Cleveland — Humble as ever, Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy said he just played “OK” after having two interceptions and seven tackles in a 31-17 victory over the Browns on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“Other than the two picks, I don’t think I played too well,” Levy said.
As Levy gave his modest assessment, fellow linebacker Stephen Tulloch leaned into the interview huddle and said, “Man, you played good.”
Levy, a quiet man behind a big, bushy beard, didn’t have to brag because his teammates did it for him, though safety Glover Quin called his second interception “a gift” from Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden.
“(He) finally came to his senses and knew that he was a top-five linebacker,” safety Louis Delmas said.
Entering Sunday’s game, Levy was tied for 14th in the NFL in tackles (42) and tied for sixth with two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown in Week 2 against Arizona. Levy’s two picks Sunday will tie him for the league lead unless others ahead of him add to their total, but the interceptions hardly tell the story of his success in coverage this season.
Largely because of Levy, the Lions have neutralized nearly every tight end they’ve played, including Cleveland’s Jordan Cameron, who came into the game with 38 receptions, including five touchdowns. On Sunday, Cameron had 64 yards, but 43 came on the Browns’ final drive.
“Just trying to get to the ball, and when the ball’s in the air, just try to be around it and make something happen,” Levy said of his improved coverage skills.
Still, Levy talked as much about the plays he missed as those he made Sunday. The Lions allowed 115 rushing yards on 16 carries in the first half, and Levy said much of that was due to missed gap assignments.
Delmas said Levy’s even-keeled approach is what’s helped him play so well in his fifth season.
“He’s a dude that doesn’t swing his arms when he walks, so therefore he has no swag, no nothing,” Delmas said. “Anything that happens just happens. He doesn’t think too big about it. He doesn’t think too small about it. I think that’s what benefits him in the long run because no matter what type of plays he makes, what type of plays he doesn’t make, he stays on that steady line and stays focused.”
Levy’s focus is finally paying after four seasons of narrowly missed opportunities, Delmas said. In the past, Levy might catch an interception and have it called back, or he’d be in position to make a play only to see someone else would make it, Delmas said.
“He’s a league top-five linebacker who is just been short of opportunities, and today the opportunity presented itself and he took full advantage of it,” he said.
On Levy’s first interception, he tightly covered Browns fullback Chris Ogbonnaya on a wheel route in the second quarter, and when the pass came, Levy jumped up and easily made the catch.
His second interception was more of a right place, right time situation in the fourth quarter. Under pressure from Lions defensive tackle C.J. Mosley, Weeden appeared to try and flick the ball out of bounds, but Levy came running in to make a slick, toe-tapping catch along the sideline.
“He’s always had eyes for the football, but probably the biggest thing is he’s now an experienced player,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “It’s not just executing the defensive scheme. He’s very aware of what offenses are doing.”
When Tulloch was in Tennessee, he said he watched the beginning of Levy’s career, and now that they’re teammates, Tulloch sees the dedication, particularly in the film room where he sees Levy every day.
“He’s finally coming into his own and he’s going to have a lot of good years,” Tulloch said.