Lions defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson is one of the NFL's most productive pass rushers this season. And fresh off his first Pro Bowl selection this week and a season-high three-sack performance in Dallas, Hutchinson says he's just heating up as the Lions prep for what they hope is a long playoff run.
"I feel like I'm always a guy who as I get deeper and deeper into the season, that's when I kind of start to heat up a little bit," he said. "I feel like this has just happened these past few years, my last year at Michigan, last year and then this year, I definitely heat up later in the season."
In his final season at Michigan, Hutchinson had three sacks apiece in wins over Penn State and Ohio State. It helped propel him to being the No. 2 overall pick in last year's NFL Draft by the Lions.
Week 18 last year in Green Bay Hutchinson had two sacks on Aaron Rodgers helping Detroit beat the Packers 20-16. Then last week in Dallas he had those three sacks in Detroit's controversial one-point loss to the Cowboys.
Hutchinson has 64 hurries, 20 quarterback hits and 9.5 sacks this season. His 93 total pressures rank second in the NFL behind only Dallas' Micah Parson (102). He's also defended seven passes and has 11 tackles for loss.
"I mean he just, he's relentless," head coach Dan Campbell said this week of Hutchinson. "He gives everything he's got to win the rep every time and to almost, and almost, and almost get there and then you get there, and then you get there, and then you get there. I think that's pretty satisfying.
"I think it just – he's always going to want more, but it makes you want to get more and every time you're able to beat a double team or to beat a one-on-one a little bit faster, your confidence goes up and you gain experience doing it. And all of that's not possible if you don't put out the effort, he's putting into it either, by the way. You just can't. He's playing at a high level for us."
With the playoffs just a week away, it could be a great sign for this defense that their best player is starting to heat up with the sack production at just the right time.
"I feel like I'm going to make a play when it matters most and I take pride in that," Hutchinson said. "And I really do believe that, in the biggest games I feel like that's when I show up. And usually, the biggest games are at the end of the year."
Aaron Glenn was voted as the top defensive coordinator in the league and Dave Fipp ranked fourth among special teams coordinators in a survey released by the NFL Players Association on Thursday.
NFL players were asked to rate their offensive, defensive and/or special teams coordinators in conjunction with the second annual NFLPA Player Team Report Card project, an anonymous, comprehensive player survey conducted among each team during NFLPA visits last fall.
Glenn has spearheaded a big turnaround for Detroit's defense in 2023. After ranking near the bottom in every major statistical category on defense last season, the Lions' defense ranks 15th in total defense and fifth against the run.
Fipp's special teams ranked sixth in the NFL last year in Rick Gosselin's annual special teams rankings. They'll likely rank toward the top again this year. Since Fipp was hired in 2021, the team is eight-of-10 (80 percent) on fake punt attempts. Four of those conversions have come via rushes and the other four have come via passes from punter Jack Fox, who is 3-for-4 (75 percent), and linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who is 1-for-1. Reeves-Maybin earned his first Pro Bowl selection this season.
Ford Field is about to host its second ever playoff game next weekend with the Lions winning the NFC North and hosting a Wild Card Game.
Ford Field hosted Super Bowl XL between Pittsburgh and Seattle in 2006. Lions wide receivers coach Antwaan Randle El was on that Steelers team and threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward in Pittsburgh's 21-10 win.
"Atmosphere is going to be crazy," Randle El said Friday of what he expects from the Ford Field faithful in a week. "We understand that. I just (tell my guys) it's still football at the end of the day. It's another level. We talk about the game's leading up to the playoffs and like those games are big games as well.
"We got that experience in Dallas and that's great for all of us. Got another one here this weekend and for us we have to treat it the same because it's another game on our schedule to get you ready for the playoffs."
- The Lions have a new NFC North Division championship banner hanging at Ford Field for fans to admire Sunday against the Vikings.