Five things to watch as Lions look to snap road losing streak at Bears; plus my prediction

Coming off a home win against the Packers, the Lions have a chance to snap that ugly 13-game losing streak on the road when they face the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

Coach Dan Campbell said he might not present it to his team that way.

“Boy that’s brutal, when you just said that I haven’t thought of it like that. That’s rough, I think we will talk about that now that you’ve – yeah, no look I think it’s this. I don’t think – I think what we talk about is, ‘Hey, man first road win. This is an opportunity to get the first road win,’’ Campbell said. 

The coach said to get success on the road it takes composure and discipline. “You know it’s going to be loud. There will be things that are going to happen, momentum will shift and not to buckle under that pressure is big. And then I think from a coaching standpoint, we’ve got to keep it – we’ve got to have enough ammo, but we’ve got to keep it simple enough to where we don’t put ourselves in a bind. You put in too much stuff, for example offense, man it’s good. You’ve got all these things you want to attack, but yet, man, if it’s a lot of kills and shifts and motions to the extent where it takes away from you getting lined up, and just doing your job playing fast, playing efficiently. That’s where you’ve got to be careful of,’’ Campbell said.

The Lions have not won on the road under Campbell. Their  last road win was on Dec. 6, 2020, at Chicago with a 34-30 mark.

“We both kind of have our backs against the wall a little bit, so there will be that fight and that fight to the bitter end, and you have to prepare for that,’’ quarterback Jared Goff said. “There are some teams that you don’t get that with, but we’re both kind of in the mix of this adversity, trying to pull our ways out of it. It’s going to be a fight. It’ll be a good one, and we’ll be ready.”

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

1. The Lions defense, which is coming off its best game this season, has had some trouble with mobile quarterbacks like Jalen Hurts and Geno Smith. Facing Bears’ Justin Fields, who had 178 rushing yards against the Dolphins last week, will present another challenge. “I think over the past three weeks, they adjusted on how they operate with this ( Fields) quarterback, and he’s playing at a high level right now. And I would say in the run and really in the pass game when you think about it, man, he’s not getting the yards that you’d want, but he’s being efficient with what he’s doing,’’ defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “And I’ll tell you what, these two backs they have, I mean they’re really good now. They’re really, really good, and the thing is they break tackles, they can find the seam, so we really have to be disciplined.’’

2. Continue the improvements the defense made last week. “Really excited about the way the defense played, but I guess more excited of the fact that our defense was on the field at a critical time at the end of the game to put the game away, and that was something that our guys needed because belief starts to stick,’’ Glenn said. “And I’ve said this to you guys before, belief is a powerful drug, so that’s something that we’ve got to continue to do, and I’m proud of the way our guys fought. I’m proud of the energy, the execution, just overall, the sideline, it was outstanding. And this has got to be one of the better games we’ve had since I’ve been here, so I’m looking forward to more games like that. And then just continue to look forward to practice, so we can continue to just get better.”

3. While the defense was on fire the offense played just well enough to win but has seen a lack of explosive plays in the last two weeks. “I want to say just by our metrics there were five explosives two weeks ago and then only four last week, which really we’ve been averaging over eight early in the season there,’’ offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said. “So, the explosive game hasn’t been there and that’s not just throwing the ball down the field or getting the big runs. It’s also some of these opportunities we have to get the ball in our hands short and making a tackler miss and creating something that way.’’ In their metrics a run is considered explosive at 12 or more yards while it’s 16 or more for a pass.

4. While D’Andre Swift is still not 100 percent, Jamaal Williams has been logging the bulk of the work in the run game. “I think since we got him even a year ago, he’s been the model of consistency for us offensively. He runs hard. It might not be flashy or sexy all the time, but he finds a way to always be falling forward when he’s being tackled,’’ Johnson said. “He’ll find creases. He’s got great vision, and he’s shown the ability to break tackles and potentially have some explosive runs for us too. So, minus the one game, the Dallas game, I mean he has been exactly what we want from a physical, downhill running back.”

