NFC North: Glover Quin

Offenses consistently said they had to plan differently when they faced the Detroit Lions this season, and a lot of that had to do with Ndamukong Suh.

Suh
Suh doesn’t have the overwhelming statistics of Houston defensive end J.J. Watt, but his influence on a game is unquestioned. When teams tried to single-block him – early against Miami is one example – the fifth-year defensive tackle annihilated opponents and wrecked opposing backfields. Sometimes he was even able to do that when double-teamed as well.

While his reputation as a game-changer helps, he was the overwhelming pick as the NFC North Defensive Player of the Year, garnering four of five first-place votes and 14 overall points. Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews finished second with six points (and one first-place vote), followed by Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen (5.5 points), Detroit safety Glover Quin (2.5 points), Minnesota safety Harrison Smith (1 point) and Green Bay linebacker Julius Peppers (1 point).

The five voters were asked to rank their top three choices with a first-place vote gaining three points, a second-place vote two points and a third-place vote one point.

Suh had 53 tackles this season, 8.5 sacks and two pass breakups. He consistently faced double-teams and that opened up rush lanes for linebackers Tahir Whitehead and DeAndre Levy along with single blocks for the rest of the Lions’ defensive linemen. Many of those linemen had career seasons.

“He’s a dominant, dominant player who we benefit greatly from having his services,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said last month. “He’s a tremendous asset to our team.”

Suh has been a force for Detroit since being drafted by the Lions with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft. He has been named a first-team All-Pro four times and to the Pro Bowl in four of his five seasons in the league.

He’s also remained remarkably durable at a position in the trenches, only missing games because of a suspension in 2011. This season, though, might have been some of his finest work in defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s new, attacking 4-3 scheme.

Suh led a Lions defense that ranked in the top five in almost every major category, including having the NFL’s top run defense.

“He’s got great strength, which is great for those inside rushers, because they can power offensive guards back,” Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said in December. “He has great quickness as well and if he starts one way and the guard moves, he can really get underneath a guy and power him back into the quarterback. His strength and quickness are to me a huge advantage for an inside defensive player.

“… He's different from a lot of [defensive tackles] that I've had, but he's similar. Geno Atkins was extremely strong and quick like Suh is, but Suh is a bigger player, bigger-body guy, which helps even in the power part of things. He has those rare attributes that are hard to find for an inside guy. I think he's one of the best of all-time."

Whether he remains in Detroit is still a question as Suh is slated to enter free agency next month. Where Suh ends up is one of the most interesting questions of the offseason.
He was a late injury replacement after a statistically average season compared to his peers, but Matthew Stafford looked like he fit in fine Sunday night during his first Pro Bowl.

Stafford
Stafford
Stafford completed 15 of 25 passes for 316 yards, two touchdowns, an interception, and won the game's Offensive MVP award. He also averaged 12.6 yards per throw and had a passer rating of 114.2 in the exhibition.

Overall, Stafford appeared to enjoy his experience.

"It was great," Stafford told reporters in Arizona. "I feel like I’ve had some good seasons in this league, and haven’t gotten a chance to play in this, so I was going to go out here and try to show people that I belonged here, and I think that worked."

His receiver on the Detroit Lions, Golden Tate, led Team Irvin with two catches for 98 yards, including a 60-yard reception from Stafford in the first half.

The third Lions player in the game, Glover Quin, had five tackles and one pass defended for Team Carter. Stafford also beat Quin on a touchdown to Emmanuel Sanders in the first half.

"He came up to me and asked me if I was going at him," Stafford said. "I said, 'No, that’s where the coverage told me to throw it, Glover. Don’t worry about it.' But, no, it was fun. He played great. He got me on the next one, cut off Jimmy Graham in the end zone."
» Pro Bowl analysis: AFC | NFC » Complete roster

SELECTIONS:

Glover Quin, S, first Pro Bowl selection: He ranted about changing the Pro Bowl voting earlier this season, and now Quin is a first-time Pro Bowler. He leads the NFL in interceptions with seven and has been one of the leaders of the Lions’ defense. He has intercepted passes in the past four games and is the first Detroit safety to be picked for the game since Bennie Blades in 1992.

Who he beat out: Harrison Smith, Minnesota; Antoine Bethea, San Francisco; James Ihedigbo, Detroit; Devin McCourty, New England.

Ndamukong Suh, DT, fourth Pro Bowl selection: One of the most dominant tackles in the game, Suh is the third-rated defensive tackle in the league according to Pro Football Focus and has 35 quarterback hurries according to PFF -- the most among defensive tackles in the league. He changes the way offenses scheme against Detroit.

