NFL Wire News

Defense dials up pass rush for Lions against Redskins


The Sports Xchange

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — The Detroit Lions’ starting defense provided plenty of reasons for fans to be optimistic about the upcoming season Thursday in a 21-17 loss against Washington at FedEx Field.

On the first four drives, the Lions consistently pressured quarterback Robert Griffin III, sacking him three times and hitting him a couple others as Washington gained just 16 yards on those four series.

“We should feel good about that, but we’ve got a ways to go yet,” head coach Jim Caldwell said. “And we still don’t have (end) Jason (Jones) back and (tackle) Haloti (Ngata is) not back, so both of those guys play an integral part of what we do. So, I would anticipate it even stiffening up a little bit more.”

End Ziggy Ansah and tackle Tyrunn Walker split the first sack on the opening drive, leading to a third-and-long Washington didn’t convert. On the second drive, safety James Ihedigbo and linebacker DeAndre Levy had hits on Griffin during a three-and-out. Defensive end Phillip Hunt hit him on the third drive, another three-and-out, and the Lions had sacks on two of the three plays on the fourth drive, one by defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo and another awarded to the team as multiple players fell on Griffin after he fumbled for a second time.

The quarterback left the game with a concussion after that third sack.

The Lions played the aggressive brand of defense they used last year under defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, creating pressure with varied attacks from different angles, especially with linebackers Stephen Tulloch and Levy confusing the offensive line by standing between the defensive linemen before some snaps.

“We’ve got some dogs at linebacker, but the man that makes it work is Teryl Austin,” defensive end Darryl Tapp said. “That guy is a guru up there in the box knowing the right time to call different plays and whatnot.”

It wasn’t all good for the Lions defense as Colt McCoy and Kirk Cousins had little problem leading three combined touchdown drives and another that reached the 1-yard line before McCoy fumbled it away at the end of the first half.

Washington outgained the Lions 341 yards to 241, including a 179 to 46 advantage in the run game.

“After that (first) group went out, we didn’t perform very well,” Caldwell said.

The Lions escaped with quarterback Matthew Stafford healthy, pulling him just before the end of the first quarter. He finished 6-for-8 for 78 yards before ceding to Dan Orlovsky. Rookie Ameer Abdullah, last week’s star against the Jets, had just two carries on his seven offensive snaps.

Orlovsky played well, finishing 13 of 17 for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Zach Zenner impressed with four carries for 22 yards and five catches for 59 yards, including a 36-yarder in which he juked away from a defender near the sideline and a 5-yard touchdown that gave the Lions a 17-14 lead with 1:43 left in the third quarter.

Caldwell said the Lions need to improve in all phases, and they allowed a 34-yard punt return to Andre Roberts. But many of the defensive starters who will be on the field this season showed flashes of what could be a group that doesn’t experience much drop-off compared to 2014.

“It’s that defense that we saw last year,” Stafford said. “They played fantastic, they’re all on the same page, they give you a bunch of different looks and do a great job of disguising.”

–After not allowing a sack as a junior or senior at Duke, guard Laken Tomlinson gave one up early in the second quarter — with his former Blue Devils teammates in the stands after taking buses from Durham, N.C.

“I went out there just trying to do my job, but I got beat on that play,” Tomlinson said. “It’s a learning experience for me, and it’s a chance to use that to get better.”

According to Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, Tomlinson likely will have many more learning opportunities.

“This is the big leagues,” he said. “I’m not certain that there’s been a guy in this league — at least I’m not aware of — that hasn’t given up a sack or given up some early because of the fact that he’s learning. (It’s) a little different type of guy that he’s lined up against; it’s a great learning experience to see whether or not they can adjust.”

–Dan Orlovsky appeared to have pulled away in his competition with Kellen Moore for the No. 2 quarterback job, but neither of them nor Matthew Stafford wanted to discuss the battle in detail after the game.

“I’m best friends with both of them; they’re best friends with each other,” Stafford said. “It’s a great atmosphere to be around, honestly. We never talk about (the competition). We just talk about being as good as we can possibly be.”

–Veteran defensive end Phillip Hunt, who’s currently on the outside looking in with regards to his roster standing, impressed at times Thursday with two tackles and a quarterback hit. At 6-foot-1, 258 pounds, he’s smaller than most of the Lions’ other pass rushers.

“He can get up the field as you can see,” Caldwell said. “He creates just a little bit different sort of an attack to a tackle, a little bit lower to the ground, but a little bit more get-off I think than some. So, you find all kinds of rushers like that in this league. I can name quite a few that are similar. (Elvis) Dumervil is one just in size and dimensions is the same kind of guy, so (Hunt) still has power, still has girth and has the ability to really turn the corner.”

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