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.
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.