Five things to know as Lions face the Vikings; plus prediction

When the Lions take on the Vikings at Minnesota on Sunday, they will have both faced the Philadelphia Eagles in the first two weeks. 

The Eagles topped the Vikings 24-7 on Monday night and edged the Lions 38-35 in the opener.

It doesn’t take a math genius to figure that the Lions scored 35 points on the Eagles defense while the Vikes could only manage seven. That’s not necessarily how Lions coach Dan Campbell sees it.

“I thought of it more as it pertains to Minnesota. That’s a game on the road, hostile environment, their first road game. Philly got off to a pretty good start, did a couple of things tempo-wise that kind of got them on their heels a little bit,’’ Campbell said. “There are matchups in this league, some teams match teams a little bit differently or better and personnel wise I kind of felt it was one of those games. 

“I think this team we’re getting ready to play is a good football team. They’ve got serious firepower. They’re coming off a loss, they’re going to be ready to go, they’re back in their home crowd,’’ the coach said. “They’re 1-0 in their division. This is a big test for us.”

The Lions, who will play their first division game, have not won a road game since Dec. 6, 2020, when they topped the Bears 34-30 at Soldier Field. The Vikings beat the Green Bay Packers, 23-7, in the opener.

Five things to watch as the Lions (1-1) face the Vikings (1-1):

1. The Lions’ defense has given up an average of 152 rushing yards in the first two games. They’ll have their hands full with Vikings running back Dalvin Cook who has 26 carries for 107 yards along with seven catches for 37 yards. He’s still looking for his first touchdown. The biggest thing with him and we do have a lot of respect for him, I think he’s one of the best backs in the league,’’ said Todd Wash, Lions defensive line coach. “We believe they’re going to feed him this week and try to get him going. With him when it looks like he might hit a hole, he might hit one on the opposite side. He’s similar to Le’veon Bell. He might be in one spot, that doesn’t mean he’s going to stay there. He never stops his feet, he runs hard, heck of a jump cut. We have to be disciplined with our gap accountability and stay a little bit longer than we normally do to not allow a cutback.’’ So far defensive tackles Alim McNeil and Isaiah Buggs have been key to the Lions run defense.

2. Campbell said Jared Goff has been efficient. The quarterback needs to build on that. The LIons offense is tied for second in the NFL scoring 35.5 points per game and ranks fourth in total offense averaging 405.5 yards per game. So far Goff is 41 of 71 for 471 yards, six touchdowns, one interception and a 100.1 quarterback rating. “I thought he’s gotten us in the right play. I think he’s been pretty steady. I think when things haven’t gone perfect he’s always snapped back and finished the game strong,’’ Campbell said. “And man, he’s – listen, there’s a number of things we’ve been doing we’re asking him to get us into the right play in the pass game as well and he’s doing that. Man, he’s getting us into the right look, right play-call, and then he’s finding these receivers.

3. Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and running back D’Andre Swift have been off to remarkable starts in the first two games. Wouldn’t expect them to let up now. The Vikings defense has given up 412 yards per game which ranks 29th in the NFL, one spot ahead of the Lions who have given up 425.5 yards per game. Give part of the credit to offensive coordinator Ben Johnson who has called the offense, but both of those guy are turning heads around the NFL.

4. It’s the first road game for the Lions this season. Campbell said most of the stress will be on the offense. “It really is communication where the most stress comes on your offense, because there’s been so much that’s been verbalized and you’re able to do that at home. On the road you can’t do it any more, not at a place like this where we’re going,’’ Campbell said. ”It’s been a while since we’ve tried to function or had to function like that. … I really believe that the key is us being able to be efficient with everything we do. It starts with (Jared) Goff and goes to the offensive line as well as the receivers. Defensively you’re used to not being able to verbally communicate, now it’s that switch it’s us being on the same page with how we communicate.’’

5. Injuries have been a factor in the Lions first two games but they’ve been able to go 1-1 despite key offensive line injuries, among others. This game they’ll be without defensive lineman John Cominsky who had thumb surgery on Tuesday and left guard Jonah Jackson (finger) for the second straight week. It’s expected Dan Skipper will get the start again for Jackson. Center Frank Ragnow (foot) could be back on the line while Aidan Hutchinson (thigh), T.J. Hockenson (hip) and D’Andre Swift (ankle) are questionable but could play.

(Prediction: Lions 28, Viking 24. Minnesota is coming off a loss on Monday night game and the Lions seem to have momentum.)

