By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Looking at statistics, one might miss out on just how menacing and disruptive the Detroit Lions defensive line can be.
The Lions are 29th in the NFL with 15 sacks and tied for 27th in sack yardage with 124 yards lost by opponents. Detroit is tied for 19th in the league in forced fumbles with eight. The Lions rank 25th overall with 40 hits on quarterbacks.
Testimony of those who have played against the unit seems to provide an assessment that matches more closely what is evident watching the defensive line go to work.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger validated the unit as he talked about getting ready to face defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.
“You’ve got to be careful,” Roethlisberger said, laughing, in a teleconference with reporters Wednesday. “You’ll end up dead if you’re not careful.”
That has to be a ringing endorsement of a defensive line if there ever was one.
Suh addressed Roethlisberger’s comments more literally than figuratively but appreciated the overall sentiment.
“That’s interesting,” Suh said. “I’m not a killer. My track record proves that one, or I’d be in jail. I guess I’ve got to take that somewhat as a compliment, or we have to. There’s going to be no killing on Sunday.”
Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall called the way the defensive line went after quarterback Jay Cutler “disgusting” and said the Lions’ play was “borderline illegal.” Then again, football is hardly a pretty game, so “borderline illegal” is probably a decent description of how coaches want their players to play.
That said, the defensive line is not deadly, but it is dangerous. Recovering from injury, Detroit wide receiver Nate Burleson played on the scout team Wednesday against that first-team defense and describes Suh as a game-changer.
“The havoc he wreaks can’t be coached,” Burleson said. “I think it’s a problem for offensive lines. They might not say it in the media, but I can imagine if I was preparing for a game, I knew I had to face Suh for 60 snaps or whatever he plays – that’s a grown man giving everything he has every play, and he’s playing through the whistle.
“There’s no switch for him,” Burleson added. “It’s always on. That’s a benefit to us. It’s a detriment to the other team because at some point that offensive lineman is going to wear, and he’s going to start to shut down. His batteries are going to die, and that guy’s batteries are always fully charged.”
With Suh also embracing the role of a veteran and emerging in the locker room as a more vocal leader than he had been in past years, his ferocious, no-holds-barred style of play is starting to rub off on his linemates.
“You can just tell by the way they play,” Burleson said. “They’re starting to kind of emulate what he’s doing. They’re playing through the whistle. These guys are running through and diving at the ball. They’re doing every single thing they can to make a play, and it all starts with Suh.”
Burleson seemed to have sympathy for opposing offenses game-planning for Suh. His respect for the defensive line is such that it shocked him to see Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler return from injury for the game against the Lions.
“I thought to myself, ‘If you’ve got a groin injury, I don’t know why you want to come back against us,'” Burleson said. “That’s an injury that a good defensive line will expose. Certain injuries you can play through and nobody’s going to know, but a groin injury? Ugh. And you’ve got Suh chasing you all game? Psh.”
As for Suh himself, he keeps a fairly level head about the unit, particularly his own performance.
“We all deal with issues, myself included, little down spells,” Suh said. “If you look at my last quarter before I went to the bye, I wasn’t happy at all with the way I was playing.
“I felt I wasn’t as impactful as I was in the first quarter,” Suh elaborated. “I felt like I did some more intangibles things that I did in the first quarter that I didn’t necessarily get around to in the second quarter, but for me, I’ve just go to let it go. I’ve let it [go]. I had the bye week to go over it, get back to full health and obviously have an opportunity to come out and have a good showing against Chicago.”
If the Lions have it their way, this weekend will bring another solid showing, this time against the Steelers. The 6-4, 240-pound Roethlisberger has won Super Bowls, but Detroit will do its best to shake him up.
“We stay alive in our rushes, and sooner or later we’re going to get there,” He’s the type of quarterback that’s going to hold the ball to extend plays … We’ve just got to stay alive. We’re never out of it. We could be on one side of the field, and he could reverse and come back to you, so just stay alive in the rush, and that’s what we’re going to try to harp on.”
If the line can sack the quarterback known as “Big Ben,” Fairley said the accomplishment will likely be the result of a group effort.
“One guy is not going to bring him down,” Fairley said. “We’ve seen that. He spins out of moves, he shakes guys out of him, really just a big strong quarterback that stays alive and keeps plays alive. We’re going to have to really as a group go in there and basically take it to him and basically get him down on the ground.”
Doing so would go a long way toward getting the Lions to 7-3, which at the end of the day is really the only statistic that matters anyway.