Who he beat out: Johnathan Hankins, New York Giants; Sharrif Floyd, Minnesota; Terrance Knighton, Denver.

Calvin Johnson, WR, fifth Pro Bowl selection: He had another 1,000-yard season despite missing three games due to injury and being limited in two others. He hasn’t put up the numbers he typically does -- he has only 67 catches -- but he's considered one of the top receivers in the game and is a matchup nightmare.

Who he beat out: Golden Tate, Detroit; Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants; Emmanuel Sanders, Denver; Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia.

SNUBS:

Golden Tate, WR, no Pro Bowls: The NFL’s leader in yards after catch with 683, he also is fourth in the league in receptions (96) and seventh in yards (1,286). He also has been a more reliable target than Calvin Johnson this season and more durable, too. He has set career highs in receptions and yards.

Who he should have beaten out: Calvin Johnson, Detroit. Tate has more yards and catches than his teammate and has been more consistent. Johnson is one of the best receivers in the game, but Tate has had the better season.

DeAndre Levy, LB, no Pro Bowls: He leads the league in solo tackles with 109 and is third in the NFL in tackles with 140. He’s one of the best linebackers in coverage in the NFL and was a snub for the second straight season. He’s been one of the key cogs of the Detroit defense.

Who he should have beaten out: It’s tough to say because Levy is a 4-3 linebacker going up against 3-4 linebackers who compile gaudy statistics and almost play a different position than Levy as far as usage goes. If you were to expand it to linebackers overall, he probably should have beaten out rookie C.J. Mosley of Baltimore.

Rapid Reaction: Detroit Lions

December, 14, 2014
12/14/14
7:17
PM ET

DETROIT -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions’ 16-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at Ford Field:

What it means: Detroit again returned to its ways of the first half of the season -- sputtering on offense and needing its defense to come up with the plays that would end up earning a victory. Two interceptions in the first half -- one by Glover Quin and one by Darius Slay -- set up 10 points for the Lions and were some of the best offense the team had all day.

In a game the Lions had to win to keep their NFC North hopes alive and to keep their wild-card chances in good shape, the Detroit defense again came through, just as it has all season long. The Lions' defense was even more stout in the second half, when it didn’t allow a point and snuffed out two late Minnesota drives. If the Lions are going to make the playoffs and have any chance to make a run in them, it will be behind Detroit’s defense.

Stock watch: Rising -- Quin. The safety had an interception for the third straight game Sunday, this one a pass Teddy Bridgewater essentially threw right to him. His 56-yard return was even more impressive for the Lions, as it set up Detroit’s first touchdown and gave the Lions their first sign of life all day.

Rising -- DeAndre Levy. Another strong week for him with 11 tackles. He also snuffed out a potential Minnesota first down when he expertly spied Bridgewater on a third down to keep him from being able to turn upfield. It led to a Bridgewater incompletion.

Falling -- Lions' offense. Detroit’s offense took a dip Sunday after consecutive good weeks. Matthew Stafford was a bit less accurate (17-of-28 for 153 yards), and the Lions struggled to do much on offense in the first half. They gained 89 yards in the first half and didn’t gain a first down until the second quarter. Detroit gained only 233 yards of offense all game, more than 100 yards fewer than the Vikings.

Matt Prater comes through: Detroit had a kicking problem through the first five games of the season. That’s settled down now, as the signing of Prater before the first Minnesota game in Week 6 was a good one. Prater made all three of his field goal attempts and was a big reason the Lions were in the game.

Game ball: Jason Jones. The defensive end came up with maybe the biggest play of the game for Detroit. He blocked a Blair Walsh field goal to get the Lions the ball back and keep it a one-point deficit. It led to a rare sustained Detroit drive Sunday and a Prater field goal. Jones had four tackles and a sack of Bridgewater -- one of four by the Lions on Sunday.

What’s next: The Lions hit the road for their final two games of the regular season, at Chicago next Sunday and then at Green Bay in the regular-season finale.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – This all started way before the season, back when James Ihedigbo decided to become a Detroit Lions safety during free agency. He couldn’t have necessarily expected then what has happened since.

But when he met fellow safety Glover Quin, the two clicked immediately. They spent the offseason working out together in Houston, hoping the time spent in Texas in the spring would translate to success in Detroit in the fall.

And it has.

Quin and Ihedigbo might be the best safety tandem in the NFL and could be the best pairing of safeties not many people outside of Detroit know much about.

