More help is on the way for the Detroit Lions' inconsistent pass rush.
Outside linebacker James Houston said Wednesday he is nearing the end of his rehab from the broken fibula he suffered in a Week 2 loss to the Seattle Seahawks and expects to play again in the regular season.
The Lions (9-3) visit the Chicago Bears on Sunday and close the regular season with games against the Denver Broncos, Minnesota Vikings (twice) and Dallas Cowboys. They could clinch a playoff spot as soon as next week.
"Timeline is looking like I could definitely get back before the playoffs," Houston told a small group of reporters in his first public comments since his injury. "It feels good. I feel like I didn’t really get too much games under my belt or really any type of experience other than not too good of plays (before I got hurt), so I’m ready to get back out there, just kind of see how it is."
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Houston was injured covering a kick in the third quarter of the Lions' home loss to the Seahawks, when he was on the receiving end of a violent block by Nick Bellore and said his foot "got stuck in the ground."
He underwent TightRope surgery to repair the injury, a process that involved anchoring two cords and a plate in his lower leg.
He said he does not currently have any restrictions in his rehab
“I’m probably on the last quarter of the rehab and so yeah, it’s probably a really important quarter for me just to kind of make sure everything is right, mentally, physically, and I get the checks and clears from everybody," he said. "There's nothing really I can’t do, it’s just the process of how these things mature."
One of the Lions' top pass rushers with eight sacks in seven games as a rookie last year, the Lions have missed Houston's edge presence this season.
The Lions rank 27th in the NFL with 25 sacks and have gone sack-less in two of three losses and four games overall this season.
Aidan Hutchinson leads the Lions with 5.5 sacks, but defensive tackle Alim McNeill, the team's No. 2 pass rusher, will miss at least the next four weeks with a knee sprain and the Lions have gotten few impact plays from their other edge defenders.
Houston, who one tackle, one quarterback hit and no sacks in 32 defensive snaps in the Lions' first two games, said he hopes to change that when he returns to action.
"I feel like it’s not humble saying it, but I feel like I'm a game changer," he said. "I make very explosive plays and so I feel like that’s what the team needs. They need turnovers, they need explosive plays to swing that momentum in our favor and that only helps the team. I feel like that’s something that I’m really good at."
After feeling some initial despair about his injury, Houston said he's found more optimism during rehab.
While he's missed playing in games and being a part of the Lions' success on the field, he said he'll be fresh for the playoffs and compared his situation to the one he thrived in last year, when he spent the first half of the season on practice squad and did not play in a game until Thanksgiving.
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"I was out there practicing with the team, but I wasn’t really out on Sundays with the guys, I wasn’t traveling to the away games, same way now so it’s just like you just get to watch and kind of see the team from afar," he said. "You also get to interact with a lot of the guys and kind of see how it is, then you’re able to figure out what the team kind of needs physically, emotionally, everything, and so you’re kind of just able to plug in."
With a return potentially in the cards after Christmas for both him and starting safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Houston said the Lions defense, which has allowed an average of 30.3 points in its four games since the bye, could have a totally different feel in the postseason.
"I feel like there are two high-level players and I feel like we can really change the outcome of our season, the outcome of the defense, everything," Houston said. "These are two players that can really help the defense. so I’m excited. I know he’s excited. But yeah, I feel like we can really do a lot. I know (defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn is) probably looking for us to come back so it should be a really exciting time."
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions' James Houston nearing return, should help pass rush