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Four Downs: Fun on defense, Hanson's nerves, Reiff's playing time and Fairley's impact

Posted 6 hours ago

Detroitlions.com lead writer Tim Twentyman breaks down Sunday's win in Four Downs.

First down

Having some fun
Lions head coach Jim Schwartz had a simple message for his defense this week: have fun.

It certainly looked like his players took the advice and ran with it during Sunday's 26-23 overtime victory against the Eagles.

"We were too businesslike in these games as far as for how we were approaching it - guys were just kind of doing their own thing," defensive end Cliff Avril said of the first four games of the season.

"(Schwartz) told us, ‘this is still a game. You have to have fun with it' and I think that's what we did as a defense."

It's certainly more fun when you're making plays, which is what the Lions defense did Sunday against a potent Eagles offense.

The defense held running back LeSean McCoy to just 22 yards on 15 carries. Most of the time McCoy was being harassed in the backfield as the Lions recorded 10 tackles for loss.

The unit also forced three turnovers, sacked quarterback Michael Vick three times and hit him 11 times.

"We would get down early in these games and it would get tight," said defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, who finished with four tackles, a sack and three quarterback hits. "Football is a fun game. Today was perfect. The weather was nice, we had the right attitude and we did have fun."

Second down

Hanson still feels nerves
After 21 years and 475 made field goals, one would assume kicker Jason Hanson wouldn't get nervous in late-game situations. Apparently, that's not the case.

"I'm always nervous," said Hanson, who made four field goals in a game for the third time this season, including the game-winning 45-yarder in overtime.

"That's scary when you're out there and you know what it's for. Obviously as a pro you learn to buckle it down and, while you feel that little bit of anxiety, still perform."

The situation Hanson found himself in Sunday was potentially being the guy who stood between 1-4 and 2-3.

"It was a right-to-left wind going that way and I hadn't kicked one in the game that way," Hanson said of the overtime field goal. "I started at right middle and it went down and just turned hard left. So I gulped. Good hit. It went in. And I don't feel bad about how close it was."

Lions head coach Jim Schwartz isn't either.

"Once we got in field goal range, there was no question that he was going to make it for us," Schwartz said after the game.

Third down

Reiff makes his presence known
Rookie tackle Riley Reiff saw a huge jump in playing time Sunday. The Lions first-round draft pick this offseason entered the game playing nine snaps as an extra tackle in the team's first four games, playing more on Sunday than he did the previous four games combined.

"I think it's just getting good players on the field and Riley's a good player," Schwartz said "I'll tell you what, that guy's a tough guy. He played really tough, he played really smart, did a nice job for us."

Reiff might be the Lions' best run blocker, which is why it's hard not to correlate Reiff's extra play time with the efficiency the Lions saw in the run game against the Eagles.

The Lions rushed for 138 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Running back Mikel Leshoure led the way with 70 yards on 15 carries (4.7 average).

"Riley did a great job," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "Our whole line did a good job. That's a heck of a defensive front. Those guys go nine deep. Rolling guys in there, they're attacking downhill and our offensive line did a great job. Not only opening up air in the running game, but also keeping me clean.

"They kept me clean for a long time. And Reiff did a great job coming in as an extra tight end, extra tackle kind of look and providing some beef on the backside."

Fourth down

Fairley with a noticeable impact
With defensive tackle Corey Williams missing his second consecutive game with a knee injury and Sammie Hill nursing a toe injury, Nick Fairley got his first-career start Sunday at defensive tackle.

The Lions have been waiting Fairley to become a steady contributor on their defensive front since drafting him 13th-overall in 2011. He was hampered by a foot injury last year and has been mostly invisible through the first four games of the season.

In Sunday's win, the Lions caught a glimpse of what Fairley can be.

He had a huge sack in overtime that forced the Eagles to kick out of their end zone and set up the Lions offense at the 50-yard line for an eventual game-winning drive. He also recorded a tackle for loss and three quarterback hits.

Fairley made a difference on Sunday, which is what the Lions were hoping they'd get when they drafted him so high.