October 16, 2014

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP)

Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are controlling the interior, while Ziggy Ansah, a healthy Jason Jones and the surprising George Johnson provide extra support from the outside.

Everything is finally coming together for Detroit's talented defensive line. The main question now is how much longer this will last.

''This may be the last time this D-line plays together,'' Jones said. ''We just want to go out there, and we're brothers.''

Suh's contract situation remains unresolved, and he can become a free agent after this season. So can Fairley. But that uncertainty hasn't been much of a distraction so far. The Lions have the NFL's top-ranked defense heading into this Sunday's game against New Orleans, and the push they're getting up front is a big reason why.

Suh has been a force since entering the league in 2010. When the Lions drafted Fairley the following year, it looked like they would have one of the game's best young defensive lines.

Instead, Detroit struggled defensively. Although problems in the secondary could be blamed for that, there was always a sense that the linemen could be producing more. The team lost defensive end Cliff Avril via free agency before last season, and the Lions ranked 28th in sacks in 2013.

This season, Detroit has a league-high 20 sacks, including eight in last week's 17-3 win at Minnesota. The Lions (4-2) have allowed 82 points so far, the fewest in the NFL.

The performance has been so impressive, even one of their offensive stars is taking notice.

''I want to get out there and play some `D' and see if I can get a sack,'' receiver Calvin Johnson said.

The defensive linemen are making it look that easy. Suh has three sacks this season, raising his career total to 30 1/2. Regardless of where he's playing next season his impact in 2014 has been substantial.

Suh said Jones' comment about the uncertainty facing the defensive line was understandable.

''I think you take that moment no matter what year it is,'' Suh said. ''No room in this league - especially defensive line room - is going to stay the same. So that's a mentality that you have to always carry with you every single year that you have. Enjoy the time that you have with your guys, and play for them.''

Suh's impact can't always be measured with the traditional stats.

''The attention that he draws has a positive effect on the rest of the guys,'' coach Jim Caldwell said. ''Most of the guys can count on a one-on-one in terms of pass rushing and also in feeding blocks in the run game, because of him. They turn protections toward him.''

Jones went down with a season-ending knee injury in September 2013, and this season he has already reached a career high with nine quarterback hurries. Ansah had eight sacks last season as a rookie and has 3 1/2 in 2014.

Then there's the 26-year-old Johnson, who already has four sacks this season - four more than he had in his career beforehand.

''Their front is outstanding,'' Saints coach Sean Payton said. ''They get the push inside from the tackles. Both of the ends are very active players, so that combination, they give you enough pressure looks where it is not just a four-man rush, and yet if they are not pressuring they do a very good job of quickening the pace of the quarterback with just four guys rushing it.''

New Orleans could be the toughest test yet for a Detroit defense that already shut down Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay. The Saints have the league's second-ranked offense with one of the game's top quarterbacks in Drew Brees.

Atlanta's Matt Ryan and New England's Tom Brady are also coming up on Detroit's schedule. Beating Brees and New Orleans would turn a few heads.

Not that the Lions are too worried about their reputation. This defensive line has already put the league on notice.

''I don't know if we need credibility,'' Suh said. ''I think at the end of the day, we just want to be out there and execute, understand what we have to get done as a defense, and as long as those are translating into wins and not allowing teams to put up points on us, we'll be good to go.''

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