According to Kelly, those numbers are to be expected when looking at the talent along that defensive front.
“First and foremost, they’ve got really good players,” Kelly said on Wednesday. “Those two guys inside are outstanding, All-Pro caliber players. I don’t think the defensive ends get enough credit, just because they’ve got the two really big, high-profile guys inside. They’re well-coached and they are physical. That’s the one thing that kind of jumps out on tape is how physical that defensive front is. Anytime that you can get your guys to play that hard, it’s going to be a challenge for you when you line up against them.”
Though Suh gets most of the national attention, and rightfully so, Kelly knows all too well how good of a player that Fairley has become. Kelly’s Oregon Ducks played Fairley’s Auburn Tigers in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game. Fairley had a huge game, recording five tackles, one sack and one forced fumble.
“He’s a really good football player,” said Kelly. “He was, I think, the best lineman in the country when we played him in 2010. He played that way when we played him in the National Championship game. He’s very difficult to block and he’s a lot more athletic. He’s physical at the point of attack, but he can get off the block and chase plays down. He’s really starting to play that way, and then the fact that you can put him next to Suh I think is really what makes that defense go right now.”
While the Lions defense poses a big challenge for Kelly, slowing down Detroit’s offense may be an even greater task. With weapons at seemingly every position, the Lions average 424.5 yards per game, the second-highest total in the NFL.
According to Kelly, it all starts at the quarterback position for Detroit, where Matthew Stafford continues to put up big numbers (3,825 yards, 27 touchdowns). One of Stafford’s numbers that isn’t very high is the number of times that he’s been sacked, 15, which is tied with Peyton Manning for the fewest in the NFL.
“I think a lot of the sacks are on your quarterback and a lot of not getting sacked is on your quarterback too, and the one thing with Matthew Stafford is how quick he gets the ball out of his hands,” Kelly explained. “He’s got one of the quickest triggers in the league, where he can get the ball out. I think he’s been with that system since he’s been there, and he’s got a great understanding of what they’re doing. He knows where his receivers are. I don’t know why he doesn’t get enough credit. I think he’s one of the top quarterbacks in this league.”
Stafford has a plethora of outstanding targets to chose from when throwing the ball, and while Calvin Johnson continues to put up ridiculous numbers (1,299 yards and 12 touchdowns), the Lions can also create a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses with running back Reggie Bush.
“He’s one of those guys that you need to know where he is on every play,” said Kelly. “Coach (Scott) Linehan who runs their offense does a great job of moving him around and putting him in different spots. He’s not always going to be the running back - he’s going to be in the slot, he’s going to be the single receiver, and they’re going to be in empty and he creates mismatches. If it becomes a matchup game and you’re trying to get somebody matched up on Calvin (Johnson) and you’re trying to matchup with the other receivers and tight ends, then who’s left to cover the back? Sometimes he’ll exploit that, depending on which linebacker you put on him.”