Dan Campbell admits he is shocked that his Lions (5-7) are the favorites in Sunday’s rematch with the NFC North division leading Minnesota Vikings (10-2) at Ford Field.
“All those things don’t matter, point spread, who’s favored, it doesn’t – this team finds ways to win, and if we’re not ready to go, and we don’t handle our business – it’s going to take every one of us, coaches and players, to win this game,’’ Campbell said on Friday. “That’s what I do know because they’ve got plenty over there, and there again, a team that finds ways to win, those are dangerous teams.”
Detroit, which has won four of its last five, has turned heads around the NFL. Since a comeback win to defeat the LIons 28-24 on Sept, 25, the Vikings are 8-1.
Besides the record, the big difference is that the Lions are learning how to win.
“I think obviously, the more you win and the ways that you learn to win, you get better at it because there’s a number of ways to do it, and that’s really what transpired. We’ve done it,’’ Campbell said. “The gameplans have all been different. The opponents are different. Win with the lead, come from behind, keep the lead in a tight game, I think you learn to stay composed, certainly when things don’t go your way, you don’t go in the tank, and it’s just about cleaning up the errors that maybe cost you a play or two or that gave them a little bit.’’
Five things to watch:
1. Detroit’s young defense improves each week. Coordinator Aaron Glenn said they have found their identity. “We’re a tough and violent team. That’s who we are. That’s going to attack the football. I think it shows as far as the takeaways that we’ve gotten and just the way that we play defense overall,’’ Glenn said.”We might not be the most athletic, but man, it’s going to be a tough out against us every time you play against us. That’s how I want it.”
2. In their first meeting the LIons held Vikings WR Justin Jefferson to a season-low in yards (3 catches, 14 yards). Obviously the plan is to do the same. “I will tell you this, it’s hard to try to hold that player to that now. I mean, he is a player that I really, really respect on a number of different levels. Just my own opinion, I think he’s – if not the best receiver, he’s one of the top two. And the reason I say that is not just because of the production,’’ Glenn said. “I think he’s – he embodies everything I think a football player should be about. I think he’s tough, I think he’s competitive. Man, you see him take some hits and he gets right back up and gets ready to play. So, he’s an Aaron Glenn type of guy, but we have to get after him just like we did last time.”
3. It would be foolhardy to expect the LIons offense to score on every possession like they did in the win over the Jaguars last Sunday. But expect the offense to keep humming. Quarterback Jared Goff feels like he’s playing the best ball of his career and it’s tough to argue. The relationship with coordinator Ben Johnson has continued to grow and it shows on the field and the scoreboard.
4. Look for rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams to see more action after he got his feet wet last week in a limited debut. Johnson won’t speculate on a rep count for Williams but is encouraged to see Williams and Goff work together in practice to find a chemistry. “That’s critical, that’s big. Knowing where he’s going to be, what his – the top of his break’s going to look like so our quarterback can anticipate that throw, that goes a long way,’’ Johnson said. There’s much talk about Williams’ potential (as there should be), but D.J. Chark returned from injury last week and shined while Amon-Ra St. Brown continues to amaze. “It’s been fun to watch his progression since he got here over a year and a half ago. And truthfully, I really think he’s playing like a top five, top 10 receiver in this League right now,’’ Johnson said. “He generates separation on a weekly basis. I think he’s very hard to cover. We’re trying the best we can to keep defenses guessing a little bit of where he’s going to line up, but he does a lot of things himself.’’
5. Perhaps the offensive line doesn’t get enough credit for its role in the Lions run game which averages 127 yards per game. “We talk about it in our room. We point things out on the film. You see these guys finishing, coming off the ball the way they do. Those guys take pride in that, talking about the O-line,’’ running backs coach Duce Staley said. “And our guys take pride in hitting the hole. So, we definitely talk about it in my room.”
INS and OUTS: Guard Kayode Awosika (ankle), linebacker Derrick Barnes (knee) and cornerback Chase Lucas (hamstring) have been ruled out for Sunday. Guard/center Evan Grown (ankle) is doubtful. Cornerback Will Harris (hip) is questionable, along with three who were listed with an illness — cornerback Jeff Okudah, wide receiver Kalif Raymond and quarterback Nate Sudfeld.
PREDICTION: Lions 28, Vikings 24.