Allen Park — Beyond all the off-field attention that Tom Brady gets, when he's on the field, the Lions view him as a good quarterback.
Make that a really good one.
As they prepare for Sunday's matchup against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, the Lions defenders know that trying to get to Brady is one of the keys to short-circuiting the New England offense, which has averaged 40.5 points during its six-game win streak.
The Lions have the top-ranked defense but will have a big challenge in the Patriots, who have won the last three meetings. And stopping the Patriots starts with trying to stop Brady.
"He has all the intangibles: leadership, great work habits, but he also, physically, is gifted as well," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "He has a great release, he's quick in the pocket and he gets that ball out fast. You don't see a whole lot of people getting to him because of that.
"He can make every throw. He has a wide array of touch plays, as well as down the field. He can launch it, intermediate pass game, he can do it all."
That will put the onus on the Lions defensive line to try to put pressure on Brady to try to disrupt his timing and force him out of his comfort zone.
"'Man, they have Tom Brady!' — That's what everyone says. He dictates the timing and he runs that offense with great rhythm and he's been doing it for years now," said Lions safety James Ihedigbo, a former Patriot. "You can rattle any quarterback, but the question is: Can you do it consistently? He isn't a guy where if you hit him one time he's going to get off his mindset in the game. He is a great quarterback, but quarterbacks in this league, you can hit them and rattle them."
Although the Lions defense has 26 sacks in 10 games, the Patriots offense has allowed just 16 sacks on Brady, tied for ninth-fewest in the league.
The Patriots' revamped offensive line has moved on since they traded veteran Pro-Bowl guard Logan Mankins to the Buccaneers. But they may have exceeded expectations, knowing that protecting their franchise quarterback is the top priority.
"A lot of people thought without Mankins that some of that would alter, but apparently not," Lions defensive tackle C.J. Mosley said. "They're looking good, but like anything else, we have to step up to the challenge and handle that. Our defensive line is considered to be a strong part of this defense and we have to step up to the challenge."
Last week against the Cardinals, for the first time this season, the Lions didn't record a sack. The Cardinals had a good game plan to stop their rush, including keeping six or seven blockers in and ensuring that Drew Stanton had enough time to make quicker throws.
Brady certainly is a more savvy veteran than Stanton and has seen many different approaches to try to rattle him in the pocket.
"He doesn't like to be hit, like any other quarterback," Mosley said. "In his case, he's been playing this game for a long time, so he knows what to do, what not to do, where to step up, where not to step up to avoid those hits. It's our job to get to him and his job to stay away from us — and he does a great job doing that."
But the Lions are preparing differently this week, knowing that Brady is one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league, leading the Patriots to wins over the Broncos and Colts in the past two weeks. They've won by an average of 19 points in the last six weeks and the Lions haven't allowed more than 30 all season.
Even with the mystique around Brady, Ihedigbo isn't falling into hero-worship, but respecting what Brady has accomplished in his career.
"He's Tom Brady … his hair," Ihedigbo joked.
"It's Tom. He is one of the best quarterbacks, if not the best quarterback — and the level that he's playing right now, he's the best quarterback in the league.
"He's just dictating offensively, getting his team in the right plays and right situations and making all the throws — most of the time carrying that team on his back."
If the Lions defense has its way and gets pressure on him, Brady will spend a lot more time on his back.