[+] EnlargeJames Ihedigbo and Glover Quin
AP Photo/Duane BurlesonJames Ihedigbo congratulates Glover Quin after an interception against the Saints on Oct. 19. The Lions tandem has become one of the best in the NFL.
The evidence?

Based on Pro Football Focus’ safety rankings, only two teams – Cleveland (Donte Whitner/Tashaun Gipson) and New England (Devin McCourty/Patrick Chung) – have a duo of players ranked higher than Quin (fifth) and Ihedigbo (13th).

While PFF is an admittedly subjective rating, they are the two starting safeties on the best run defense in the league, the best QBR defense in the league and the second-best overall defense in the NFL. Quin is tied for second in the league in interceptions with five. Ihedigbo is tied for fifth, with four. Both have more than 55 tackles.

Despite their play and Detroit’s defensive success, neither Quin nor Ihedigbo is in the top 10 in fan voting for the Pro Bowl. While this might seem like a small metric by which to measure, it clearly irked Quin enough to go off earlier this week about wanting to change how the Pro Bowl voting works.

Ihedigbo listened in, nodding in agreement a good portion of the time.

This is just another way the two Lions safeties have worked and communicated so well together this season. They understand each other extremely well. They are similar in mind and in style. Even their wives have become close friends.

So the success is not a surprise to them.

“I don’t know if 'surprised' is the word because you never know, but we put a lot of work into it,” Iheidgbo said. “So if it was something where we didn’t work at it and it just happened, then you could say we were surprised, but we put the work into it.

“It’s not even just us, it’s our whole secondary. Me and Glover communicate, but [Rashean Mathis], [Darius] Slay, we spend so much time doing it that it’s a product of our work ethic. So it doesn’t come as a surprise.”

This has been what both players envisioned from Ihedigbo’s signing – even if it took a while for them to get on the field at the same time. Quin missed part of Detroit’s spring workouts. Ihedigbo missed parts of training camp and then the first three weeks of the season.

But while Ihedigbo watched Quin, he also saw that everything they worked out would fit in nicely.

“I’d watch him during practice and just the things he did,” Ihedigbo said. “And I was like, ‘Wow, this can be a really good thing.’"

It’s maybe been better than good. Detroit’s front four get a lot of attention and praise. So does linebacker DeAndre Levy. But the Lions probably don’t have as strong a defense if Quin and Ihedigbo don’t work as well together as they do.

“When you have a good front and you have a good secondary, as I’ve seen, the safeties will shine along with other people,” Mathis said. “You have a good front and the safeties, if they are good at their jobs, then the quarterback is on a clock. He doesn’t have all the world to just sit back there and relax.

“That’s when it gets tough on the back end and the safeties. Our front is one of the best in the league if not the best so it all ties in hand in hand.”

Now, more people just have to notice.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit Lions' Glover Quin is rated fifth among safeties in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. He's tied for second in the NFL with interceptions among defensive backs, with five.

His safety-mate, James Ihedigbo, is tied for fifth in the NFL in interceptions among defensive backs, with four. Yet neither one is in the Top 10 in Pro Bowl balloting by fans at either position.

Quin
So Quin, when asked about the Pro Bowl balloting on Wednesday and changes he would make, he asked if there were television cameras, if they could be turned on. He wanted NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to hear his message. And here it is:

"How would I change the voting? First of all, in my opinion, why do the fans need two months to vote in my opinion? So I would say, I also feel like, something should be said about playing in the majority of the games. How can you have a Pro Bowl season if you only played in 10 games, right? So I wouldn't start the fan voting until after Week 13. Vote 13, 14, 15, season's over with but you've had 12 games. Everybody had their bye and played in 12 games by Week 13 so the fans had 12 games to see who is playing well, who has been on the field. You've got two weeks to fan vote and then you let the media and everybody else vote. Why do they need two months to sit there and vote 500,000 times. And they are probably just voting for Tashaun Gipson, which he had a great first half of the season but he's been hurt for the last four or five games. I think you move that back, you give fans time to say OK this guy has performed a certain way for 12 games and he's been out on the field, he's been trending the right way and you give them two weeks to get their votes in. If you can't your votes in in two weeks, what's the difference between having a million fan votes and 400,000 fan votes, you're still going to be a leader.

