There is a comfort level that comes with playing in the same system next to the same players.
It’s well documented how significant the change in personnel has been on the Detroit Lions defense this year. New defensive ends, cornerbacks and safeties have all had to learn to play in a new scheme with new teammates.
The stability at the linebacker position, however, has been the glue keeping it all together.
"When you have guys together for a long period of time you can build a chemistry with each other," Tulloch said. "I think me and Levy have really had a chance to learn the ins and outs of each other; where the other is going to be on a certain play or call, and how to help each other out. We’ve gained that bond with each other and have been able to trust each other."
Tulloch, Levy and Palmer have combined for 160 tackles, six interceptions, 10 passes defended and two sacks. The Lions currently rank seventh in the NFL in rushing defense.
"I think that’s the best I’ve seen that duo play," defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said of Tulloch and Levy’s performance last week in Chicago after they combined for 12 tackles, a tackle-for-loss and an interception.
"And actually Ashlee Palmer played really well too. He made a tough play on the first play of the game.
The linebacker play has been strong all season long for the Lions and the conversation now extends from the front four, to the front seven, when talking about the strength of this Lions defense.
BEYOND THE SACKS
Look at the team sack totals in the NFL and something doesn’t seem right about the Lions ranking 29th in the league with just 15. Only the Bears (14), Giants (14) and Jaguars (12) have fewer.
While Cunningham would certainly like that total to be higher, he says sack totals aren’t the end-all-be-all statistic in determining pressure.
"I love statistics, I really do," he said. "I think I should’ve probably been a numbers guys and gotten out of this game a few years back. I probably wouldn’t have as many gray hairs.
"There is a site called Pro Football Focus, which is magnificent. If you look at that we are like third in pass rush. By sacks we are like last. The idea is the pressure rush and to get the quarterback to throw bad balls and get off the field on third down."
Making a quarterback move from his spot, disrupting the timing of a play and winning on third down are all factors Cunningham looks at in determining sufficient pressure from week-to-week. It isn’t always about sacks.
The Lions had just two sacks last week in Chicago, but registered 34 pressures in a 21-19 win.
"We hit the quarterback 15 times last week," Cunningham said. "The idea of rushing passer is to get the quarterback off his set-up. When he hits that back foot and comes around to throw, let’s make him move and we made him move. I saw early on that we were going to be pretty good at it last week and hopefully that will continue."
"Anytime you can be disruptive and move that quarterback around… it’s not a problem until he sits in that spot and doesn’t move and guns you down," defensive end
Young said the ultimate goal is still the sack, as he loves his sack celebration, but the next best thing is disrupting the timing and forcing an incompletion or interception. Winning is nice too. Young was sure to point out the fact the Lions are 6-3.
"It’s a different kind of challenge then the last couple of weeks we have had," head coach Jim Schwartz said of playing straight 4-3 teams recently. "You have to sort some things out. There are different matchups and things like that.
"They’ve made their reputation over a long period of time by creating negative plays, by getting turnovers, by sacking the quarterback, by getting lost-yardage runs and we’ll have to avoid those things. If we can avoid negative plays and keep the offense on track, we’ll have a good chance."
The hardest part for young lineman when playing a LeBeau coached defense is that it isn’t always cut and dry where the pressure will come from. How fast these young guys can think on their feet will go a long way to quarterback