Getting to know the Detroit Lions

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When watching a football game, it's natural for an observer to follow the ball to see the end result of the play. But the Detroit Lions are one team where one's eyes can't help but be drawn to the line of the scrimmage.

Specifically, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is a one-man game-wrecker. In many ways, it's similar to watching the Houston Texans' J.J. Watt.

In the Lions' 20-16 victory over the Miami Dolphins in Week 10, for example, the first two plays on defense were completely dominated by the 6-foot-4, 305-pound Suh. He simply collapsed the line of scrimmage like a one-man wrecking ball on a run for minus-2 yards and then a pressure on a very good player (Mike Pouncey) to register a sack. Later, his combination of power and explosion was evident on a third-quarter rush in which he delivered a big hit, before nearly blocking a field goal.

With Suh, the Lions can generate pressure out of the standard four-man rush and so they don't need to blitz often out of their base package, which often has four linemen in three-point stances. Their sturdy front has contributed to them ranking first in the NFL against the run (68.8 avg. per game; 3.0 avg. per carry), while allowing the fewest points in the NFL (15.6 avg. per game).

Offensively, first-year coordinator Joe Lombardi is the grandson of Vince Lombardi and his primary background comes from the Saints, where he coached from 2007-2013. That means a diverse usage of personnel groupings and formations, and they're aggressive (e.g. going for it on fourth-and-6 from the Miami 40 in Week 10). Their offensive line looks like a significant weakness.

The Lions also show that same type of aggressiveness on special teams (e.g. two fake punts versus Miami in Week 10) that shouldn't be overlooked.

For more of the Lions, who had won four in a row before Sunday's 14-6 loss at Arizona, below is our weekly primer:

Record: 7-3

Head coach: Jim Caldwell (first year)

Offensive coordinator: Joe Lombardi

Defensive coordinator: Teryl Austin

Special teams: John Bonamego

General manager: Martin Mayhew


1. QB Matthew Stafford. While it doesn't always look conventional from a fundamentals standpoint (e.g. throwing out of his backpedal and dropping his arm slot), the 2009 No. 1 overall pick has a rocket for an arm and keeps plays alive with his feet. He's often on the move because protection up front isn't necessary first-rate. He can make most every throw, attacking all three levels of the field. He's 226-of-369 for 2,679 yards, with 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season.

2. RBs Joique Bell, Reggie Bush. The 5-foot-11, 229-pound Bell, a bigger back who initiates contact and leads the Lions in rushing yards, might have a little extra motivation against the New England Patriots as he's told the story of how he almost landed with New England twice. He is more of the power back, while Bush (6-0, 205) remains a dual threat as a rusher and pass-catcher. Bush missed Sunday's game against Arizona (ankle) but could be back against New England. The Lions rank 30th in average yards per carry (3.2).

3. WR Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate. At 6-foot-5 and 236 pounds, Johnson runs well, has a large catch radius, reliable hands (e.g. fourth-down catch against Miami on a tipped ball) and is widely viewed as one of the NFL's best at his position. He's battled an ankle injury this season, limiting his production (34 catches, 520 yards, 3 TDs). Tate, the former Seattle Seahawk, catches a lot of short passes and shows a burst after the catch as those calls are almost extended running plays. He's had a breakout season (team-high 68 catches).


1. DT Suh. He may be the most dominant defensive player in the NFL (see above). This is a big week for the Patriots' interior offensive line of center Bryan Stork and guards Dan Connolly (left) and Ryan Wendell (right).

2. DE Ziggy Ansah. The 2013 first-round draft pick has good size (6-6, 278) and length, and has built off a strong eight-sack rookie season by starting every game in 2014. In Week 10 against Miami, he forced a fumble while drawing a holding penalty at the same time, which reflects his unique skills.

3. S James Ihedigbo. The former University of Massachusetts product is now in his seventh NFL season and brings a hard-nosed edge when playing downhill as a complement to starting free safety Glover Quin. The 6-1, 217-pound Ihedigbo, who has been part of several big games over his career with the Patriots and Ravens, had a 70-yard interception return when he instinctively jumped a route in a Week 10 win over Miami.

Extra points: Field-goal kicking has been an issue at times for the Lions, who opened the season with Boston College rookie Nate Freese but now have former Denver Bronco Matt Prater, who had a 42-yard attempt blocked in the third quarter against Miami in Week 10. ... Joseph Fauria, the nephew of former Patriots tight end Christian Fauria, is in his second year on the team and has three catches for 49 yards this season. ... Running back George Winn, who is fourth on the depth chart, spent time with the Patriots in 2013 training camp as an undrafted rookie out of Cincinnati. ... Primary kickoff and punt returner Jeremy Ross had signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent out of Cal in 2011 and was released at the final cutdown that year. ... Former Patriots director of pro personnel Dave Uyrus serves as a regional scout for the franchise. ... ESPN's Michael Rothstein has the Lions covered.