5. One of the reasons the LIons’ defense had success last week was rookie safety Kerby Joseph playing his best game. ”Since he started, which has been about four weeks now, he’s just every week gotten a little bit better and I think that’s what it says is that he’s putting in the work and he’s growing,’’ Campbell said. “And that’s – just as far as the players, it continues to trend that way is the whole idea, but that’s a credit to Brad (Holmes) and our scouting staff, to be able to project a player like that and hopefully he continues to trend that way.’’

INS AND OUTS: Wide receiver Josh Reynolds (back) is out after not practicing all week. Tackle Matt Nelson (calf) is doubtful. Four are questionable: Joseph (concussion protocol), safety Ifeatu Melifonwh (ankle), cornerback Chase Lucas (ankle) and LB Malcolm Rodriguez (elbow).

(Prediction: Bears 31, Lions 21)

Lions Dan Campbell sees encouraging signs from young defense

After hitting rock bottom two weeks ago, coach Dan Campbell said he sees the Lions climbing back out of the depths even after the 24-6 loss at Dallas.

“I’m encouraged by our defense, it was encouraging. It’s hard to lose but when you watch the way they played yesterday and I told them, I said this last night, they played exactly the way we practiced,’’ Campbell said on Monday. “It was high energy, they were intense, they were urgent, we got a ball out – we got a turnover. You could feel the pressure on third down. We hit the quarterback early. We challenged on the perimeter, our secondary was coming down hitting and tackling.’’

The Lions fell to 1-5 after the loss. The defense has been at the bottom of the NFL standings in points per game and yards allowed. For the talent on that side of the ball, more was expected.

After rock bottom — the 29-0 loss to the Patriots — Campbell, his staff and players took the bye week to examine what was going on, on both sides of the ball but defense was more of an issue. Even though the Lions offense was shut out in that Patriots game, it was one of the NFL’s most high-scoring offenses up to that point.

Defensively, coordinator Aaron Glenn and Campbell made changes including benching veteran defensive lineman Michael Brockers. Campbell called him a “pro’s pro” and said he is willing to help the younger guys even if he’s not playing.

Campbell said the loss was Jeff Okudah’s best game since he’s been in Detroit and it’s exactly how he practiced last week. He also noted that Julian Okwara had his best game.

“That’s encouraging because when your defense begins to start finding their way there a little bit, you’ve got a chance. It’s a credit to A.G. We changed a few things, kind of went back to what we were doing last year, just the way we played those big boys up front. Getting Hutch (Aidan Hutchinson) up in the 2-point, having (Josh) Paschal back and (John) Cominsky. I thought they all showed up.’’

He also noted the physical play of cornerback Amani (Oruwariye) who had been benched for the Patriots’ game and finished with 15 tackles on Sunday. Also, Campbell was pleased with rookie Kerby Joseph who forced a fumble in the red zone. 

“One of the reasons we liked (Joseph), he’s a ball guy. He’s got instincts back there, he’s got range and he’s this close. Every week he’s gotten better and better and better,’’ Campbell said of the third-round pick. “That was huge, we preached takeaways last week and he came up with a big one in the red zone. So he’s trending the right way.’’

The scheme has also changed. 

“We’re going to set edges and funnel everything inside to our backers, our two big guys, now anything pops through there, if it gets out to perimeter between edge setter and your linebacker now you put them in a phone booth for your corner, you don’t have to tackle on the perimeter where you have all that space,’’ Campbell said. “We just felt like it was going to help everybody and it did.”

Four rookies started on defense — Hutchinson, Kerby, Malcolm Rodriguez and Josh Paschal (in his first NFL game). Paschal, a second-round pick, also was called out by Campbell for having an encouraging debut. 

Campbell said he likes the young group because they’re football guys, have good FBI (football intelligence), high motor and ability.

Now about the offense, which was missing running back D’Andre Swift (ankle/shoulder) and wide receiver D.J. Chark (ankle). Plus, wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown was taken out of the game early for a concussion test and not allowed back in under new NFL rules. He was cleared of a concussion and Campbell expects him back for Sunday’s game against the Dolphins.

