When thinking of the Lions' defensive front seven, you might think of "name players" — Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Ezekiel Ansah — but there are others up front who have provided a big boost to the defensive production that has made the Lions' unit tops in the NFL.
Linebacker DeAndre Levy is one of them. A virtual unknown before last season, he had a breakout year in 2013 and has picked up where he left off so far, leading the Lions in tackles with 49 and shutting down plays before they have a shadow of a chance of breaking big.
The Falcons have scouted him intensely leading up to Sunday's game at Wembley Stadium and know that he'll be worth keeping an eye on.
"He was a sub-4.6 guy coming out," said Mike Smith of Levy, who played his college ball at Wisconsin. "He's a guy that comes downhill and he's very quick. When you are having to put four hands on those defensive linemen and he's coming downhill, he's winning a lot of his battles because of his speed. If you come off too quickly, that's when the defensive tackles will make their plays."
Smith said the Lions don't do a whole lot of blitzing because of the strength of their defensive line in creating their own pressure, so Levy will be pivotal to watch when it comes to the run game.
With the possibility of wide receiver getting back into action Sunday, the extra target could help keep Levy honest when it comes to playing the run, but getting a helmet on him during run plays will be crucial to having success on the ground.
"He's definitely playing really lights-out football — having a great year," running back Steven Jackson said Thursday. "He's one of the guys that I've watched all week. His explosiveness and sideline-to-sideline speed, once he recognizes or sees the ball, he does a really good job of avoiding blocks, getting to it and also doing a good job of getting his D-linemen off the double team because he's so fast."