Five things to watch as Lions face Jets in crucial game; plus prediction

Lions coach Dan Campbell

Meaningful football in December continues for the Lions on Sunday when they play at the N.Y. Jets. “We’re both jockeying for playoff positions, this is critical for both of us,’’ LIons coach Dan Campbell said. “This is a heavyweight fight. I love our O-line and this is a worthy, quality opponent, especially their front. This is going to be pretty fun.’’

The Lions (6-7) have won five of their last six, making them one of the NFL’s hottest teams. However they’re making up for the 1-6 start. A win over the Jets would increase their odds of a postseason berth. 

Meanwhile, the Jets (7-6) have lost three of their last four and are just 3-3 at home. After being benched for three games, Zach Wilson will get the start at quarterback.

Five things to watch:

1. The Jets’ defense is its strength front to back. “This is a defense that makes you earn anything you can get,’’ Campbell said. “Our offense, we have our work cut out for us. It’s the strength of this team. …Top to bottom our receivers are going to have to fight to get off the ball, they’re going to have to fight for separation and our O-line is going to have to finish in the pass game and the run game.’’ The stingy Jets allow just 18.7 points per game which is rated sixth in the NFL. The Lions offense has scored an average of 32 points in the last five games. Something’s got to give.

2. Jets quarterback Zach Wilson, who was benched three weeks ago, will get the start with Mike White’s rib injuries keeping him out. The quarterback decision was announced on Friday. Campbell said it doesn’t make much difference which guy they face. “So, we’re ready. We knew (Wilson) was going in the game anyway, so we figured they were going to play him. So, it’s really – same thing, man, it’s about being disciplined and we know what kind of game this will be, what they’re going to want to do offensively,’’ Campbell said. “So, we’ve got to play our keys, we’ve got to be disciplined. We’ve got to run, we’ve got to hit, all the same things that we know here.”

3. No question Jared Goff is tough too but he’s been protected by an offensive line that is one of the NFL’s best. He’s been sacked just 19 times this season and just four times in the last four games. Goff (22 touchdowns, 7 interceptions) has gone five games without throwing a pick and feels he is playing the best ball of his career. While the offense is rolling up the numbers, the run game needs to be more effective. “I think in the last few weeks, it’s a number of things when you look at the few games, offensive line, it might just be aiming points or angles, targeting is always a big thing. Receivers, at times, just making sure they’re taking care of their force responsibilities and then making sure our running backs are seeing the holes properly,’’ offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said. “Each play’s got an intent to it, and the more we meet together, and we’re all aligned, I think the vision comes together, so end of the day, we’ve been able to move the ball and score points on offense, so certainly, an area for us to improve though.”

4. One way to beat the Jets’ defense is with speed. Rookie Jameson Williams will play his third game in the NFL and Campbell said the point of emphasis is easy: Speed all the time. Williams scored his first NFL touchdown on his first NFL catch with a 41-yard play early in the win over the Vikings last Sunday. Look for him to get more work at the Jets. “Certainly getting the touchdown with him was good, it was what you would expect. It was better than the week before but he’s got a ways to go like anybody would who hadn’t played a ton of football in this league and he will,’’ Campbell said. “He’s very coachable. … Certainly we like where he’s going, it was better and we expect it to be even better this week.’’

5. It’s key for the Lions to play their game, the way they have in the past six weeks. In that stretch Campbell has done a good job of keeping them focused on the next opponent, not the big picture. The veterans will need to keep the young guys in line and the rookies will have to respect their “elders” to go on the road and get a huge win. They know they can do it – they beat the Giants at MetLife Stadium on Nov. 20 – they just have to prove themselves again.

INS and OUTS: LB Derrick Barnes (ankle) and guard Kayode Awosika (ankle) have been ruled out. Defensive lineman Michael Brockers (illness) is doubtful. Fullback Jason Cabinda (ankle), cornerback Mike Hughes (illness), defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson (illness) and center Frank Ragnow (foot) are all questionable. Everyone else is a go.

PREDICTION: Lions 31, Jets 24.

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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