Amon-Ra St. Brown named NFC offensive player of week

ALLEN PARK — Going into Week 3 of the NFL, wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is a big reason that the Lions have the NFL’s fourth-ranked offense.

St. Brown was named the NFC’s offensive player of the week for his production in the win over the Commanders on Sunday when he had nine receptions, while setting career highs in receiving yards (116), receiving touchdowns (2), rushing yards (68) and yards from scrimmage (184). He set the NFL record for most consecutive games (6) with 8 receptions and a touchdown.

“I would say for me I’m looking to do much more than just be the player of the week,’’ St. Brown said on Wednesday. “That’s just this week. I’m looking to do a lot more this season as a team and individually. It’s a new week I already forgot about last week.’’

On Sunday at the Minnesota Vikings, St. Brown will need eight receptions to establish a new NFL record with nine straight games with 8-plus catches. He also needs one touchdown reception to establish a new team record by producing a TD catch in 7 straight games. 

“I would say I take pride in consistency, that’s something I take very seriously. But the record, it is what it is, I don’t go into the game thinking let me get this record. It kind of happened. Obviously last game I knew the record was at stake, the record I broke,’’ St. Brown said. “Going into it I was just playing ball and it happened how it did. Obviously next week if I get 8 more I will break another record. I go into the game just playing ball. I think the moment you start thinking about things like that is the moment you start playing slow, doing things you wouldn’t normally do.’’

St. Brown exudes a quiet confidence. When asked if he considers himself one of the top wide receivers in the league, he didn’t hesitate to say, “I feel that way,”

Quarterback Jared Goff said the stats are crazy but he hasn’t been forcing the ball to St. Brown.

“It hasn’t felt like we’ve been like trying, like we’ve got to get him involved. It’s just kind of the way the flow is going,’’ Goff said. “He runs good routes, he gets himself open. Again, it hasn’t felt forced. It’s been natural and he’s done a great job.’’

In his second year, St. Brown has turned heads around the NFL for his accomplishments as a fourth-round pick in 2021. 

It still irks him that he was drafted so late. He mentioned that the Commanders drafted wide receiver Dyami Brown before him in the third round, but he didn’t see him much in the game. Dyami Brown played but doesn’t have a catch so far this season. The Vikings didn’t draft a wide receiver before him, but as he pointed out they didn’t draft him either.

Coach Dan Campbell said on Wednesday that GM Brad Holmes was a fan of St. Brown’s early in the draft process before they selected him in the fourth round out of USC.

“I know for me, watching him reminded me of Jarvis Landry (Saints wide receiver) —  his competitive nature, he played smart. He was an aggressive player with the ball in the air, he would attack the football, you saw him block downfield, he was versatile, he had quickness and really the only thing he didn’t have he wasn’t a 4.3 guy,’’ Campbell said. “But everything else were traits we felt like fit us and he’d be a natural fit in the slot.

“In general as a group you want versatility, you want a little of everything — you want pure route runners, you want speed, you want size, craftiness, quicks and I feel like we have that in that room we have the right blend of guys who are all a little bit different and unique in what they could do,’’ the coach added.

Obviously St. Brown’s teammates may be his biggest fans.

“(The records are) very cool for him and it means he’s doing the right thing absolutely, and it means we’re somewhat on the right path as well for being able to get a guy who’s that good that often,’’ quarterback Jared Goff said. “The more popular he gets, the more notoriety he gets, people are going to have plans for him so you’re going to see those players like him go from where he’s at right now to really special and that’s where we hope he goes.”

Lions pull together and hang on for 36-27 win over Commanders

DETROIT – Through the years, under a variety of coaches, the Lions have folded down the stretch in games and seasons. Big leads don’t necessarily lead to big wins. That’s just how it has been.

It appears — and it’s early in the season — that is starting to change. 

As proof, the Lions held on for a 36-27 win over the Washington Commanders on Sunday at Ford Field. 

Detroit jumped out to a 22-0 lead at the half, but everyone in the stadium knew the game was far from over, the win far from assured. Offense, defense and special teams all pitched in to seal the victory putting the Lions at 1-1.

“It feels good to win. There’s a lot of hard work that’s put in across the board. The best thing about it is our guys trust in the system, they believe in what we’re doing as coaches and the schemes and they believe in how we’re setting up for success,’’ coach Dan Campbell said. “They believe in the plan and they execute the plan.”