"Scouts in the NFL should create the ballot. I don't feel like everybody, like a Grammy nomination, it's an honor to be nominated for a Grammy. Whether you win or not, it's an honor to be nominated. It's a major thing. So if we're talking about the ballot, why is everybody on the ballot and they haven't had close to a Pro Bowl year. It should be an honor to be on the Pro Bowl ballot. So now the fans don't have to choose between 35 free safeties. It's only seven. These are the only guys who are having Pro Bowl years. Why you got everybody on the ballot that ain't even Pro Bowl-worthy?

"...It should be an honor. They want players to play hard in the Pro Bowl? It should be an honor to be on the ballot. Period. It should be an honor, like, 'Man, I'm on the Pro Bowl ballot.' You know what I mean. How do you have a guy on the Pro Bowl ballot who has 10 tackles and a pass breakup."

In the midst of his loud, forceful rant about the Pro Bowl, he drew a small crowd of players as well. Ihedigbo joked he sounded like he was preaching to a church.

And when Ihedigbo was asked if he agreed with what Quin was saying, he smiled and said, "100 percent."

The Lions only have five players in the top 10 of fan voting at the respective positions: Golden Tate is 10th among receivers with 188,526 votes; Ezekiel Ansah is seventh among defensive ends with 97,074 votes; Ndamukong Suh is third among defensive tackles with 189,102 votes; DeAndre Levy is ninth among outside linebackers with 108,417 votes and Isa Abdul-Quddus is 10th among special teamers with 36,510 votes.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observed and heard in the locker room following the Detroit Lions' 34-9 loss to the New England Patriots.
  • During the week, Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he would not consider taking play-calling duties away from first-year offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. After another game without a touchdown -- the first time the team has gone two straight games without an offensive touchdown since 2000 -- Caldwell said they would be looking at things to change in the offense, although nothing drastic. When asked if he would consider taking play-calling duties away from Lombardi, Caldwell offered a one-word answer: "No."
  • Reiff
    Reiff
    The Lions lost another offensive lineman for the majority of the game Sunday after left tackle Riley Reiff injured his left knee on the game's first play. Reiff, who was walking in the locker room after the game, said to ask the coaches about his knee, and Caldwell had no update on the severity of his injury. Caldwell said he felt rookie Cornelius Lucas "held his own" replacing Reiff, but Lucas gave up at least one sack.
  • Lions safety Glover Quin lined up in the slot more often than normal as Detroit used its three-safety nickel package with Quin, James Ihedigbo and Isa Abdul-Quddus. Detroit did that to try to keep New England from finding mismatches all day. "That was the thinking behind that," Quin said. "To try to hold up [passes] and the run game."

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin receives his news about Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy and Ray Rice just like everyone else, but the team’s NFLPA player representative just wants to see one thing out of the entire process.

Fairness. For everyone, when it comes to how those cases are handled within the NFL.

[+] EnlargeGlover Quin
ESPN.com Lions reporter Michael Rothstein Glover Quin used his grilling skills on Tuesday to help raise awareness against domestic violence.
“I just want it to be fair for everybody,” Quin said Tuesday before guest grilling at an event supporting the Ms. Molly Foundation, a group raising money for shelters and safe houses for domestic violence and sexual assault victims. “I don’t condone domestic violence. I don’t condone any other thing that’s going on. But obviously, everybody deserves a fair trial.

“But I wasn’t there. I don’t know what all was happening. I don’t know all that stuff. As long as it’s fair, I’m all for it. If it’s not fair, then I think something should be done about it. As long as it’s fair for the players, for the league and everything of that nature, then I am all for whatever.”

Minnesota running back Peterson pleaded no contest Tuesday to misdemeanor reckless assault and avoided jail time. He is one of three high-profile domestic violence cases in the NFL in the past few months. Rice has his reinstatement hearing this week, following his suspension after video surfaced of an altercation between Rice and his now-wife, Janay.

On Tuesday, Carolina defensive lineman Hardy’s assault trial was postponed until 2015.

Seeing all these things led Quin to want to become involved in a positive way, to bring awareness to the issue and try to stop it. He said he has never dealt with domestic violence in his family, but he knows it is a major issue in the NFL recently, and he wanted to do something.

“I don’t condone it, like I said, at all,” Quin said. “But at the end of the day, there are still issues out there. Domestic violence is still an issue, and in our league there is a lot going on with that, so being able to shed a positive light on that situation and try to bring some awareness to try and help it and stop domestic violence, I can be a part of that.

“And I can use, hopefully, my platform and whatever to try and help that. I think every little bit counts. Every word, everything you can do to try and help it counts and goes a long way.”

