“Missing Lions defensive tackles show up and spark defense against Falcons”
The Fat Boys are back, rushing the passer and causing havoc and violence on defense.
Lion’s fans. I’d like to introduce you to defensive tackle Benito Jones.
He is a 6-foot-1 335 behemoth, whose primary job is to clog the middle on defense to make it difficult for teams to run the football.
That is job one for teammate Alim McNeill (6-2, 315) also. And for the most part they’ve done a masterful job during the early stages of the Lions season.
But they were rightly ripped by the fan base because they failed to generate much of a pass rush which proved to be a huge problem during last week’s 37-31 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
They soon discovered that if the Lions are to reach lofty goals we placed upon them then this team cannot be a one-man pass rush called Aiden Hutchinson.
They were so good that they freed up Hutchinson to do the stanky leg, after a sack that caused Falcons quarterback Desmond Ritter to cough up the ball at the Atlanta 10 near the end of the Lions must-win 20-6 victory in front of a relieved hoard of 63,803 previously nervous Lions fans.
McNeill wants their performance to be the first of many after the Lions sacked Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder seven times. He was already looking ahead to Thursday’s game against Green Bay, hoping to build off this performance.
“We want to be fast, violent and disruptive,” McNeill said. “You got to do that against Green Bay.”
The defensive tackle positions were so problematic that the Lions dug Isaiah Buggs (6-3, 335) out of mothballs and played him for the first time all season.
McNeill and Jones produced the first sacks of the season for the defensive line and they kept dangerous Atlanta Falcons running back Bijan Robinson at bay, holding him to 33 yards on 10 carries.
“We had to be disciplined to contain him,” McNeill said. “They got a good running game over there.”
McNeill finished with two tackles, one assists, two quarterback hits and a much needed quarterback sack. He and Jones also pushed the pocket, squeezing Ridder into tiny pockets and forcing him to throw the ball before he wanted. Rider was 21-for-38 for 201 yards and a 70.2 passing rating.
Jones also finished with a sack and Hutchinson had two sacks.
What Jones and McNeill could not finish, corner back Brian Branch (11 tackles, three for losses) did. Branch knocked down passes, chassed wide receivers and is head lining a rookie class filled with head liners.
The Lions (2-1) needed this win in the worst way, considering the expectations.
“I’d be lying to you if I said this wasn’t big,” McNeill said. “This was a critical game for us. You never want to lose any time so all these games are must-wins. But you don’t want to be looking up at 1-2.”
A week ago Hutchinson put all kinds of heat on Seattle quarterback Gino Smith. But when Smith spun away from Hutch there was no one else to put the heat on him. Atlanta quarterback Desmond Ritter did not have the same freedom. Hutchinson was not the only one putting the heat down. McNeill and Jones did the same.
“We were not on the same page last week for whatever reason,” McNeill said. “It was all about communication this week. We communicated better and that made it better for us.”
The Lions needed their defense to pull this game out. The Lions just do not look right. There are too many penalties, quarterback Jared Goff began missing passes and his receivers drop too many passes.
Goff ended the third quarter by air mailing a pass intended Amon-Ra St. Brown that Falcons safety Jessie Bates picked off at the Lions 43-yard line.
The Lions defense gave up six yards to get the ball back with 13:42 left in the games. That allowed the Lions offensive line and running back Jahmyr Gibbs to ice the game on a three-yard boot leg run by Goff that iced the game, giving the Lions a 20-3 lead with 9:50 remaining.
Gibbs, who was mostly silent in his first start replacing bull dozer David Montgomery ripped off runs of 12 and 21-yards to spark the drive.
All the pent up frustration from Lions fans turned into a loud celebratory dance session stands. The whole city could breathe again. The Falcons did not give up and were driving when Hutchinson finally got his first sack of the season.
The drive fizzled with Atlanta doing very little damage as Falcons kicker Bradley Pinion booted a 24 yard field goal with 4:19 remaining.
“It is very difficult to hold a team to six points,” McNeill said. “This is the NFL, man.”
For more from the author Terry Foster, check him out on Twitter here: @terryfosterdet
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Original Photo Credit: © Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK