Nick Fairley's Return Gives Detroit Lions' Defense a Shot a Best in the League

Joye PruittSenior Analyst ISeptember 27, 2011

ALLEN PARK, MI - AUGUST 01:  Nick Fairley #98 of the Detroit Lions get ready for the start of the days practice session at the Lions training facility on August 1, 2011 in Allen Park, Michigan.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

When the greatest active defensive lines are mentioned, names you expect to hear in the conversation are the Chicago Bears, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers.

Sure, there are other lines in the league, but the three mentioned always strike a chord, even in non-football minds across the country. It is general knowledge that going up against those franchises will at least give the offense a run for their money, and it is those types of strangling defenses that always give their squads a chance in the game.

A viable stop could be made at a crucial point in the game that could turn everything around. In Sunday’s Week 3 match against the Manning-less Indianapolis Colts, when it seemed as if Pittsburgh was actually playing towards an eventual loss, Troy Polamalu’s fumble return allowed the Steelers to play for the win on their last drive to the red zone instead of playing for a probable tie, sending the game into overtime.

In Week 1, defenses were seen making grave missteps against offenses that were ready to make statements. Those momentum shifters are what fuel the talk that defenses win football games.

The Detroit Lions are on their way to building what may be one of the greatest defensive lines in the NFL.

The talk has never died down about how destructive Ndamukong Suh and the rest of Detroit’s line can be, especially in the clutch when a stop must be made. However, now that Nick Fairley has had his first practice since breaking his foot August 1, the arrival of the conclusion that Detroit is actually a playoff contender is becoming more like reality than anyone could have ever predicted from simply watching preseason games.

DETROIT - AUGUST 27:  Justin Durant #57 and Ndamukong Suh #90 of the Detroit Lions makes the stop on BenJavus Green-Ellis #42 of the New England Patriots during the first quarter of the game at Ford Field on August 27, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo b
Leon Halip/Getty Images

Sure, their meeting with the New England Patriots was impressive, but the same quotes were heard around the nation.

It’s the preseason. New England was not giving their best effort.

Anyone who is familiar with the “Patriot Way” and what it has represented for years, especially since Tom Brady’s inception, would know that this is not an accurate argument. The option that Brady and the rest of the Patriots' offense would simply allow the Lions’ defense to solely score in the second quarter for only a single TD and a field goal after being denied a couple of times in the red zone simply is not present.

The results of the game could also be contributed to the fact that New England was not able to expose the Lions’ sometimes fleeting rush defense because they do not have a power running game, although RB Danny Woodhead should be considered a threat in any matchup. The Patriots' defense was also unwilling and unable to stop Detroit four of the six times they lined up in the red zone, allowing four touchdowns. The other two red-zone attempts resulted in six points off of two field goals.

Detroit’s defensive efforts were spread throughout the entire roster, and it is this game where everyone should have realized that coming into the regular season, the Lions were going to be a force to be reckoned with. But of course, you always have to forge beliefs with those adamantly set in their ways of rejecting the notion that the Lions are not the same 0-16 squad we saw once before.

The return of Nick Fairley gives the Lions’ defense an entirely different dimension. Although it may not come as soon as Detroiters may hope, whenever he does make it back into the starting lineup, the changes opposing offenses will be subjected to shall be apparent. According The Detroit Free Press, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham thinks so as well.

'I’ve been in here every day, watching him run with the weight coaches and work out,' Cunningham said. 'He’s busting his tail to get back out there, and we can’t wait till he does.'

Could Fairley make his Lions debut against the Dallas Cowboys next Sunday?

'You can’t tell. I’m not a trainer or a doctor or anything like that, but my hope as a football coach is to get him out there and let’s get him ready to roll, 'cause I think he’s pretty good.'

Nick Fairley is pretty good? Not only did the defensive lineman win the Lombardi Award as the nation’s best college lineman last season, he was one of the primary reasons Auburn University celebrated at the end of the BCS Championship game against the Oregon Ducks earlier this year.

The game was won by a field goal as time wound down, but had it not been for Fairley’s speed and ability to fend off the block to get to Oregon’s QB Darron Thomas, the game could have easily been shifted in their opponent's favor.

After Week 3, the Detroit Lions sit at the 21st spot in the league in relation to opponents’ rushing yards, advocating an average of 113 per game. Fairley’s addition to the line would undoubtedly add another pass-rushing dimension to the line that most recently cracked a losing record on Minnesota’s home field.

Matthew Stafford had a big hand in Detroit’s resurgence in the game against the Vikings, where the Lions did not accumulate a single scoring drive in the entire first half. But it was their defense that forced the issue with Minnesota’s rushers and receivers, holding them to only a field goal for the rest of the contest.

You may not want to admit it now, but sooner or later you will have to come to grips with reality. The Detroit Lions are the underdog, and they are playing with a chip on their shoulder. As Stafford leads the offense towards greatness, the Lions’ defense is climbing the totem pole to sit atop the league with the finest that the NFL has to offer.

Did you ever think you would see the day?