Twentyman's bye week report: Defense

The Detroit Lions' defense has played well in a lot of areas to begin the 2017 season, which is a big reason why the Lions are in the thick of the NFC North race heading into their bye week.

The Lions rank in the top 10 stopping the run, and have as many takeaways in six games (14) as they had all of last season. They've also generated three touchdowns on their own on three interception returns. Only Jacksonville (77) has scored more takeaway points than the 61 the Lions have scored.

DEFENSIVE LINE

The good: There were a lot of question marks coming into the season about Detroit's ability to rush the passer and play consistently upfront after some of their struggles in that department last season.

View the best photos of the Detroit Lions defense during the first six weeks of the 2017 NFL season.

Detroit currently ranks in the top 10 in the NFL stopping the run (94.3 yards per game). Detroit's 13 sacks and 30 quarterback knockdowns both rank in the middle of the pack in the NFL.

Ziggy Ansah and Anthony Zettel are in the top 15 in the league with four sacks apiece.

After allowing quarterbacks to complete more than 72 percent of their passes for a passer rating above 100.0 last season, Detroit's been much better in both areas this season. Opponents are completing 65 percent of their passes with a passer rating of 83.8.

The bad: It seems like it's been feast or famine sometimes with this Lions front. They've either been really good stopping the run (Arizona, 45; New York, 62; Carolina, 28) or really bad (Atlanta, 151; New Orleans, 193). Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin probably wants to see a little more consistency there.

LINEBACKERS

The good: Give veteran linebacker Tahir Whitehead a lot of credit for his play early on this season. He was nothing but a professional when asked to move from the MIKE to the WILL after the drafting of Jarrad Davis back in May. Whitehead's been very good against the run, leading the team with 36 tackles.

Davis has been everything the Lions hoped he'd be. He's fast and physical, and a natural leader.

The bad: Whitehead has been much better in coverage this year vs. last year, but it's an area both he and Davis can improve. Teams have completed 14 of their 17 passes throwing at Whitehead and 18 of the 21 thrown at Davis for a combined for 319 yards and a couple scores.

Considering the talent this league employs in the passing game at tight end and running back, those numbers aren't too bad in the grand scheme of things.

SECONDARY

The good: This has been a strength for the Lions all year long. The seven interceptions by the secondary in six games is pretty impressive. The Lions have nine interceptions overall, which is second-most in the league.

Darius Slay's three interceptions are second to only the four Micah Hyde has for Buffalo. Opposing quarterbacks have just an 83.8 passer rating against the Lions defense this year.

At the safety position, both Glover Quin and Miles Killebrew have returned interceptions for touchdowns.

Detroit's 14 takeaways are second only to Jacksonville's 16.

The bad: The secondary has given up too many big plays through six games. Detroit's allowed 20 completions of 20-plus yards, fifth-most in the league.

DEFENSIVE MVP: QUIN

Quin's made so many big plays already this season, whether it was his pick-six against Atlanta or his forced fumble to seal the win in Minnesota. He's the unquestioned leader on Detroit's defense, and certainly its most valuable player so far this season. Quin's given up a grand total of five catches for 45 yards in six games when teams have thrown his way. That's a passer rating of 38.0.

TOP ROOKIE PERFORMER: DAVIS

Davis stepped right into the MIKE linebacker role Day 1 in Detroit, and the moment hasn't seemed too big for him at all. His teammates describe him as a natural leader, and he's very good at the communication part of the job. He makes all defensive calls, and he's been good at it.

Davis' biggest strength early on are his instincts against the run. He's good at diagnosing the run. He has the speed to get there, and the bad attitude when he arrives to make the play.

DEFENSIVE SURPRISE: ZETTEL

Zettel is continuing a recent Lions trend that's seen some surprise pass rushers develop into consistent performers. Zettel has four sacks in six games, and his 15 quarterback hurries rank in the top 11 in the league.  Zettel is currently the 10th-ranked 4-3 defensive end by Pro Football Focus. 

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