Sometimes the answer to a problem is right in front of you, and that was the case for the Detroit Lions when an injury to Kerry Hyder Jr. created a need for a pass rusher.
Anthony Zettel, a second-year lineman drafted in the sixth round out of Penn State in 2016, answered the call for help. And it wasn't long distance. He was already on the roster.
Through four games, Zettel has given the defense what Hyder provided last year in terms of production with a team-high four sacks.
Zettel was one of the Lions' many defensive standouts in Sunday's 14-7 road win over the Minnesota Vikings. He had two sacks, two other hits on Vikings quarterback Case Keenum and a fumble recovery.
Zettel is one example – another example, more correctly – of what we've learned this season. In the Lions' next-man-up mantra, there is no way to predict if the replacement player will be as good, better, the same or worse than the player he is replacing. On his own, with comparisons to no one, Zettel has been more than good enough.
Most of the things we learned from Sunday's game involved the defense, so we will devote this week's lesson plan to that unit. In addition to what Zettel means, it included the following:
Glover Quin's preparation and knack for doing the little things that provide big results, and what a former NFL star said about Quin carries weight.
What Miles Killebrew values about the work done up front, and how practice makes turnovers – but not always.
Zettel's time: After a breakout 2016 season, when he led the Lions with eight sacks, Hyder was expected to play a prominent role on the defensive line. He had worked harder than ever in the offseason, and it was realistic to assume that Hyder would match – at least – his 2016 sack total.
Those expectations were shattered when Hyder sustained a season-ending Achilles injury in the first quarter of the first preseason game. With the major free-agent signings and draft long since gone, the call for help was within the roster – and answered by Zettel.
As a sixth-round draft pick last year, Zettel made a good impression as a rotation player on the defense line. He played 13 games without a start and had one sack. Beyond the stats, there was something about Zettel's preparation and instincts for the game that made an impression.
Nobody is claiming that Zettel was expected to produce at such a high level so early, but he prepared himself to be ready if the opportunity arose.
"I don't know if you can ever say, 'Hey this is going to happen,'" head coach Jim Caldwell said at his Monday press conference. "You have to wait and see. You look at how he came back. How he worked during the winter.
"One thing you do know, he was vastly improved because of the work he put in. He always had the attitude that tells us, 'This guy is going to make something happen. He's going to be somewhere around the ball.'"
Glover's knack: Quin forced the third and final fumble and recovery that clinched Sunday's victory. On a reception by Adam Thielen near midfield, Quin got his left arm on the receiver, and in one quick move punched the ball out with his right hand.
It looked like a random play – one that some might call lucky.
Luck had nothing to do with it. Just like luck had nothing to do with Quin's interception off Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan a week ago that he returned for a touchdown. Practice and preparation, combined with skill, produce results.
We're learning that Quin might be even better than we thought all along.
On NBC's Sunday night pregame show, former Pro Bowl safety and Super Bowl champion Rodney Harrison called Quin the best free safety in the game.
We knew he was good. We did not know he was that highly regarded.
Killebrew's take – practice, pressure: The second-year safety has started one game – against the Falcons in place of Tavon Wilson because of an injury – and played a high snap count in the others.
He was asked if he's surprised by the rash of turnovers created by the defense. They've had double triples in the last two games alone – three picks against the Falcons, three fumble recoveries against Minnesota.
"I don't want to say we're surprised," he said Sunday. "That implies that we weren't expecting it. But we are excited. Once again, it starts up front. Those guys are getting unbelievable pressure on the quarterback. The linebackers are filling gaps, stopping the run.
"The only thing left to do is pass the ball, if you can't establish the run. It's a blast to watch them perform. Me and my brothers in the secondary, we're excited to keep playing like this."
Caldwell's take on turnovers: The Lions do drills in practice to create turnovers, but it doesn't always carry over to games.
"We've practiced in the past years as well and haven't gotten nearly as many," Caldwell said. "I do think we've got guys who are closing on the ball a lot faster. Guys are in position when the balls are loose. We've got a lot of guys hustling to the ball.
"The law of averages is telling us we're going to have a really good chance of getting hands on it."
Bottom line: With a better, deeper and more talented roster, players are going to get to the ball more often.
That's one thing we've learned about the Lions overall.