Five things to know as Lions face Vikings

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.

Five things to know about Lions 24-14 loss to Bears

In the first three losses, the Detroit Lions showed flashes on both sides of the ball, but never could put it all together. The team took a step backward in Chicago on Sunday with a 24-14 loss to the Chicago Bears.

Injuries played a factor but every team has injuries so that is not going to fly as an excuse.

The ugly loss was on everyone from Dan Campbell on down. 

Communication was a problem in the last-second loss to the Ravens the previous week so they worked on it last week, but it remained an issue all-around.

The Lions scored on a pair of touchdown passes from Jared Goff to Kalif Raymond in the second half, but it was too little too late. That always seems to be the case.

Five things to know about the loss:

  1. The Lions fumbled the ball twice in the red zone. Center Frank Ragnow appeared to snap the ball early, Goff was not looking for it and the Bears recovered in the first quarter. Then later in the half, Goff fumbled when sacked by Robert Quinn on Chicago’s 3-yard line. Khalil Mack recovered for the Bears.
  2. Instead of going for a field goal from the Bears’ 5-yard line on fourth-and-goal, the Lions went for it and Goff’s pass intended for D’Andre Swift was deflected and incomplete. Again late in the game with a fourth-and-one — and down by 10 points — instead of going for the field goal Goff threw an incomplete pass. Six points is six points. Not enough to win but enough to matter.  Goff finished 24 of 38 for 299 yards and no interceptions.
  3. Lions defense allowed too many chunk plays. Bobby Price, a safety just converted to corner, could not keep up. But it was not all on him.  Rookie Justin Fields completed 12 of 18 pass attempts for 215 yards with one interception.
  4. The Lions looked unprepared for the Bears. They didn’t know until Saturday that Justin Fields would start at quarterback but Campbell said earlier in the week he didn’t think Chicago’s offense would change no matter who got the nod. So, again, no excuse. Not to say Campbell and his staff don’t work hard, they certainly do. But along the way whether it’s on the players or the coaches the team did not look ready. They know they can’t get in a hole early and they were down 14-0 at the half.
  5. At 0-4 the Lions are at a critical point. Dan Campbell can’t lose the team. He has said all along the margin of error was small in part because the team is so young. 

NEXT UP: Lions (0-4) at Vikings (1-3) on Sunday, Oct. 10. The Vikings lost 14-7 to the Browns on Sunday.

Five things to know as Lions face Bears in Chicago

In the NFL losses are losses and then there was the last-second loss to the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday. That could be a tough one to get over for the Lions but they have no choice.

The Lions (0-2) face the Bears (1-2) at Chicago’s Soldier Field on Sunday.

“Between my coaching staff and myself, we’re just trying to preach the right things every day. You go back to work. It’s about being resilient. It’s about learning from your errors. It’s about not giving up,’’ coach Dan Campbell said this week. 

“It’s all of the things and I think that the veterans that we have here that have been retained or that we have brought in believe the way we believe. They’ve been winners in other programs and they know what it takes and I think while we’re bringing them along, particularly the young guys, I think their voices are beginning to get louder,’’ he added.

The Bears are coming off a 26-6 loss to Cleveland in quarterback Justin Fields’ first start.

Five things to watch: 

1. Fields will get his second start on Sunday. All week the Bears were mum about who would get the nod, but announced on Saturday it will be Fields. The rookie completed 6 of 20 pass attempts for 68 yards with zero touchdowns and zero interceptions in the loss to the Browns last week. He was sacked nine times for a loss of 67 yards. It was not pretty.

2. Trey Flowers (shoulder/knee) will miss his second straight game. It looked like he was trending to play but was officially declared out on Friday. Holding him out is not devastating because of the depth on the defensive line. “I think, to be honest with you, we’re in a pretty good place just depth-wise and it’s more – I just feel like if we are – this is the right thing for Trey, too, which in turn is also the right thing for us long-term,’’ Campbell said. “I think if we can get him back to where he’s feeling really good, I think in the long run, that’s going to be a good thing for him and for us.” DE Michael Brockers and OLB Romeo Okwara are both questionable due to shoulder injuries.

3. They say if you have three quarterbacks you really don’t have one. That’s an issue for the Bears but at least starting quarterback is not a problem for the Lions. Jared Goff has been steady in the opening three losses with five touchdowns, two interceptions and a 69.6% completion percentage. He’s had the offense rolling for stretches, but not a complete game yet. “I think we’re really close. It’s a constant, ‘How do we get better today? How do we get better the next day?’ It’s always that way, but you feel close, you always do and we have to do it,’’ Goff said. “We have to put it on the field, we have to do it on game day on Sundays and make it come to life. Yeah, I do feel like we’re close to doing that and putting four quarters together.”

4. Tight end T.J. Hockenson is the leading receiver in yards with 18 catches for 173 yards, but Campbell things Quintez Cephus could be ready for a breakout game.”I think he’s – you see things last week, though he didn’t get targeted as much, I thought he did some good things on tape. He’s getting there. I think (Amon-Ra) St. Brown is close. I think he’s due to have a game for us. He does a ton of dirty work for us. I think his opportunities are going to come. And so, there again, it’s got to happen,’’ Campbell said. “I think once one to two of those things happen, then there will be confidence in those players and then, in turn, in all of us. It helps the quarterback, helps us game plan, all of those things.”

5. While the 66-yard field goal crushed the Lions hopes of a win last week, it was the fourth-and-19 conversion that allowed that kick to happen. Campbell blamed lack of communication for the breakdown on that play so they worked on it in practice this week. “Everything that we talk about emphasizing has really shown up and you can hear it. You can hear the communication, you can see them talking, you can see the hand signals. We do pre-practice walkthroughs, we do walkthroughs before practice. So, we have a pre-practice, pre-practice, then a pre-practice,’’ Campbell said. “It has, it’s really shown up. Now, do we still make mistakes? We do, but the point is, the emphasis, and it is, it was better. I thought (Thursday)  was one of the best practices that we’ve had all year. I was encouraged. It was good.”

PREDICTION: Lions 24, Bears 10