The defense showed up with a few changes and the addition of Paschal and John Cominsky — and the return of Oruwariye — on Sunday.

Could the offense improve with Swift and St. Brown in the lineup?

“I would say this, it wouldn’t hurt,’’ Campbell said.

Five takeaways: Turnovers costly as Lions lose 24-6 to Dallas Cowboys

Coming off the bye week, the Lions defense played with confidence but the offense struggled in the 24-6 loss at the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. The Lions (1-5) took the early lead and held on with a 6-3 halftime edge, but they could not finish. Detroit turned the ball over five times in the second half. 

Coach Dan Campbell was clearly frustrated with the loss, but said he is not down. 

“There’s things that pop up but that’s what we’re charged with. That’s what I’m charged with. it doesn’t matter who we have or what we’re doing or who we’re playing, the bottom line is you have to find a way to win,’’ Campbell said. “I really felt like we were on track to do that and we made a couple of mistakes that killed us, the turnovers.’’

Five takeaways from the loss:
1. The defense came out on fire. Aidan Hutchinson picked up a half a sack on the third snap and added a full sack later. Cornerback Jeff Okudah stood out with 15 tackles. Campbell said it was Okudah’s best week of practice and best game this season. He also praised rookie defensive lineman Josh Paschal for his explosiveness, versatility, high motor and intelligence in his first NFL game. Corner Amani Oruwariye, who was benched in the last game, was back as a starter and had a good game.. The Cowboys had not started a game with two three-and-outs since 1991 (per CBS). “I told those guys I feel you can win when you play that type of defense, they set the tone for the game, they played hard, they were on point, we were physical on the perimeter,’’ Campbell said.”I thought our corners and safeties really showed up. That was a step in the right direction.”

2. Jared Goff threw two interceptions which pretty much wiped out any success he had in the rest of the game. Goff was sacked five times by the Cowboys’ defense, one of the best in the NFL. He finished 21 of 26 for 228 yards. “There’s no excuse but some of those at the end you’re down a couple of scores, you’re trying to hold it a little bit to find a throw. We’ll look at the tape,’’ Campbell said.

3. It was the second straight game the Lions’ offense has not scored a touchdown. They were 3-of-9 on third-down attempts. Running back Jamaal Williams fumbled twice — losing the second one at the Cowboys’ 1-yard line. Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown suffered a concussion early in the game and was ruled out. He was missed not just for his catches but he excels at blocking. Tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Brock Wright had good showings on National Tight End day with a combined 8 catches for 105 yard. The offense was missing running back D’Andre Swift, who could return next week, and wide receiver D.J. Chark who was placed on injured reserve. “Offensively we played the type of game we needed to play against this opponent minus the turnovers and that’s what killed us – turnovers and inopportune penalties,’’ Campbell said.

4.  Two plays stood out as possibly questionable. On Goff’s first interception by Stefon Diggs it looked like maybe Diggs didn’t not have control of the ball when he hit the turf. However, Campbell said he was told by officials that indeed Diggs had possession. CBS analyst Tony Romo disagreed. Because it was a turnover, Campbell could not ask for a replay. Then when Brock Wright caught a 17-yard pass, there was a question of whether it was a touchdown or if he was stopped just short. Campbell didn’t have a good view, so he was waiting for his guy upstairs to call him and recommend whether he should challenge it. He didn’t get a call (he has a line solely for this purpose) so the next play was run and that’s when Williams fumbled the ball on the 1-yard line.

5. The defense still has work to do but Glenn made changes during the bye week, including benching captain Michael Brockers, that seemed to bring life back into the unit. The offense should immediately improve with the return of Swift. He was close this week, maybe next week against the Dolphins. St. Brown could be out a while going through the concussion protocol. That will hurt the offense too. It’s next man up, but it’s difficult to match the talent of Swift and St. Brown.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

(Next up: Miami Dolphins at Lions, 1 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 30)