November 18, 2013 at 1:00 am

Josh Katzenstein

Monday breakdown: Lions' sad sack stats more important than they say

Whatever the situation, Lions defensive end Willie Young has said several times this season that every defensive possession is an opportunity for players to "get our stats up."

The Lionsí defensive line clearly isn't following through on Young's mantra.

Through 10 games, the Lions (6-4) have just 16 sacks, which ranks 30th in the NFL and puts them ahead of just the Jaguars (1-9) and Giants (4-6).

In Sunday's 37-27 loss in Pittsburgh, the Lions sacked Ben Roethlisberger once. Entering the game, Roethlisberger's 35 sacks were the second-most behind only Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and the Steelers were without starting left guard Ramon Foster (ankle).

Veteran Guy Whimper, who was cut by those lowly Jaguars this offseason after three sorry years as a tackle, started in Foster's place. And although Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley had a sack and drew two holding penalties against Whimper, that wasn't nearly enough to prevent Roethlisberger from having his best game of the season.

The formula for the Lions is quite simple. When the defense has two or more sacks, the Lions are 5-0. When the group has one or zero sacks, the Lions are 1-4, and they gave up 30 points to the Cowboys in the lone victory.

Sure, defensive end Ziggy Ansah (ankle) missed his second straight game, but it's hard to imagine a rookie defensive end with three sacks in eight NFL games would've been the difference Sunday.

Lions players and coaches can continue to shake off the lack of sacks by saying the pressure they create impacts the game, but eventually, they have to turn that pressure into sacks to help the lackluster secondary.

The Lions can point to their success against the run after holding the Steelers to 40 yards on 27 carries. They can also say that quarterbacks like Roethlisberger did well to throw the ball quickly, but that hardly tells the full story.

Big Ben had his best game of the season Sunday with a 119.4 passer rating after going 29 of 45 for 367 yards and four touchdowns. Besides the Week 2 loss to the Cardinals, the Lions have allowed a passer rating of at least 100 in each of their losses, and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton had the best game of his career in Week 6 with a 135.9 rating after finishing 24 of 34 for 372 yards and three touchdowns.

Fairley seems to be finding his groove and has a sack in each of the past two games after going six straight games without one. On Sunday, he also had three tackles, including two for loss.

Young had three tackles Sunday. Defensive end Israel Idonije had one, and tackles C.J. Mosley and Andre Fluellen had one apiece.

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, meanwhile, didn't show up on the stat sheet at all. If Suh's lack of production was because of double teams, the rest of the defensive line has to take advantage.

Rookie defensive end Devin Taylor, who started for Ansah, didn't accumulate any stats either.

The Lions can keep saying defensive line stats don't matter, but the truth is, the defense will continue to be vulnerable without stats -- specifically sacks -- from what was expected to be the team's best unit.

Around the NFC North

* The Bears (6-4) bounced back after last week's loss to the Lions and beat the Ravens, 23-20, in overtime in Chicago. After a delay due to storms, backup quarterback Josh McCown improved to 2-0 as a starter, and with games against the Rams and Vikings next, the Bears should remain in the division race in the immediate future.

The Lions' tiebreaker over the Bears could be crucial at the end of the season.

* Without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers (5-5) aren't even average. They lost on the road against the Giants, 27-13, after third-string quarterback Scott Tolzien threw three interceptions and no touchdowns.

Green Bay has now followed its four-game winning streak with three straight losses.

* The Vikings (2-8) returned to their losing ways and did so in ugly fashion in a 41-20 loss in Seattle. Christian Ponder had two interceptions and lost a fumble, and Matt Cassel threw an interception in relief.

Adding insult to injury, former Vikings receiver Percy Harvin made his debut for the Seahawks and had a 17-yard reception and a 58-yard kickoff return.

Around the NFL

* Tampa Bay, the Lions' next opponent, won for the second week in a row with a dominant 41-28 victory over the Falcons. The Bucs (2-8) aren't good, but running back Bobby Rainey might be. In his most extensive action in two NFL seasons, Rainey had 30 carries for 163 yards and two touchdowns.

* If the season ended today, and thankfully it doesn't, the 49ers (6-4) would still be the sixth seed. But after back-to-back losses, including a 23-20 loss in New Orleans Sunday, they don't look quite as fearsome as during last year's Super Bowl run. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is still dangerous, but he's completing just 56.2 percent of his passes this season.

* With three wins in a row, the Eagles (6-5) are at the top of the NFC East. After a few rough weeks, rookie coach Chip Kelly has adjusted well to the NFL, and second-year quarterback Nick Foles hasn't thrown an interception in any of his six games of extensive playing time. The Lionsí game in Philadelphia in Week 14 could have huge playoff implications.

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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Devin Taylor gets to Ben Roethlisberger in the third quarter Sunday. / Daniel Mears / Detroit News