The primary of which is the continued improvement of defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who had a great game overall against the Green Bay offensive line.
Fairley had a combined seven tackles (four solo) and a pair of sacks, one of which he stripped the ball from Aaron Rodgers. Two of his tackles were for a loss on run plays as well.
The Lions were hoping this could be a breakout season for him and while that hasn't quite been the case, he has been pretty productive.
Let's take a look at how he was able to produce his best day of the year against the Packers.
Really, with the Packers losing right tackle Bryan Bulaga and shifting players around to compensate, it was a pretty good situation for a player like Fairley.
He lined up pretty frequently across from left guard Evan Dietrich-Smith, who moved into that spot so TJ Lang could shift to right tackle and fill in for Bulaga—though he was not limited to just that spot and moved for some situations and packages.
Fairley also was off the field on occasion as the Lions rotated players in and out of the defensive line.
For much of the first half, the offensive line stymied Fairley, quite often straight up without double-teams.
The first two series found Fairley not having a huge impact, save for getting Dietrich-Smith to false-start once.
The third defensive series for the Lions showed us some progress by Fairley against the offensive line. He had a pressure on Aaron Rodgers where he bull-rushed Dietrich-Smith and bowled past him.
While he was a little too slow to catch Rodgers before he delivered the pass, he was breathing down the Packers quarterback's neck and it was a play where you got the sense it was only a matter of time before he caught Rodgers.
He also lined up across from right guard Josh Sitton on this set of downs, though Sitton did a good job holding him up. The defensive stand didn't end well—Rodgers found tight end Jermichael Finley for a touchdown—but Fairley got a lick on Rodgers during that play.
Again, close but no cigar.
The next defensive series began with Fairley continuing to struggle, this time by sloppy play. He was called on a neutral-zone infraction that was really blatant—it's the sort of dumb penalty the Lions have had too much of this season.
Then, Fairley once again showed the skill and strength that the Lions drafted him for. Lined up against Dietrich-Smith again, Fairley threw a beautiful spin move at Dietrich-Smith that completely turned the guard around.
Fairley was suddenly past the line and chugging toward Rodgers, who scrambled to his right with Fairley in hot pursuit.
While he couldn't catch the quarterback, he came close and kept Rodgers from throwing out of a comfortable pocket.
Again, it seemed like only a matter of time before he got a kill shot.
On the next series, Fairley hit his groove.
He continually got pressure on the quarterback and clogged up running lanes (something he had been having a strong game with already).
The Packers were driving down the field as the half was ending, intent on racking up another score before the clock ran out. After Rodgers completed two straight passes to Randall Cobb, Green Bay called a timeout to preserve clock with 34 seconds left.
There's no other word to describe what Fairley does on the play, save to say he dismissed right guard Josh Sitton.
Fairley just moved him aside and headed for Rodgers, who didn't have a chance in the world of doing anything other than protecting the ball.
You can see in this screen cap, and then with a look to the footage, that Fairley got a little help from Ndamukong Suh.
Suh drew a double-team on the left side—center Jeff Saturday shifted over to help Evan Dietrich-Smith bottle up Suh. What that does was leave Fairley with Sitton straight up, and that's a battle he should win pretty often.
As it stands, it pushed the Packers back and robbed them of quite a bit of clock, resulting in Green Bay settling for a field-goal attempt that they then miss.
It's key things like that that make him so valuable when he is firing on all cylinders and what I believe will make the pairing of Suh and Fairley into a very potent one.
As we move into the third quarter, Fairley just gathered steam.
He and Suh double-teamed James Starks on a run off left tackle to keep him to a short gain.
Again, Fairley was very solid in run defense, twice producing tackles for a loss, and even when not in on a tackle directly, he closed off lanes and generally bottled the middle up.
Following the stop on Starks, Cliff Avril sacked Rodgers on a 2nd-and-long play and setting up a 3rd-and-13.
On the attached screen cap sequence, you can see Fairley is once again facing a single blocker, in this case it's Dietrich-Smith again.
The left guard initially stood Fairley up and the two dance, with Fairley faking an outside push and then an inside before dancing around the guard's outside shoulder.
Dietrich-Smith looked lost; there's no way around it. Fairley has his head so turned around that he can't keep up and when you first watch the play, it almost looks as if he just quits.
The truth is, he was caught flat-footed.
Fairley got in on Rodgers, who tried to step into the pocket to get away, but it's not good enough.
It's not enough to point out the great sack by Fairley though—you have to applaud the very nice strip as well.
Because Rodgers was still looking downfield and trying to make a play, he didn't secure the football and Fairley punched it out as he wrapped Rodgers up.
The ball goes flying, and the Packers recover.
Now, despite the Packers recovering and not the Lions, it was still an impact play as once again it killed a drive.
As the game continued to progress, the Packers have to focus more attention on Fairley, which freed up Suh or focus on both—which opens things up for players like DeAndre Levy, Stephen Tulloch and Justin Durant.
As Fairley continues to get better and better, he will continue to feed off Suh's presence, as Suh (right now) is the more dangerous player.
However, as we saw on Sunday, Fairley's speed and strength will contimue to make him a player to be reckoned with and a guy who will make teams pay for locking onto Ndamukong Suh.
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