This past Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals may have been able to grind out a 14-6 win over the Patriots’ upcoming opponent, the Detroit Lions, but it did not come easy. Second year running back Andre Ellington carried the ball 19 times, but managed a grand total of only 42 yards against Detroits stingy front. 17 of those yards came on a single run, meaning that he managed just 25 yards on his 18 other carries.
It wasn’t just that Ellington had a terribly bad game:
RT @PFF: Cardinals RB Andre Ellington finished w/42 yards on 19 carries vs. DET, 34 YAC. Hit in backfield or behind line on 14 of 19 carries— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) November 19, 2014
Per last RT, Ellington didn't have much of a chance against the Lions. Actually did well just to avoid a few negative plays— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) November 19, 2014
Although the Cardinals have far from a great offensive line, this was a dominating performance by Detroit. They are currently ranked first in the league in rush defense, allowing a spectacular 68.8 yards per game.
So who is leading this charge defensively for the Lions? It starts with the front four. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley (who is currently out with a knee injury) are more than just penetrating 4-3 defensive tackles – they are ferocious against the run. Defensive ends Ziggy Ansah and Jason Jones are both very capable of setting the edge.
We know about their dominating front four, but their linebacker play has also been fantastic. Will linebacker DeAndre Levy, in his sixth season, grades out at a ridiculous +16.1 by PFF against the run thus far this year. He has played in every game, and every single snap for the Lions. He also leads all 4-3 outside linebackers with 58 stops. Even Tahir Whitehead, a fifth round pick of Detroit in 2012, who has emerged as the team’s starting middle linebacker following Stephen Tulloch’s embarrassing ACL injury, is playing well against the run.
Other fun facts: not a single Detroit Lions opponent has hit their season average in rushing when playing the Lions. The Lions have also allowed just four rushing touchdowns this season. None of those touchdowns have been from more than two yards out. If you go by Football Outsiders’ DVOA efficiency ratings, the Lions are on track to have the greatest rush defense of all-time, just ahead of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.
Less than a week after having their most successful rushing day of the season, the Patriots will have their work cut out for them against this Detroit front seven. Fortunately for the Patriots, their offensive line and tight ends were on fire in the running game Sunday, and Jonas Gray rushing style negates a lot of would-be negative runs. That being said, the Patriots will need to be ready to have a balanced attack on offense if they plan on putting up points on this Detroit defense.