For as much grief as they’ve taken about their lack of pass rush, the Detroit Lions are on pace to have a player reach double digits in sacks this season for the first time under Matt Patricia.
Romeo Okwara leads the Lions — and is tied for 13th in the NFL — with six sacks through nine games.
The 25-year-old, who returns to his hometown of Charlotte this week to play the Carolina Panthers, has four sacks over the last four weeks.
“It’s great, the production that we’re getting out of him,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “I think it’s awesome. But I would say also just one of the most unselfish people that you could be around. We ask him to do so many different things, especially aligning in different positions in some of the stuff that we do, and he just goes in and does it and he does it to the best of his ability.”
Okwara has been a staple on the Lions’ defensive line, playing both end positions and seeing an increase in snaps in recent weeks with Trey Flowers on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.
He’s also one of the Lions’ most valuable special teams players — he’s the only Lion playing at least a third of the team’s special teams snaps while also playing that often on offense or defense — and he blocked a punt two weeks ago in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
“He’s played a lot of ball for us here,” defensive coordinator Cory Undlin said. “At the end (of the Washington game), he was rushing in the second half there, I don’t know what the number is but it was a lot of snaps. And, I mean, he goes full speed on every single snap. I was trying to get him out and he put his hand up and said I’m not coming out. So I think that, just his growth as a person, showing some leadership in some of those situations has really come forward for me, at least since I’ve been here.”
Okwara, who is on pace for 11 sacks this season, had a career-high 7.5 sacks two years ago.
Ziggy Ansah, who had 12 sacks in 2017, is the last Lion to reach double digits in sacks.
“I think he just, as a player, has continued to work so hard to develop himself,” Patricia said. “Happy for that from his standpoint. Obviously, hopefully we can keep that going.”
McCaffrey likely out
Running back Christian McCaffrey, who led the NFL with 2,392 all-purpose yards last season, likely will not play Sunday, Panthers coach Matt Rhule said.
“I thought maybe he’d be ready and he’s not,” Rhule said. “I don’t know when it’ll be. I don’t know if it’ll be this week, I don’t know if it’ll be next week. I’m not sure. I just think it’s one of those things where no one knows their body better than Christian, so whenever he feels like he can go and the doctors feel like he can go then we’ll be ready.”
McCaffrey has played in just three games this season, rushing for 225 yards, because of an assortment of injuries.
Mike Davis leads the Panthers (3-7) with 285 yards rushing this season and is second on the team with 47 catches for 290 yards.
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