ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Each week, we’ll take a look at who or what might be rising or falling with the Detroit Lions.
RB Joique Bell: Even when Reggie Bush returns, Bell has done enough to become Detroit’s featured back. When he is in the game, he is the Lions’ most productive and decisive runner. He continually fights for tough yardage and has enough instinct to bounce outside quickly if the initial hole he’s supposed to run through is closed. Bell has averaged 3.96 yards per carry or more in three of the past four games and is coming off the second multi-TD effort of his career.
DE Ezekiel Ansah: He has been improving every week but last week against Chicago he hit a new pinnacle, hurrying Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler nine times according to Pro Football Focus (initially credited with 10). He already has more tackles in 12 games this season (40) than he did in 14 games last year (32) and with 6.5 sacks and four games left, is on pace to pass his rookie mark of eight. Ansah rates fourth among 4-3 defensive ends according to PFF and is tied with Carlos Dunlap for second among 4-3 defensive ends with 13 quarterback hits.
Detroit’s run defense: The Lions are so good against the run teams are actively scheming against bashing into the Detroit front four at this point because opponents know it might be a futile exercise. Despite having Matt Forte, the Bears only had eight carries Thursday, the second straight game a team has actively planned to avoid running against the Lions.
LB Ashlee Palmer: This doesn’t have much to actually do with Palmer, but rookie Kyle Van Noy is slowly starting to creep into Palmer’s time on the field. Lions coach Jim Caldwell said Monday “the more the merrier” when it comes to being able to play Palmer and Van Noy at strongside linebacker. So why is Palmer falling then? Well, in the first half of the season, Palmer was the main 4-3 player on the strong side after Tahir Whitehead got hurt. So his snaps are going to continue to drop a little bit as long as Van Noy stays healthy.
Detroit's NFC North title chances: The Lions still have some control here, but likely have to win out to claim the NFC North crown. That would include a win at Lambeau Field in the regular-season finale and that’s a place they haven’t won since the early 1990s. Green Bay is on a roll now and like the Lions have a fairly light schedule -- other than going to Buffalo -- before that Week 17 meeting.
DT Nick Fairley: Jim Caldwell once again said he isn’t sure if the defensive tackle is going to make it back this season. He continues to leave the door open, but he made it pretty clear right guard Larry Warford, who also has a knee injury, is on a different path to return than Fairley. Each week Fairley is not on the field at least practicing leaves more questions about where his status for the season truly lies.