Peterson before he starts getting comfortable.

Detroit’s containment strategy when it comes to Peterson is to attack him early. If he starts off with a few big runs, he has already found his confidence and at least one hole in a game plan, so it would likely be a long day for the opponent.

This, of course, is extremely difficult to accomplish. Yet for any team to beat Minnesota, it almost has to happen.

“Literally,” McIntosh said. “The game is on you.”

The Lions seem to know that. Because with Adrian Peterson, everyone knows to expect an elite level of play every week. Whether it's a game-breaking play or the quest for another 2,000-yard season, anything is possible for Peterson.

The thing is -- sometimes, every once in a while -- he can give even more than that. It’s why even in a room full of elite athletes, Peterson can still produce awe. It’s something you can see from the start.

“It’s obvious,” Young said. “He’s the top running back in the NFL.”

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