It is Week 5 and the Lions are still looking for their first win. It’s been a bumpy start for first-year coach Dan Campbell who has his injury-decimated team showing flashes of good play but not nearly enough for a win.
Minnesota is typically a tough place to play but the Vikings (1-3) are coming off a 14-7 home loss to Cleveland. Still the Vikings are 10-point favorites.
A win would not fix everything for the Lions, but it certainly would help.
“(A win) helps you get going. It helps you jump out of bed maybe a little bit better. And so, yeah, it does. That’s what this is about is getting that first win for us and getting a win. But at the end of the day, no matter what happens, you’ve got to put your best foot forward and we’ve got to go back to work no matter what,’’ Campbell said. “You’ve got to go back to work and find a way to improve. And you guys get tired of hearing me say this, but we are in a race to improve and it’s got to be that way every day, every week, every game.”
Five things to watch as the Lions face the Vikings:
1. Somehow going into Minnesota Campbell has been able to keep up the morale of this young squad.: “Morale’s been good. I mean, these guys did exactly what they needed to do was, ‘Let’s go back to work.’ And that’s a credit to the guys on this team, but I think even more importantly our veteran leadership. I think it’s all about – here’s what we know, you’ll never correct a problem if we don’t go back to work and those guys did that. That’s the first step and at least gives you a shot, so they have. It was up, the energy was up. We’ve had quite a few competitive periods. We try to mix them in every week, but I think we’ve had really more of them than we’ve done in a while just to – un-scouted looks, O versus D, critical fourth-and-2, third-and-2, red zone – we’ll have another red zone today and just dial it up and see who wins. And so, it’s been good. The energy’s been good and there again, it’s not about the energy, it’s about those little details that make you or break you in a game.”
2. In terms of injuries, the good news is that tight end T.J. Hockenson (knee) and tackle Penei Sewell (ankle) have a chance to play on Sunday. Both had limited practice on Friday. DE Michael Brockers (shoulder) is expected to return. RB D’Andre Swift (groin), RB Jamaal Williams (hip) and OLB Trey Flowers (knee) are all listed as questionable. The Lions needed a pretty healthy team to have a chance at some wins and they definitely do not have that. Taylor Decker (hand) is still not ready and Romeo Okwara (Achilles) was the 12th player placed on injured reserve. Frank Ragnow was the 11th.
3. Much of the Vikings’ defensive game plan is built around their pass rush so it helps Minnesota that defensive end Danielle Hunter returns from injury. “Look, he’s an element that they need and I think he’s one of those pieces that makes them pretty dangerous because he’s one of those D-ends that I think plays the run as good as anybody and he’s an excellent pass rusher, too. So, he can transition from run to rush very quickly and run action stuff and he’s long. He’s a heck of an athlete, high motor, so it’s helped them,’’ Campbell said. This makes it much tougher on the Lions makeshift offensive line which is missing Decker (hand) and Ragnow (turf toe). Good thing it looks like Sewell will be ready to go. Evan Brown will likely step in again at center.
4. So without key pieces, Campbell is putting together an offensive game plan that hopefully plays to their strengths. “We’ve gone back and tried to really look at what we think we do well. We’re four weeks in now. ‘What do our guys do well? Knowing what we have up front moving forward and what they have, how do we help?’ So, the plan is catered that way somewhat and there again, we’ve got to play complementary football,’’ Campbell said. “We can’t get in one of these – like we’ve been, we can’t get in one of these, ‘We’re down and we’re in two-minute mode and we’re having to throw it every play and they know it, we know it.’ That doesn’t serve us well all of the time.” Actually, most of the time.
5. In the four losses, giving up chunk plays of 20 yards or longer has been a killer for Detroit’s defense. The cornerback crew is decimated with Jeff Okudah and Ifeatu Melifonwu on injured reserve, but the others have to step up. “That’s the one area that we’ve got to look at, and as coaches, too. ‘How do we get these guys in situations to where they’re not giving up these big plays?’ I was always told by Bill Parcells, ‘How many times do we’ve got to get hit in the face with a skunk before you smell it?’ And that’s a true statement,’’ Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “So, we have to do something also to be able to help these guys and we have done some things now, for the player and coach. The players have got to execute, the coach has got to put them in positions to where they can execute and be at their best.” Sounds like a plan.
Prediction: Vikings 24, Lions 17.