Five things to watch as Lions try to win 3 straight at Giants; plus prediction

Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell

It’s been five years since the Lions have won three games in a row. They’ve got a chance to snap that streak when they play at the New York Giants on Sunday.

Detroit, which started the season 1-6, is coming off wins against the Packers and on the road at Chicago. Game day experience for the rookies is paying benefits. Despite the early losses, coach Dan Campbell still believed in his team. He always said he believed they were close. A win at the Giants would be another huge step in the team’s growth.

“No, we’re not changing anything we do, we’ve got to continue to – everything we’ve preached since really day one, we’re still preaching the same things. We tweaked a couple of things schematically, but ultimately, I mean nothing has changed,’’ Campbell said. 

“So, it’s just about continuing to grow, gain your confidence and when you have an opportunity to make a play, we’ve got to make more plays than they did. And really, we just talked about some of the reasons, but we were more disciplined,’’ he added.

Five things to watch as the Lions(3-6)  face the Giants (7-2):

1. Giants running back Saquon Barkley carried a season-high 35 times in the Giant’s win over Houston last week. He’s a beast who must be stopped by the Lions defense that has given up 160.9 rushing yards per game. So far this season he’s averaging 4.7 yards per carry with six rushing touchdowns. “He is dangerous. He can run between the tackles, but if he finds a crease, and those guys push on him enough upfront, they’ll bang away at you, but he’s got enough patience, and if he can find that crease, he’s got breakaway speed,’’ Campbell said. “He’s got strength to get through the hole, and he can turn a routine run into an explosive run like that. You see him on the perimeter, and he gets an edge, he’s gone. So, that’s where he’s just different. He’s got this dynamic speed about him among other things. So we say it all week, but I mean gap responsibility, and everybody’s got to do your job, and we can’t have one error, one bust, one guy out of position because that’s all it’ll take for them to get something big out of it, turn it into points.’’

2. Detroit’s defense is young but they’ve been on the field to help seal the two recent wins. It’s a learning experience that will carry forward. “I think the most important thing is for the players because listen, they hear so much negativity that it’s tough. But again, man, if you just keep yourself in this cocoon like we have done and just go out there and improve and continue to believe in who we are, believe in this team, believe in the defensive players that’s around. Listen, we’re young and we know that, but again like just to get a chance to do that and to feel that, that just breeds winning,’’ defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “I’ve been a part of that. I’ve seen that happen. I’ve seen the change to where, man, once you start to do that and once guys start understanding and believing it, and understanding how to win, those things start to really propel you as a team in general.”

3. Week to week rookie defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson is developing. So far he leads all NFL rookies in sacks with 5.5. No other rookie has more than three. Notably he has an interception too. It’s not just about the stats, though. “Every week he gets a little bit better, and he makes a few more plays. He learns pretty quickly. Look, there’s still things that happened to him, but he doesn’t make those same mistakes twice, which is what you’re looking for,’’ Campbell said. “And one of the things that we appreciate about him, not only is he growing, but he is an asset in the run game and the pass game. He’s all encompassing. I mean he plays with a high motor, he plays with technique, he’s relentless. I mean, hell, he got a critical holding penalty the other day just trying to violently shed the block, and that’s a 10-yard penalty against them and knocks them back to second-and-18, which turns into (Jeff) Okudah’s touchdown, so everything – there’s things that you see all the time, and then there’s indirect production that we’re getting out of him that’s good, but he’s growing. He’s getting better. I mean he’s still – he’s got a long ways to go, but every week, he gets a little better.”

4. The offense, which started the season on fire, has not been quite as explosive in recent weeks. One reason could be that they are missing key wide receivers like D.J. Chark and Josh Reynolds. Chark, who was on injured reserve, was back at practice on Wednesday so he’s getting closer. Reynolds (back) is officially listed as questionable for Sunday. Quarterback Jared Goff said he’s getting used to throwing to different receivers. “We’ve had a lot of guys kind of in and out of the lineup. You kind of stop asking who’s up this week. You just kind of get used to whoever’s going to be in there. We’ll be ready and fill in, and you saw Tom Kennedy last week do a good job and making a big play there at the end, so we have confidence in those guys, but to be honest, whatever happens, happens. I’m somewhat used to there being just kind of a shuffled deck.’’

5. One reason the Lions have been able to stack two wins is because the backups on offense and defense have stepped up. One prime example is wide receiver Tom Kennedy who came through with a huge 44-yard catch on third down in the win at the Bears. Kennedy can play multiple roles which makes him valuable. “He’s better suited at other things, not everything, but he has to do everything for us in case he’s needed, and he is needed right now,’’ Campbell said. “And so, we get in there and it’s a pivotal moment to where it’s – he’s really number one in the read, back to Saint (Amon-Ra St. Brown) is number two and he shows up. And Goff hits his back foot, lets it go, hell of a throw, the protection was great, he wins on the route early and so when called upon he makes a play. But yeah, it’s crucial because you don’t know, you may only get one opportunity, but you have to be there when you’re called upon.”

INs and OUTs: Defensive linemen Charles Harris (groin) and Josh Paschal (knee) are out. Safety DeShon Elliott (concussion), Frank Ragnow (foot), Reynolds (back) and linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez (elbow) are questionable but Ragnow has said he will play. 

(Prediction: Lions 24, Giants  21.)

Author: Paula Pasche

Paula Pasche, a veteran sports writer, covers the Detroit Lions for her Lions Lowdown blog. She has written two books, "Game of My Life Detroit Lions" and "100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die" which are available at bookstores and on Amazon.com. She won first place for column writing from the Society of Professional Journalists in Detroit (Class B) in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and was The Oakland Press 2010 Staffer of the Year.

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