This is why Quin showed up at the BD’s Mongolian Grill in Ann Arbor to be a guest griller in the event for the Ms. Molly Foundation. The event raised money for the SafeHouse Center, which is a domestic violence and sexual assault center in Washtenaw County, Michigan.

Quin spent time preparing food for customers, signing autographs and raising awareness for the cause. He said he did not ask his teammate -- and amateur chef -- James Ihedigbo for advice on how to prepare the food. Quin said he figured Ihedigbo will grade his performance, though.

“It was a great thing,” Quin said. “I wanted to be a part of it, so when they told me about the event, I wanted to come out and be a part of it and spend some time, talk to some people, meet some people and have fun with it.”
LONDON -- Each week, we’ll take a look at who or what might be rising or falling with the Detroit Lions.

RISING:

Johnson
WR Calvin Johnson: It is still unclear if the star receiver is going to play Sunday against Atlanta at Wembley Stadium, but he is clearly making progress on his injured ankle. He said he is feeling good and that he did a little bit of field work last week, which is a step up for him. He also told the NFL Network he has been running more than before, another good sign of his eventual return. It’ll likely be a decision between the coaches, doctors and Johnson as to whether he plays Sunday or waits until after the team’s bye, but it does sound like he is closer to full strength than a week ago.

LB Josh Bynes: He signed with the Lions when Stephen Tulloch tore his ACL celebrating a sack of Aaron Rodgers and has slowly moved his way into some snaps with the Detroit defense. He has played in 30 total snaps the past two weeks spelling Tahir Whitehead. But the Lions clearly have some trust in him as he was in the game on the second-to-last series against New Orleans, when Glover Quin picked off Drew Brees to set up the game-winning score.

The Lions free-agent defensive signings: Detroit made three moves critical to its defense during the offseason -- bringing in defensive ends Darryl Tapp and George Johnson along with safety James Ihedigbo. Ihedigbo was the team’s biggest defensive move and after missing three games due to a neck injury has become one of the Lions’ best defenders and a smart pairing with Glover Quin at safety. The more surprising play has come from Tapp and Johnson, both guys who were questions to make the roster at one point -- Tapp was cut and re-signed in August -- and have found roles in the Detroit defense. Tapp has been good against the run and Johnson leads the Lions defensive linemen in sacks (four) and is third among Detroit defensive linemen in tackles with 16.

FALLING:

Broyles
WR Ryan Broyles: Another week with the Lions decimated by injuries, another week where Broyles has little to no role in the offense. At this point, it looks like unless there is an in-game injury, Broyles just isn’t going to see the field much at all. He has one reception for 21 yards this season and has not run more than three routes in a game.

The Detroit running game: Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and Theo Riddick have all had injuries this season, but it still doesn’t explain why the Lions have been unable to run with any success. Detroit is 31st in the NFL in rushing yards per game (82.43) and yards per rush (3.12). Neither Bell (3.5 yards per carry) nor Bush (3.3 yards per carry) are even close to Jim Caldwell’s stated preference of four yards per rush and other than brief spurts in second halves, the Lions just haven’t been able to move the ball on the ground.

S Isa Abdul-Quddus: The starter at safety when Ihedigbo was out, Abdul-Quddus has primarily become a special-teams player at this point. His snaps have decreased every week since Ihedigbo’s return, from 19 against the Jets to 15 against Buffalo, one against Minnesota and none against his former team, the Saints. He still has a role on special teams, where he is part of their core, but it looks like he won’t be remaining as a player in a defensive package for Teryl Austin unless there is an injury.
LONDON -- The Detroit Lions have the top-ranked defense in the NFL and after two weeks outside the top 10 of the ESPN.com Power Rankings, the Lions are back pushing for a spot among the elite in the league.

The Lions are up to No. 10 this week, the fifth-highest team in the NFC and the second-highest team in the NFC North behind Green Bay, a team on a tear since losing to the Lions in Week 3.

Detroit knows how close it is, though, to being even better than its 5-2 record. The Lions are still No. 1 in the NFL in two categories: defensive QBR (31.8) and total defense (290.3)

"We feel like right now we're in a good position," safety Glover Quin said. "Obviously, we feel like we could be undefeated. We've left some games out there, and we still haven't played a total, total game. So we always feel like no one can beat us if we don't beat ourselves and if we play our game, it's going to be hard for a team to beat us .

"With the weapons we have on offense, the guys we have on defense and our special teams, we feel like we have a complete team."

This is what the Lions are trying to continue in London on Sunday when they face Atlanta at Wembley Stadium.

