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PFF Week 4 recap: Lions’ linebacker depth rises to the occasion vs. Vikings

The Lions’ defense is looking stronger and deeper every week.

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NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Week 4 was all about defense for the Detroit Lions. The team got great performances from some of the regulars on that side of the ball, but there were also a couple surprise performances against the Minnesota Vikings.

Here is a Pro Football Focus-based recap of Sunday’s game between the Lions and Vikings.

Linebackers stepped up

When Jarrad Davis was listed as inactive and Paul Worrilow went down with a knee injury in the first quarter, it seemed like the Lions were doomed to get gashed on the ground for the second week in a row. But it didn’t end up turning out that way, because several Lions linebackers stepped up to the plate.

Tahir Whitehead continued his bounceback season on Sunday, earning an 87.5 overall grade from PFF. The analytics site credited him with two run stops and three tackles while defending the run, but he also contributed as a pass defender. He generated a quarterback hurry and only allowed two receptions all game.

Perhaps even more shocking was the play of Nick Bellore, who took Davis’ spot as the team’s middle linebacker. PFF gave him a 79.9 grade after allowing just two catches for 6 yards in coverage while adding three run stops.

Anthony Zettel was the most productive edge rusher of the week

Zettel picked up his third and fourth sack on Sunday, making him Detroit’s leading sacker through four weeks. In fact, he’s now tied with six other defenders for the sixth-most sacks in the NFL.

But Zettel is bringing the heat even on plays he doesn’t end up taking down the quarterback. According to PFF, he tallied six more pressures against the Vikings, and now has the second-highest pass rush productivity among edge defenders:

A rare off-day for Matthew Stafford

Matthew Stafford didn’t just have a bad day against a good Vikings defense, he had the worst day. According to PFF, Stafford’s 37.8 grade was the lowest on the entire team. He was particularly bad when faced with pressure (which was often):

Pressure got to Stafford as well as he was pressured on 35.1 percent of his dropbacks, completing just 2-of-7 passes for 18 yards and a 39.6 passer rating under duress

Tight ends pick up receivers’ slack

Two tight ends made PFF’s top five graded Lions in Week 4. Darren Fells received the third-best grade (83.3), while Eric Ebron came in at fifth (80.6).

For the first time this season, Fells displayed his skills both at blocking (79.0 grade) and at receiving (84.1 grade). He hauled in a season-high four catches for 40 yards, while Ebron pitched in two catches of his own for an additional 27 yards.

The Lions have themselves a safety duo

We’ve all talked about the month Glover Quin is having, but his compadre Miles Killebrew is starting to emerge as a heck of a teammate. Killebrew saw the field more than he has all year and turned in an impressive 83.9 grade from PFF. Specifically interesting was his 89.6 coverage grade, even though the Lions often took Killebrew out on third downs.