IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys' offensive linemen aren't fooled by the Lions' pedestrian defensive line numbers.
Detroit ranks 27thin the league with just 13 sacks this year, but on a line that includes tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, the Cowboys' interior linemen aren't overlooking the talent of the players they'll face off against.
"At least up until now, I feel like it's the best front that we've seen," said center Travis Frederick. "I can't really talk to teams that I haven't watched. But looking at their front seven, really, they're really a good defense, and they have a lot of good weapons on the back, as well. Obviously up front with the defensive tackles, they're both really top notch guys as far as their play."
The Lions may be 31st in the league in total defense and in the bottom five in sacks, but the pressure they've created has led to them being No. 3 in the league in interceptions with 10. Their opponents have also converted third downs just 29.89 percent of the time, which is nearly nine percent worse than the league average and ranks second in the league.
"Sacks in general don't always really tell the whole story of how good or how disruptive a defensive line is," said guard Brian Waters. "The pressure they get on the quarterback, the tackles for losses, the way they penetrate, their linebackers make a lot of plays because those guys are getting in the backfield."
The player leading that charge into the backfield is typically Suh. He's compiled 3.5 sacks this year and has 25.5 since being selected with the second overall pick in 2010. Fairley, the No. 13 overall pick in 2011, has also contributed with 1.5 sacks this year.
Frederick said both of those interior defensive linemen are big, strong, fast and quick. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham can move them around to exploit an offensive line.
"That's pretty much the best brew for a defensive lineman," Frederick said. "It'll be a good challenge for us."
The center singled out Suh as being particularly explosive, and Waters described Suh as a disruptive player both in the run and pass game. Sometimes, that disruption can go a little too far.
Suh's developed a reputation for not only being one of the league's most talented linemen, but also one of the most flagrant. He was fined $31,500 for a hit on Brandon Weeden and was assessed a $100,000 fine earlier in the season for an illegal low block, adding to a long list of infractions since he's been in the league. He's been fined seven times and has been ejected from a game. [embedded_ad]
But neither Frederick nor Waters are concerned about any extracurricular activity with the lineman, who enters the game with a notorious reputation.
"You just focus on the football," Frederick said. "That's all you do any game. It doesn't really matter who you're playing. It's an opponent that you study the film and watch what they do and you try to counter that, and you also have to do what you do."
The Cowboys can't afford to get caught up in the extracurricular activity against a player of Suh's caliber, according to Waters. He said he'll leave that part to the officials and worry only about "the football stuff."
They've done a good job this year focusing on "the football stuff," and the interior of the line is becoming more of a strength than a weakness for the group.
Still, the group isn't yet where Waters knows it can be.
"We're moving the standard up," Waters said. "We want to be a better group. We want to be the best group out there, and that's the standard we have to set. When you put that out there, you've got to play up to it. That means that we're going to expect a lot of ourselves."
They can take another step in that development if they contain Suh and Fairley, two players who've thrived under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham.
"I know the defensive coordinator really well," Waters said. I spent a lot of time with him in Kansas City, and I know he really puts a lot of emphasis on those front guys to really be the bell cows of that defense. I expect that after a tough loss last week, I expect to get their very best this week."