Just a note -- due to travel to London and the scheduling of events here, my power rankings ballot returns next week.
video

DETROIT -- On Saturday evenings, during the team’s final meeting of the night before a game on Sunday, Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell ends those sessions with the same message every time.

Above all else, win. No matter what.

It’s a simple message, really. But too often in the recent past for the Lions, it has been the opposite. This used to be a team that would give away fourth-quarter leads and hand victories to opponents. This was a team last season that held leads in the fourth quarter of almost every game in the second half of the season and found ways to lose time and time again.

This is part of why Caldwell is here, because of those collapses. So with four minutes left Sunday against the New Orleans Saints and the Lions needing two touchdowns to win and an offense struggling without Calvin Johnson, they needed Caldwell’s message to somehow resonate.

They needed a spark to resurrect an offense that was built to have many weapons to endure in the face of injuries, not to collapse when Johnson wasn’t in there.

“Just hard finding good rhythm,” tight end Brandon Pettigrew said. “These defenses are putting together great game plans as well, so it’s tough to kind of get through that sometimes.”

The Lions are hoping the double-digit deficit turned 24-23 win over the Saints in the last 3 minutes, 52 seconds is the ignition for the rest of the season.

Facing third-and-14, Matthew Stafford threw the ball up to his hot receiver, Golden Tate. And 73 yards later -- 65 of them from Tate after the catch -- a Lions offense that gained 187 yards through three quarters had a touchdown, a belief and that offensive spark.

“That play he made on that long touchdown is as good a play as I’ve seen in a long time,” Stafford said. “Just to catch it at a standstill, basically I just threw him a ball up. He was hot. He was calling for it. Wanted it.

“I gave him a chance on a ball and he came back, caught it and he did the rest. It was pretty impressive.”

The Lions' defense saw that and started pressuring Drew Brees even more on the chances it could get. On a third-and-9, the offensive spark turned into a defensive play. George Johnson pressured his man from the side and forced Brees off rhythm. His pass to Marques Colston ended up intercepted by Detroit safety Glover Quin.

Johnson said the Lions knew at some point Brees was going to have to hold the ball a split-second longer to make a play. It led to the pressure and the pick.

And Caldwell’s message of believing took hold even more: Above all else, win.

With 3:10 left and 14 yards and an extra point between a loss and an improbable victory, the Lions ran four times, passed twice and received one pass interference call. Then, five yards from the end zone on third down with 1:48 left, Stafford saw Tate bracketed by the Saints and Corey Fuller breaking toward the middle of the end zone.

Fuller started in Johnson’s place Sunday, and in the biggest spot of his career Fuller made a play reminiscent of his mentor. He leaped, controlled his body and got both of his feet down. It was the definition of a role player with a massive play.

“It was a toe-touch,” Pettigrew said. “That’s real Calvinish. I’m not taking anything away from him, but that was pretty good. That’s pretty good.”

That is an offensive spark completed for a team in desperate need of one -- for one day and for the rest of the season.

“Games in this league are crazy,” Caldwell said. “You don’t know exactly how they are going to turn out.”

Down 13 with under four minutes left and no Calvin Johnson -- no, no one could have seen this coming at all. Except maybe Caldwell with his message: Above all else, win.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It took seven nickel cornerbacks and one defensive wrinkle, but the Detroit Lions appear to have finally found an answer in how to handle the slot on defense.

Use two different packages, each geared with different down-and-distance in mind along with varying tendencies for an opponent. The Lions brought both nickel packages out Sunday afternoon, essentially one on likely running downs and the other in probable passing situations.

When it appeared the Jets were going to run, Detroit used a defensive package with three safeties: James Ihedigbo, Isa Abdul-Quddus and Glover Quin. The Lions would play Ihedigbo, typically a strong run defender, at his traditional strong safety spot. Abdul-Quddus would handle the free safety role, and Quin dropped down to play the slot corner.

[+] EnlargeEric  Decker
Ron Antonelli/Getty ImagesThe Lions used a couple of different nickel packages with positive results against the Jets.
When the Lions went nickel in traditional passing situations, Detroit kept Ihedigbo and Quin back at safety and brought in Danny Gorrer to handle the slot corner, much like he did last week when Don Carey re-injured his hamstring against Green Bay.

“It worked,” cornerback Rashean Mathis said. “Kudos to the staff, they did a good job of having two guys ready to go, and we need that. We have a lot of versatility in our secondary and it’s showing.”

The Lions used the more traditional nickel package with Gorrer on the field and both Quin and Ihedigbo at safety on 27 plays. Abdul-Quddus played 19 snaps, so that meant 19 plays with Quin down in the bigger nickel.

