Detroit Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson has been a menace this season, but there’s one aspect of his game that appears to have taken a big leap in 2023: his ability as an interior pass rusher.
While the Lions have pushed Hutchinson inside ever since they drafted him second overall last year, he didn’t really adopt that mentality early on in his career.
“I think I didn’t want to accept it,” Hutchinson admitted. “And I kinda just said, ‘Eff it, dude, I’m here. Might as well just go.’ I feel like it was just a mindset change more than a move learned.”
That change in mindset has resulted in an entirely new element to his game. On obvious passing downs, the Lions can—and do—put Hutchinson anywhere they want to on the field. He can attack the weak point in the offensive line, or free up another defensive lineman to get to the quarterback.
I hope the Lions keep moving Aidan Hutchinson inside in some passing situations. It really feels like his burst is made even more effective there pic.twitter.com/Kt6aMWFvMu— JP Acosta (Pug Dederson Stan Acct) (@acosta32_jp) September 8, 2023
How did Hutchinson’s mentality change? Outside of his own intrinsic motivation, the Lions pass rusher credits Detroit’s senior defensive assistant John Fox. Some 22 years ago, Fox—then the defensive coordinator for the New York Giants—helped coach Michael Strahan during his record-breaking sack season.
“John Fox came up to me in camp and he was telling me when Michael Strahan broke the sack record that like half of his sacks were from the interior,” Hutchinson said. “And he was saying every edge guy they never want to rush inside. But it’s like, it can be a lot easier just depending on how things go to get production. After I heard that, I kinda just committed to it and was like, ‘Alright, screw it, dude. I’m gonna just listen to the old man and do it.’ And it’s been working out.”
After that conversation, Hutchinson has adopted the mentality of an interior rusher and is looking forward to those opportunities.
“I feel like I’ve got a lot of confidence with it this year compared to last year. Now, it’s something that I kinda want to do,” Hutchinson said. “If there is a not-so-great guard in there, like, I want to be the guy to line up on him and attack him and attack the weakness of the o-line.”
That last comment, in particular, is interesting this week, as the Lions face off against a Carolina Panthers team with someone you could certainly describe as a “not-so-great guard.” Rookie left guard Chandler Zavala currently has a pass blocking grade of just 7.2 per PFF, allowing 28 pressures—10 more than any other NFL guard this season. Match him up against Hutchinson, who leads the NFL in pressures (27), and it could be a long day for rookie quarterback Bryce Young.