Not to mention they have solid coaching, depth at key spots and budding superstars like D’Andre Swift, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Aidan Hutchinson.

One third-quarter series was a microcosm of what happened in the game.

The Commanders had just scored a touchdown to close the gap to 22-15 with 4:30 left in the third. If ever the Lions needed the offense to come through, this was the time.

On first down, they called a play they’ve had in their hip pocket for a time just like this. St. Brown performed it (with a little help) to perfection for a 58-yard gain. 

“So that whole first half I was motioning across, almost every drive, running across. I feel as a defense at some point you don’t pay a mind to it,’’ St. Brown explained. “This was a play we had in this week and we knew if we got it, it would hit big. Q (Quintez Cephus) had a great block, Craig (Reynolds) had a good fake. No one knew I had the ball. I don’t think the safety who was looking at me knew I had the ball. All I hear from the defense is ‘Oh sh-t.’ I knew that was a big play.’’

St. Brown blames the Jumbo-tron for not scoring. It’s a second or so behind and when he looked up, he was going to start high-kicking when he got tackled at the Commanders’ 17-yard line.

Next play, quarterback Jared Goff was sacked. The 5-yard loss didn’t deflate the offense, instead it seemed to pump them up.

On second-and-15, Goff’s pass to T.J. Hockenson was incomplete. Then on third-and-15, Goff threw a pass short right to Swift. He fell but was untouched by the defense, so he got up and ran in for the score.

At first look, Goff thought at least it was good for a first down, then he watched Swift get up and run into the end zone. Even better.

That touchdown and extra point boosted the lead to 29-15 which was key.

St. Brown set team and NFL records with nine catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns along with two carries for 68 yards.

“He’s as steady as they come, he’s as steady as a rock. You can always depend on what he’s going to bring every day. Not just on Sunday, but on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday,’’ Campbell said. “He’s been that way since he walked in the door as a rookie and nothing has changed. He expects a lot of himself and us as a team and that offense and he’s reliable, he’s a good athlete and he’s explosive and he’s strong.’’

The offensive line featured three non-starters in the middle and they performed. Campbell noted them before he took questions after the game. Dan Skipper, who had never played guard in an NFL game, started at left guard. Evan Brown was in at center for Frank Ragnow (toe) and Logan Stenberg got his second straight start at right guard.

They certainly got some help but without them there is no way the Lions would have rushed for 191 yards 

The defense, which had a stranglehold on the Commanders in the first half allowing them just 56 total yards, softened up in the second half. 

Rookie defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson sacked Carson Wentz three times in the first half — his first three NFL sacks. In the opener he was OK, but Campbell said he had no worries. It’s clear why.

“You learn from stuff and you move on. I don’t think that I played bad in the first game. But definitely, I had a lot more opportunity I felt in this game and I made the most of it,’’ Hutchinson said. “Yeah, I think I played good in both games but definitely, I made the most of my opportunities in this game.”

When Wentz wasn’t sacked — the Lions got him five times — he was pressured early and often. 

“All those guys up front, they did a good job. They were much better than last week because they were much more disciplined,’’ Campbell said.

The defense played like a group possessed in the first half and made key plays when it mattered in the second like Will Harris’ interception of Wentz in the third quarter.

 “I think we just came into the game prepared. Came in with the mentality, ‘Last week wasn’t good enough.’ So this was an opportunity to correct some of those mistakes and hone in on the details,’’ said cornerback Jeff Okudah who left the game in the fourth quarter due to cramping.

Building this Lions team is a process which started last year with a 3-13-1 record.

It’s clear after Sunday’s win they are moving in the right direction in all three areas including the offense.

“We scored 35 last week, scored 36 this week, and you still feel like, ‘Ah, but that – but that one.’ And I can’t think of a few ones off the top of my head, but that one would have really blown the game wide open, and that’s our next step, right? That’s our next step of going – becoming that maybe more mature, understanding-the-moment team, being able to take those – take advantage of those opportunities and it starts with me,’’ Goff said. “I’ve got to hit some of those throws and really get on the same page with those guys. We are, just it’s more reps and making sure we know the landmarks and everything, it’s mostly me. But like you’re saying, it’s – we feel good about what we did today, but there’s so much more out there for us.”

(Up next: Lions (1-1) at Minnesota Vikings (1-0 with game scheduled for Monday night), at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 25.)