One of the better storylines over the last two weeks for the Detroit Lions – besides the obvious of winning a division title – has been the play of third-year safety Ifeatu Melifonwu.
Melifonwu has come on strong since being inserted into the starting lineup Week 14. In Week 15, he posted two passes defended, a sack and a forced fumble. Sunday in Minnesota he logged two passes defended, two sacks and the game-sealing interception that allowed Detroit to clinch their first division title since 1993.
For his efforts on Sunday, Melifonwu was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week.
"Iffy understands exactly what he's doing now, and I'm not saying he didn't before, but man, he's just so comfortable in that position of being safety," Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said Wednesday.
"That's what I mean when I say now, because that transition is not easy for everybody because now you go from a single-focus guy to 'Man, I've got to see the field.' And that's what he's done a really good job of."
A third-round pick by the Lions in 2021 out of Syracuse, Melifonwu came to Detroit as a cornerback. He played sparingly his first two seasons because of injuries and contributed primarily on special teams in the first half of this year. They transitioned him to safety last year and now in his longest stretch of healthy play in his career it all seems to be clicking.
Since passes defended began being tracked by the NFL in 1999, Melifonwu is the NFL's first defensive back to produce a game with two passes defended, 2.0 sacks and an interception. He's also the NFL's first defensive back to accumulate four passes defended, three sacks and an interception in any two-game span.
"And I'll tell you what, if you watch this player in practice when we go through some of our blitz looks and things like that, man, he does a hell of a job blitzing," Glenn said. "And you see why he has the sack production he's had over the last couple of weeks. So, hopefully he can continue that trend and hopefully for us as a defense, we continue to trend of getting takeaways because you see them coming in bunches now."
When talking about second-year wide receiver Jameson Williams earlier in the year it was always about needing more reps to get acclimated or more time on task after he missed a good portion of training camp with a hamstring injury and then was away from the team the first month of the season due to a suspension.
Slowly, Williams worked his way into a greater role. He's now consistently getting No. 2 receiver reps behind Amon-Ra St. Brown and that's led to more consistent production. He caught five passes in the win over Minnesota for 43 yards. He had four catches for 47 yards the week prior.
"He's worked himself into that role and trust him on really everything he's doing now," Lions quarterback Jared Goff said this week. "And he's done a hell of a job, man, getting himself there. And again, it's just reps, just time and he's still a young player and still learning and growing, but just keeps doing this every week. And it's exciting for me, it's exciting for our offense."
The Lions have four different players – running backs David Montgomery (11) and Jahmyr Gibbs (10), tight end Sam LaPorta (9) and wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (8) – with at least eight touchdowns in a season for the second time in franchise history.
The only other time Detroit has had a quartet each produce eight touchdowns in a season was in 1995, with running back Barry Sanders (12) and wide receivers Herman Moore (14), Brett Perriman (nine) and Johnnie Morton (eight).
This is the first time Detroit has had a running back, tight end and wide receiver each register eight touchdowns in the same season, and the Lions have had two running backs eclipse the mark.
The Lions are also the only NFL team to have four players with at least eight touchdowns this season.
Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson has done a terrific job making Detroit's offense one of the most consistent and explosive in the NFL.
Heading into Week 17 Detroit ranks in the top five in all four major statistical categories on offense: Third in total offense (394.1), fifth in points scored (27.5), third in rushing (141.1) and fifth in passing (253.0).