Ashlee Palmer played 18 snaps, meaning the Lions were in the 4-3 personnel 28 percent of the time Sunday against a heavy run team.

The Lions did this because of New York’s preference to run out of any formation available. New York did rush for 132 yards and 4.9 yards per carry, but 63 of those yards came on the first drive of the game. After that drive, the Lions forced five straight three-and-outs.

“You think about it, they went 12 personnel, which is primary pass form and then they can do some running out of it,” Ihedigbo said. “So to have three safeties in there, it worked out great for us.”

The Lions have some experience with 12 personnel on their own roster, too, as the team has used a single-back, two -receiver, two tight-end set more often this season than last season. So they can practice against this set if necessary.

Detroit guessed right off down-distance pretty well, too. Pro Football Focus had Gorrer on the field for 20 pass plays and Abdul-Quddus for 10 rushing plays.

Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s newest wrinkle worked with Detroit’s defense, though, in part because Quin has experience playing cornerback. While he has not dropped down and played corner much since moving to Detroit prior to last season, he isn’t a complete neophyte at the position so he can provide some coverage if necessary.

He also has experience playing closer to the line of scrimmage so he can really be used anywhere the Lions would like at this point.

It is part of the flexibility of Detroit’s defense and being able to play veterans at both safety spots.

“It’s just the versatility of our defense,” Ihedigbo said. “With our defense, when you know the whole entire defense, you can implement guys in different spots.

“That’s what makes it so effective.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- For three weeks, James Ihedigbo has been confident, saying that he planned on playing in games for the Detroit Lions.

And for three weeks, Ihedigbo has ended up watching those games from the sideline -- inactive as he recovered from a nerve issue in his neck that could be good one day and bothersome the next.

Ihedigbo
On Thursday, though, Ihedigbo could comfortably and confidently say that yes, he likely will make his debut Sunday against the New York Jets. Ihedigbo was cleared to practice fully Wednesday -- the first time he has fully practiced the entire regular season.

Then he woke up Thursday morning and "felt great," so barring a setback he is ready for his debut.

"Pretty much done everything that’s been asked of me," Ihedigbo said. "It’s a great sign to be back as close to 100 percent as possible and look forward to rocking."

Rocking, in tackling terms, is one of Ihedigbo’s biggest strengths with the Lions. He was signed to be more of a run stopper, a good complement to Glover Quin, who would now have the chance to roam the field more as a free safety.

While defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said nothing changed in the scheme when Ihedigbo went down and was replaced by Isa Abdul-Quddus, this wasn’t the safety tandem they envisioned when they signed Ihedigbo to replace Louis Delmas.

Now, they will show what they were hoping for from the beginning.

"We have good chemistry and great communication," Quin said. "With great communication, you have guys in the same spot, guys in the right areas knowing what to expect and allowing guys to make plays.

"If we can do a great job of making the right calls on the back end and communicating effectively, me trusting him, him trusting me, us working off each other, we can do a good job hopefully confusing the quarterback."

Sunday presents a good opportunity, as Jets quarterback Geno Smith has thrown four interceptions in three games and is completing 63.1 percent of his passes. In his first 19 games, Smith has thrown 25 interceptions.

But Ihedigbo's physical style and run-stopping capability is especially important this week because New York has the top-rated rushing offense in the NFL. Chris Johnson, who is the speed back, and Chris Ivory ,the power runner, are essentially splitting carries.

Johnson has 123 yards rushing and a touchdown. Ivory has 190 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

Plus, having Ihedigbo back gives the Lions some depth at safety for the first time this season. He had 99 tackles last season for Baltimore and had a plus-8.0 run-defense grade for the Ravens last season, best among the team’s defensive backs.

"It’ll be good in the running game," Austin said. "He’s a big body. He is a good tackler. He plays well close to the line of scrimmage.

"So it’ll be good to get him back."
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Since coming into the NFL, Jordy Nelson has been a good target for Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

This season, though, the former Kansas State receiver has been playing at an even higher level. Through two games, Nelson is leading the NFL in receiving yards (292) and targets (30), is tied for the lead in receptions (18) and first downs (13) with the Saints' Jimmy Graham and is among the top 10 in yards after catch (107).

When Green Bay plays Detroit on Sunday afternoon, Nelson will again be a main target for Rodgers and a primary concern for the Detroit Lions.

In their own words, here’s what they see when they watch the 6-foot-3, 217-pound receiver.

