The Detroit Lions' defense might be the very definition of bend but don't break.

They're not particularly difficult to move the ball against ranking 19th in total defense at 378.8 yards allowed per game. But they get off the field as well as anyone ranking No. 1 in third-down defense (21.3 percent) and No. 5 in takeaways (11).

What's different this year that has allowed Detroit to become so effective at snuffing out opponent drives?

"I think we're tough" defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said. "I think we're a lot tougher than we've been in the past. We're a lot stronger."

Toughness is a buzz word around locker rooms but Detroit (3-1) has the goods to back up the claim. It has become an enforcer defensively especially up front.

Players say the defense's toughness emanates from dominant defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Cunningham said he counted 36 run plays up the middle and opponents gained just 52 yards.

The breakdowns have come on the perimeter not up front where Detroit has turned into an enforcer.

"I think Suh's playing at a level I haven't seen lately" Cunningham said. "If he can keep this up I don't know what'll happen for us."

It's not just what Suh is doing on the playing field but the grit he's instilled away from it. That includes on the practice field.

Defensive tackle C.J. Mosley remembers showing up for training camp after signing with Detroit this offseason and watching Suh go through the "hoop" defensive line drill. The drill begins with a coach dropping a racquet ball and the player must run around a hoop and catch the ball before it bounces a second time.

Suh worth millions was diving for the racquet ball -- in July.

"I'm like 'What are you diving for? We need you man. We don't need no shoulder hurtin' or nothing like that'" Mosley said with a laugh. "Coming from (Jacksonville) to see him really compete and really care even in the little drills in practice it grows on young players in practice. Even a guy like me who is in his ninth year it influences me.