The play of rookie pass rusher James Houston has been a revelation for the Detroit Lions' defense since Houston made his debut Nov. 24 on Thanksgiving against Buffalo. He has 8.0 sacks in his first six games, which has never been done in the history of the NFL.
It certainly begs the question: Where was Houston for Detroit's first 10 games?
"At the time everybody was healthy," defensive line coach Todd Wash said Wednesday when asked that question. "That was a big part of it. Charles (Harris), JO (Julian Okwara), they were all healthy. It was just trying to get all these bodies up.
"We seen it flash a lot in practice (with Houston). You talk to Deck (left tackle Taylor Decker), Deck said he was probably one of our better pass rushers. It just took us a while to get smart more than anything."
But once the bumps and bruises started to accumulate upfront on Detroit's defensive line, Houston got his opportunity, and credit to him for making the most of it. He's seen his reps steadily increase the last month and a half and made his first start last week against Chicago, a game in which he recorded three sacks and a forced fumble. He's wreaked havoc ever since getting his shot.
"We were healthy and going with the guys who were up and active," Wash said. "Once obviously some of these nicks and injuries created an opportunity for us to get him up and take a look at him. When he was up he hadn't taken any practice reps. Some of this stuff did shock us, there's no doubt. But the more and more he's up and more and more that he's able to execute the system he's a heck of a playmaker."
The Lions didn't panic after a 1-6 start. Instead they stayed the course and have been rewarded with a chance to potentially make the playoffs with a win Sunday night in Green Bay and a loss by Seattle.
The NFL has flexed the Lions-Packers game to Sunday Night Football. The only other time the Lions have played on the national stage this year is a Thanksgiving Day loss to Buffalo.
"Hey man, we've got nothing to lose here," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said. "We go in, and we've got nothing to lose. We cut it loose, and let's have the time of our life, and let's find a way to win this game, and the bottom line is, I can just gauge the room and you can feel it. We get to be on the big stage, man, and our guys are excited about that.
"One way or another, we get to play one more game. At the very least, we're playing one more game, and it's going to be on a great stage, and everybody's going to see it, and our guys, one way or another, are going to – I think we're going to embrace it. I really do, no matter what happens."
Campbell has talked about this becoming the norm around here, and that's why he thinks being part of this run and playing playoff-type games in December and January has been so important for this young football team moving forward.
"I want them to know exactly the magnitude of this game because they need to know what this feels like and they need to know what they're walking into and at the very least you find out," Campbell said. "You find and you figure out who can, who can't, who's young, who's not, who's mature. But to me that's the way to approach this one, right now with where we're at, let's go."
THINKING OF HAMLIN
Campbell said the team started their Wednesday morning team meeting with prayer for Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who suffered cardiac arrest on the field Monday night against Cincinnati and who still remains in critical condition in a Cincinnati hospital.
"We really started the meeting with - we started with a prayer. So we had (Co-Director of Player Engagement) Sean Pugh come up, and we gave a prayer, and all of us in the room came together and did that," Campbell said.
"We just felt like that was the best thing to do. That was the right thing to do. When you don't have words and there's really nothing you know what to say, how to say, how – you've got all these – there's waves of emotions, that's the best thing, and so we did that, and that's where we left it."
The Packers are 10-2 under head coach Matt LaFleur in primetime games at Lambeau Field.