Miles Killebrew has a motto he likes to follow: "As long as you're doing your job, the plays will come."
The second-year safety is living by that motto early on this year, and as a result, he has been an integral part of Detroit's fourth-ranked scoring defense early on this season.
Killebrew already has one interception on the year, and could have had another last Sunday in Minnesota, but he dropped it. He lamented the missed opportunity when speaking to reporters on Monday, but also admitted that last year, he probably wouldn't have even been in a position to make that play.
"Next time, I just have to come down with the ball," Killebrew said. "I was joking with (Eric) Ebron, I was like, 'Man, what do I got to do so I make sure I catch that next time?' I'm going to have to be on the Jugs machine this week all week.
"I don't take it lightly and next time I'm going to make sure I'm in even better position to make the turnover."
That, is the maturation of Killebrew. He's doing his job. He's in the right position to makes plays because of it, and he's letting plays come to him.
Killebrew's played at least 42 snaps in each of the last three weeks. Pro Football Focus has graded him out to be the 11th-best safety in football right now after four games.
He played 22 coverage snaps last week vs. Minnesota, and didn't allow a single reception on two targets. Besides the near interception, he also broke up a deep ball down the middle of the field intended for tight end David Morgan.
"I felt like I played well," Killebrew said of the Vikings game. "I definitely did my assignments. I'm just trying to fly around out there, man."
The Lions are trusting Killebrew more and more, and have been rewarded for that trust. They are finding it harder and harder to take Killebrew off the field, which is a good problem to have, considering fellow safeties Glover Quin and Tavon Wilson are also playing extremely well.
"Miles is really coming along," Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said. "Miles is getting himself in position to make plays now, I mean he's always been a very fine thumper. He's going to tackle you, he's going to be around the ball in running situations, and see him get his hands on a couple balls.
"I can see him just coming along. I can see him making strides, he's got a big body, he can run fast. He can run all day and he's going about it the right way because he's working at it and he's trying to improve daily."
Killebrew says the growth in his game over just one calendar year is due to one simple thing.
"Maturity," he said. "There's no substitution for it. I've always wanted to work hard, I've always wanted to get better. But now that I'm a little bit more mature, I know exactly what I need to get better in. I'm able to attack it a little better."
TAKING CARE OF THE BALL
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford threw a pick-six on his first pass attempt of the season. He hasn't thrown another one in his last 137 attempts, which has been one of those small keys to the Lions' early success.
Stafford is on pace to throw just four interceptions this season. The 10 interceptions he threw last year were the lowest of his career in a 16-game season.
"It's good," Stafford said Wednesday, as he knocked his fist on the wood podium he was standing behind. "I want to still be aggressive. I understand that turnovers in this league are going to happen.
"We're doing a really nice job right now of holding on to the ball, and was fortunate a couple times last week. But yeah, it's a big part, especially when your defense is doing what our defense is doing and getting us the ball back a bunch. If we can not give it to the other team, that's a positive. But we still got to go out there and be aggressive and score points."
The Lions currently rank 24th in total offense (299.8 ypg) and 19th in passing offense (202.8).
More importantly, the Lions are 3-1 on the year because they lead the NFL with a turnover differential of plus-nine.
The Lions knew they were in for a physical game against NFC North rival Minnesota last week. That's just the nature of that matchup.
Things don't get much easier this week with the Carolina Panthers coming to town.
"They're going to try and run the ball and they're going to try and run the ball and they're going to try and run the ball," Lions safety Glover Quin said.
"They try to be a big physical team from the quarterback, they have the running backs, Jonathan Stewart is a big guy ... the wide receivers are big like tight ends. They just try to be a big, powerful football team, and they run the ball."
Quarterback Cam Newton (6-5, 245) is the most physically gifted quarterback in the league, Stewart (5-10, 240) is a physical runner, and Kelvin Benjamin (6-5, 245) and Devin Funchess (6-4, 225) are two trees for receivers on the outside.
Another week, another physical test for the Lions.
Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin always preaches that his first two goals in every game are to stop the run and to not allow balls to go over their heads.
So far, the Lions have been very good in both regards.
Detroit ranks seventh against the run (86.2 ypg), and have allowed only three completions out of 19 attempts on passes that travel at least 21 yards in the air. On those pass attempts, opposing quarterbacks have just a 49.7 passer rating with no touchdowns.
Stafford has gone up against this defense and taken more shots down the find on them than anyone. He knows how difficult it can be to complete those long passes on this secondary combined with the way the front seven is getting after it with their pass rush.
"Well, I think our guys do a nice job running with guys, they do a nice job of not panicking at the top of routes and giving teams big time PI's (pass interference penalties) and all that kind of stuff," Stafford said.
"So, we got a veteran safety back there doing a heck of a job in Glover (Quin) and then I think it's all encompassing on defense, I think our guys are doing a nice job getting pressure on the quarterback which makes it more difficult to stand in there and let those routes down the field develop, so I think it's a combination of everything probably."