[+] EnlargeJordy Nelson
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesJordy Nelson is Aaron Rodgers' favorite target these days.
Cornerback Darius Slay: "Him and Rodgers got a good connection, you know. They been with each other since I don’t know when. They got a real good connection. A lot of back-shoulders, trusting that the guy can make plays in the deep ball area, so what I’m going to try to do is eliminate them big plays."

Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin: "You have to know where he is. Last year, when we were in Baltimore, they had those three guys and we had to know where he was. He hit us for a big play. We know about him and we know why he gets targeted. He catches the ball, has run-after-catch ability and he can take a small one and make it a big one."

Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi: "The thing that stands out for me is seeing all these back-shoulder catches. So body control, great hands, good route-runner. Competitor."

Safety Glover Quin: "They gave him all that money -- he should be on a different level. Probably out there feeling good, having fun. He’s the quarterback’s favorite target, so he’s like, 'Hey man, gets to go into these games and know the quarterback is going to throw me the ball and they gave me all that money,' so hey, he’s living the good life right now. But Jordy’s a great player. I love playing against Jordy. We have a lot of fun."

Quin on Nelson and Rodgers: "It looks like a best-friend connection (between Nelson and Rodgers). It’s one of those things when he gets in trouble, he trusts Jordy to be in the right spot, in a certain spot. He trusts Jordy. If nothing else, if all else fails, he trusts Jordy. If he has to and he’s forced into that situation, and he has a lot of targets, if it comes down to it, he’s probably going down to Jordy."

Safety Jerome Couplin III: "[Nelson is] a playmaker. He finds way to get himself some very good catches. That’s something that you can’t really necessarily always coach. He has the ability to find the ball and track the ball good. So he’s a playmaker."

Safety Don Carey: "He has a good combination of size and speed. Great hands. Smart football player. Any time you come across a player like that, you have to [mind] your P’s and Q’s."

Linebacker DeAndre Levy: "He’s a great route-runner. Catches the ball. Gets open. I think him and [Aaron] Rodgers have a good connection. He can take a slant, make a guy miss and get 10, 12, 15 more yards on it."
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Detroit’s injury-go-corner is continuing to spin.

What began as a comfortable position entering the season with the improving Bill Bentley turned into a question mark with Nevin Lawson when Bentley suffered a torn ACL. Then Lawson sustained dislocated toes, leaving veteran Cassius Vaughn as the next corner up.

That might have lasted less than a week.

Vaughn
The slot cornerbacks have been dropping all over the place – in games and even in practice this week with Vaughn being limited Wednesday and out Thursday, leaving him at least questionable for Sunday.

Not knowing who could be at the nickel can change what defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and head coach Jim Caldwell want to do during a week.

“There are some things you can do exactly the same,” Caldwell said. “There are some things that happen where all of a sudden you have to play towards that individual’s strengths so it allows you to do some things that you weren’t able to do before.

“The antithesis of that would be that there are some weaknesses that may come to light as well so schematically you want to stay away from those things that put you in bad positions.”

This is what the Lions have to figure out, especially if Vaughn ends up unable to play. If that is the case, Detroit will either move Rashean Mathis inside on Randall Cobb and play newly signed free agent Danny Gorrer on the outside, have Gorrer play the slot or drop Don Carey down into the slot -- a position he has played before.

Considering Vaughn’s status as of now, it might be a combination of things throughout the game.

The real damage, though, is what happens in games when the Lions lose a nickel corner.

All the preparation the Lions do all week, all the communication Glover Quin, Mathis and Darius Slay have prepared with the slot cornerback all of a sudden becomes meaningless. That practice time suddenly has much less worth.

What went in as planned has become instinctual for Detroit the past two weeks, as Bentley turned into Lawson and then Vaughn at the nickel.

“I don’t think it takes away because some of those things are just game plan things as far as stuff that we’ve seen on film and we want to do this week. Just the basic system and the scheme don’t change,” Quin said. “If you’re working with just one guy and you’re doing certain things in practice and as a veteran player you may go to them and say, ‘Hey if we get this look in a game, let’s do this. When we get this look, this is how we’re going to play it. If we get this look in practice, let’s do this right here and if it works in practice, in a game this is how we’re going to play this.

“When you’re in a game, that’s what you’re expecting with that guy. When you get a new guy in there, I can’t go to him and say this is what we’re going to do because we haven’t talked about that that week so you have to just play it normal and let your rules be your guide.”

If one thing is certain, though, the Lions understand how to cope with an injury to a secondary that has been full of them already.

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