Yet another injured Lions defender made his first steps toward returning to the lineup for Detroit's stretch run.
Second-year edge rusher James Houston returned to practice Thursday, starting his 21-day practice window to return from injured reserve.
Houston has been out since the second week of the season, when he suffered a broken ankle on special teams covering a kickoff. His eventual return could provide a boost to Detroit's pass rush, which has been inconsistent this season. The team's 34 sacks, many of which have come via blitz, rank 24th in the NFL.
A sixth-round draft pick out of Jackson State last year, Houston was promoted off the team's practice squad late in the season ahead of the Thanksgiving Day Game vs. Buffalo. Houston had two sacks in that contest and finished his rookie campaign with eight sacks in seven games.
"Just kind of get my feet back under me. Get the feel of football and going against another person," Houston said Thursday about the importance of being back at practice. "I want to be a part of this team, you know? We are doing really great things. I just want to be a part of something special.
"I got to do what I got to do on my part so I can be a part of something special. I'm extremely excited and ready to get back on the field."
Houston said he has a plate and four screws in his leg but feels great and thinks he can have the same impact he had last season when cleared for game activity.
DECKER TO PLAY
The Detroit Lions will have all five of their starting offensive linemen available Saturday night in Dallas, including left tackle Taylor Decker.
Decker suffered a groin injury in Detroit's 30-24 win over Minnesota last week but finished the game. He sat out practice Wednesday but was back Thursday and will play Saturday night in Dallas as the Lions face the Cowboys in primetime.
"He's good," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said Thursday of Decker. "Looking good. He'll be out there. Just being smart with him."
This will be the third straight week the Lions have had all five of their starting offensive linemen available. Over the last two weeks, both Lions wins, Detroit's averaged 418.5 yards on offense, 164 yards rushing and have allowed just three total sacks.
Dallas employs one of the most versatile pass rushes in the NFL led by linebacker Micah Parsons, who leads the team with 13.0 sacks on the season. The Cowboys have five different players with at least three sacks. They are seventh in the league in total defense, fifth in points allowed and fifth against the pass. Detroit's offense counters by ranking in the top five in points, total yards, passing and rushing.
It's good to know Detroit will have all its horses upfront in a critical NFC matchup.
View photos from the Detroit Lions practice on Wednesday, December 27, 2023.
Saturday's matchup against the Cowboys couldn't have come at a more perfect time for Detroit, according to Campbell.
"I think it's perfect. You couldn't write a better script," Campbell said Thursday. "For what you just said, it gives you a really good idea of where you're at, because this is one of the top teams in the NFC, it just is.
"We're out at their place where they play their best football. Their backs against the ball, so you're going to get their very best shot. Coach (Mike) McCarthy's done a heck of a job with that team, so I think it's perfect, I really do. And it is, we'll find out exactly what it is and then we'll move on from there."
Campbell said the biggest challenge for his football team the last two weeks of the regular season is not letting complacency set in having already clinched the NFC North title and the No. 3 seed in the playoffs.
But with the No. 2 seed still in their control and potentially the No. 1 seed still in play if San Francisco loses one of the last two weeks, Lions second-year defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson said Campbell doesn't have to worry about that.
"I really don't think that anyone is taking any shortcuts," Hutchinson said. "And I think this – getting that win on Sunday just validated how we feel about this team. And validated how good we are. And we're going to continue to improve and keep this momentum going into the playoffs."
Hutchinson was credited with six pressures and three quarterback hits in the win over Minnesota last week and will need to be just as productive this week against an explosive Cowboys passing attack.
Pro Football Focus grades him ninth among edge defenders. He's third in total pressures (87) behind Parsons (97) and Nick Bosa (88). Only Bosa has more quarterback hits (19) than Hutchinson's 18. Hutchinson's 63 hurries trail only Parsons' 65.