Lions defenders get after Warner

The Lions improved to 3-0 on the road in large part because their defensive line dominated the Giants.

Updated: October 24, 2004, 11:31 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Like a big, real-life Buddha, he slumped on the stool in front of his locker stall espousing to his audience how it was that a Detroit Lions team that entered this season on a 24-game road losing streak has now won three outings in a row away from home.

And then, having struggled through philosophical and metaphysical explanations, having expended too many words to describe the franchise's intriguing turnaround when playing on the road, Lions defensive tackle Shaun Rogers finally opted for the simplistic.

"Look, we're just having fun, OK?" suggested Rogers. "I mean, it's been a pretty long time since we could say that, really. But this, yeah, this is fun."

When you hold people down like that, it's a sign you're getting it done up front. And, boy, our front guys just played (great) today.
Lions MLB Earl Holmes on keeping the Giants offense in check

That was certainly the case on Sunday, as the Detroit defensive front essentially frolicked, turning the matchup against the New York Giants' blocking unit into kid's play in a 28-13 victory.

Detroit, which moved to 4-2 for the season, stopped the resurgent Giants and New York's four-game winning streak for a variety of reasons: The efficiency of maligned quarterback Joey Harrington. A moribund running attack that awoke from its season-long coma in the second half. The overall tenacity of a defense that coach Steve Mariucci aptly described as "stingy," and that was particularly effective in the red zone. Meaningful contributions from backup players such as wide receiver Reggie Swinton and fullback Stephen Trejo, both released earlier by the Lions at one point, both of whom came up big on occasion in filling in for injured starters.

But mostly, Detroit rebounded from an embarrassing home loss to Green Bay last week because its front four controlled the contest almost from the outset. That the Giants' first possession concluded when Lions defensive end James Hall sacked Kurt Warner on third down, and forced a fumble recovered by Kalimba Edwards, seemed to set the tone.

In fact, that third-down play was like chum in the water for a voracious Detroit pass rush that buzzed around Warner all afternoon.

For one of the few times this season, the other occasion coming in an opening-game loss to Philadelphia, Warner was made to look skittish. Sacked six times, harassed on nearly every obvious passing down, and forced to check down to his underneath receivers most of the afternoon, Warner too often resembled the human punching bag to which he was reduced his final few seasons with the St. Louis Rams.

Warner fumbled three times, losing one of the miscues, and he threw a killer interception near the end of the first half, lobbing a ball into the end zone on which Lions cornerback Chris Cash made a stellar pickoff in front of New York wideout Amani Toomer.

One of the biggest surprises of the early season, and of New York's 4-1 start, had been the solid play of the Giants' offensive line. A unit that has just one player lining up in the same position as a year ago, left tackle Luke Petitgout, the Giants line didn't even acquire its final starter, left guard Jason Whittle, until the week before the season began. Even as the Giants surrendered 15 sacks in their first five contests, Warner hadn't absorbed the fierce pounding that marked his last days with the Rams.

All of that changed, though, on Sunday afternoon.

Acknowledged Warner, who never got into anything resembling a rhythm, and who had just nine of his 23 completions to wide receivers: "I had to move around (a lot) today." The Lions linemen, of course, came to Giants Stadium knowing full well that Warner is a different quarterback, and vulnerable to the turnover, when the pocket is compressed.

"The thing is, the thing you talk about with (Warner), is that you want him to feel a lot of bodies around him," said Hall, who had four tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. "Let him know you're there, you know, breathe down his neck a little bit. The last thing in the world you want is him being comfortable. I don't think he was too comfortable today."

Giants coach Tom Coughlin bemoaned his offense's continuing red zone shortcomings -- New York had 15 snaps inside the Detroit 20-yard line but managed only a pair of field goals from those forays -- and poor practices last week coming off a bye. And as did Mariucci, he called Cash's interception at the end of the first half a "huge" play. But he also allowed that the Lions, now just one win shy of equaling their victory total for all of last season, had more answers on Sunday afternoon.

And most of those came from a pass rush that, while not overly befuddling, simply played with more energy than the guys attempting, often futilely, to block it.

This may not be a unit that ranks with the great Detroit front four of the early 1980s, the quartet that featured Bubba Baker, William Gay, Doug English and Dave Pureifory. But it is a group that plays with palpably high energy, possesses notable depth in a league where that is such an elusive commodity, and has a stud performer inside, in Rogers, who makes everyone around him better.

Kalimba Edwards
APKalimba Edwards takes down Kurt Warner for one of his two sacks on Sunday.
The starters on Sunday -- Hall and Cory Redding at end, with Rogers and Dan Wilkinson inside -- combined for 12 tackles and three sacks. Rogers and Hall, in particular, were just sensational. But backups like Edwards, Jared DeVries, Kelvin Pritchett and Marcus Bell were also superb. Notable was that Bell, who got a lot of snaps when Rogers temporarily went out with a calf injury, posted four tackles, a sack, a pass defensed and also a forced fumble, and generally manhandled the Giants guards.

Not to be overlooked was the performance of the Detroit front seven against a New York running attack that ranked No. 4 in the league entering the game. The Lions held Giants tailback Tiki Barber to 70 yards on 22 carries, and forced his initial fumble of the season, although he recovered. For the game, New York eked out just 75 yards on 26 attempts.

The lone Giants touchdown came on Barber's 62-yard scamper on a screen pass, a play on which the Lions tackling was sloppy for one of the few times all afternoon. Testimony to both the suffocating pressure Detroit applied to Warner, and the diligence of the Lions secondary, was that Barber caught seven passes for 102 yards. No Giants wideout had more than 50 receiving yards.

"When you hold people down like that," said Lions middle linebacker Earl Holmes, "it's a sign you're getting it done up front. And, boy, our front guys just played (great) today."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.

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