Bob Wojnowski, Justin Rogers and John Niyo break down the Detroit Lions' 31-23 victory over the Green Bay Packers. The Detroit News
Allen Park — Although the Lions are tied for third in the NFL in sacks this season, no one would argue the pass rush problem has been solved through five games.
But 17 sacks through five games are part of an equation that shows the front seven is capable of achieving coordinator Paul Pasqualoni’s main focus against the pass: Making life tough for the quarterback.
“I’ve always felt this way: On defense, we have two jobs,” said Pasqualoni, a 46-year coaching veteran. “The first job, stop the run. The second thing, you always each week find yourself saying … make the quarterback uncomfortable. I think it’s more realistic to say that you can have a chance to make him uncomfortable than it is we’re going to sack him X amount of times.”
Despite the continued struggles against the run — the Lions have surrendered a league-worst 145.8 rushing yards per game — there are reasons to believe head coach Matt Patricia’s coaching staff has schemed its way to a formidable pass front.
After the unit underperformed last season, Bob Quinn’s front office didn't make any high-profile upgrades to the defensive front, with free agent linebacker Devon Kennard serving as the main acquisition for the front seven.
Ziggy Ansah, whose improved health could have been among the only preseason reasons for optimism among the personnel, has missed all but one game with a shoulder injury after the Lions signed him with the franchise tag.
But the emergence of rookie fourth-round pick Da’Shawn Hand as a difference-maker has helped nullify the loss and settle unease about the lack of impact defensive lineman going forward.
Many numbers back up how schizophrenic this Lions season has started, with quarterback efficiency being no different.
In a look back through five weeks, if the opposing quarterback completed passes against Detroit at a higher rate than his overall season percentage, the Lions lost. In the two games they held him under that mark, they won.
Proving more confounding are the names on that ledger: Against first ballot Hall of Famers Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers in wins and against three quarterbacks averaging less than a season’s worth of starts apiece in defeats.
In Detroit’s 31-23 win on Sunday, Rodgers lost two fumbles for just the third time in his 14-year career.
Despite the Green Bay legend throwing for 442 yards - the second-highest total of his career - Detroit held him below his season and career completion percentages at 32 of 52 (61.5 percent).
In addition to the fumbles, Rodgers was sacked three other times. He did not complete 10 of his first 17 passes and the Lions built a 24-0 lead at halftime. In all, Rodgers had not missed on 20 attempts in a game since November 2016.
“If you affect the quarterback that way, it’s a third down, off the field or it’s a turnover, whatever it is,” Pasqualoni said. "Those are big plays. Those things all go to the issue of production.”
Continuing his recent uptick in production, Hand sent Rodgers off the field late in the second quarter, leading to Detroit capping the 24-point half on a Marvin Jones touchdown.
Hand, an Alabama product, forced a Rodgers fumble during a sack, bouncing up quickly to recover the ball.
Hand nearly had a game-sealing play the previous week against Dallas, forcing a fumble of quarterback Dak Prescott that the Cowboys quarterback recovered.
His 2 sacks have nearly equaled his season-high mark of 3 in four years at Alabama.
There, Hand came to Tuscaloosa as the nation’s top-ranked recruit, but never matched that billing with his production.
But Davis, the Lions defensive line coach who joined coach Nick Saban’s staff less than a month before Hand signed and coached him for three seasons with the Crimson Tide, said that wasn’t for lack of effort.
“They talked to me about him, just to kind of see what I thought of him and what kind of person he was,” Davis said of the Lions pre-draft process. “And like I said, Da’Shawn when I recruited him out of high school, he was a good kid, hard-working kid and he wanted to be successful. That was the most important thing with him. and he likes to work, that’s the thing about him.”
The second-day pick of Hand was among a group of unheralded group of Quinn moves that have contributed to Detroit’s high sack count.
Outside of one sack from Ansah and two from last year’s first-round pick Jarrad Davis, the plays have been made by new Lions: 5 for Kennard; 3 for Eli Harold, a training camp trade addition; 3 from Romeo Okwara, a Giants castoff signed five days before the season; and 1 from Christian Jones, a free agent from Chicago.
Davis is anxious for a return to health of Ansah, whose shoulder injury was not believed to be serious but has kept him out since Week 1, but said the group can produce with whatever parts it has.
“It doesn’t really matter who’s there,” Davis said. “We’re waiting to get him back and eager but everybody’s working toward the same goal to have success.”
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.