Five things to watch as Lions try to win 3 straight at Giants; plus prediction

It’s been five years since the Lions have won three games in a row. They’ve got a chance to snap that streak when they play at the New York Giants on Sunday.

Detroit, which started the season 1-6, is coming off wins against the Packers and on the road at Chicago. Game day experience for the rookies is paying benefits. Despite the early losses, coach Dan Campbell still believed in his team. He always said he believed they were close. A win at the Giants would be another huge step in the team’s growth.

“No, we’re not changing anything we do, we’ve got to continue to – everything we’ve preached since really day one, we’re still preaching the same things. We tweaked a couple of things schematically, but ultimately, I mean nothing has changed,’’ Campbell said. 

“So, it’s just about continuing to grow, gain your confidence and when you have an opportunity to make a play, we’ve got to make more plays than they did. And really, we just talked about some of the reasons, but we were more disciplined,’’ he added.

Five things to watch as the Lions(3-6)  face the Giants (7-2):

1. Giants running back Saquon Barkley carried a season-high 35 times in the Giant’s win over Houston last week. He’s a beast who must be stopped by the Lions defense that has given up 160.9 rushing yards per game. So far this season he’s averaging 4.7 yards per carry with six rushing touchdowns. “He is dangerous. He can run between the tackles, but if he finds a crease, and those guys push on him enough upfront, they’ll bang away at you, but he’s got enough patience, and if he can find that crease, he’s got breakaway speed,’’ Campbell said. “He’s got strength to get through the hole, and he can turn a routine run into an explosive run like that. You see him on the perimeter, and he gets an edge, he’s gone. So, that’s where he’s just different. He’s got this dynamic speed about him among other things. So we say it all week, but I mean gap responsibility, and everybody’s got to do your job, and we can’t have one error, one bust, one guy out of position because that’s all it’ll take for them to get something big out of it, turn it into points.’’

2. Detroit’s defense is young but they’ve been on the field to help seal the two recent wins. It’s a learning experience that will carry forward. “I think the most important thing is for the players because listen, they hear so much negativity that it’s tough. But again, man, if you just keep yourself in this cocoon like we have done and just go out there and improve and continue to believe in who we are, believe in this team, believe in the defensive players that’s around. Listen, we’re young and we know that, but again like just to get a chance to do that and to feel that, that just breeds winning,’’ defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “I’ve been a part of that. I’ve seen that happen. I’ve seen the change to where, man, once you start to do that and once guys start understanding and believing it, and understanding how to win, those things start to really propel you as a team in general.”

3. Week to week rookie defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson is developing. So far he leads all NFL rookies in sacks with 5.5. No other rookie has more than three. Notably he has an interception too. It’s not just about the stats, though. “Every week he gets a little bit better, and he makes a few more plays. He learns pretty quickly. Look, there’s still things that happened to him, but he doesn’t make those same mistakes twice, which is what you’re looking for,’’ Campbell said. “And one of the things that we appreciate about him, not only is he growing, but he is an asset in the run game and the pass game. He’s all encompassing. I mean he plays with a high motor, he plays with technique, he’s relentless. I mean, hell, he got a critical holding penalty the other day just trying to violently shed the block, and that’s a 10-yard penalty against them and knocks them back to second-and-18, which turns into (Jeff) Okudah’s touchdown, so everything – there’s things that you see all the time, and then there’s indirect production that we’re getting out of him that’s good, but he’s growing. He’s getting better. I mean he’s still – he’s got a long ways to go, but every week, he gets a little better.”

4. The offense, which started the season on fire, has not been quite as explosive in recent weeks. One reason could be that they are missing key wide receivers like D.J. Chark and Josh Reynolds. Chark, who was on injured reserve, was back at practice on Wednesday so he’s getting closer. Reynolds (back) is officially listed as questionable for Sunday. Quarterback Jared Goff said he’s getting used to throwing to different receivers. “We’ve had a lot of guys kind of in and out of the lineup. You kind of stop asking who’s up this week. You just kind of get used to whoever’s going to be in there. We’ll be ready and fill in, and you saw Tom Kennedy last week do a good job and making a big play there at the end, so we have confidence in those guys, but to be honest, whatever happens, happens. I’m somewhat used to there being just kind of a shuffled deck.’’

5. One reason the Lions have been able to stack two wins is because the backups on offense and defense have stepped up. One prime example is wide receiver Tom Kennedy who came through with a huge 44-yard catch on third down in the win at the Bears. Kennedy can play multiple roles which makes him valuable. “He’s better suited at other things, not everything, but he has to do everything for us in case he’s needed, and he is needed right now,’’ Campbell said. “And so, we get in there and it’s a pivotal moment to where it’s – he’s really number one in the read, back to Saint (Amon-Ra St. Brown) is number two and he shows up. And Goff hits his back foot, lets it go, hell of a throw, the protection was great, he wins on the route early and so when called upon he makes a play. But yeah, it’s crucial because you don’t know, you may only get one opportunity, but you have to be there when you’re called upon.”

INs and OUTs: Defensive linemen Charles Harris (groin) and Josh Paschal (knee) are out. Safety DeShon Elliott (concussion), Frank Ragnow (foot), Reynolds (back) and linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez (elbow) are questionable but Ragnow has said he will play. 

(Prediction: Lions 24, Giants  21.)

Five reasons the Lions were able to hold on to beat the Bears, 31-30

On Sunday, Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields was tough to stop, but when it counted the Detroit Lions found a way. 

When it was over Detroit squeaked out a 31-30 win at Soldier Field. It was Detroit’s first road win since Dec. 6, 2020, the first game after Matt Patricia was fired. That makes it the first road win for coach Dan Campbell and the second straight win for the 3-6 Lions.

The Lions were down 24-10 to start the fourth quarter and were able to claw back.

“We got ourselves back in the game. We’ve gotten back in a lot of games but haven’t been able to finish them out. And we got ourselves back in the game and won it,’’ Campbell said. 
“That to me, more than anything else means everything to me, to this team. That’s above ‘on the road.’ The fact that we battled our way back and they stayed true to what they’ve been coached to do and we made the plays we had to to win the game.’’

Tied 10-10 at the half, the Bears scored a pair of touchdowns to take a 24-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Midway through the quarter, D’Andre Swift’s 9-yard touchdown scamper got the Lions back into the game, down 24-17.

Then one minute and 8 seconds later, cornerback Jeff Okudah intercepted Fields and brought the ball back 6 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 24-24.

Of course there was no quit in Fields and he busted through the middle and ran 67 yards for a touchdown with Okudah on his heels as he headed into the endzone. After the extra point was missed, the Bears led 30-24 with 9:11 left. Each team went three-and-out and the Lions got the ball back with 5:23 remaining.

Running back Jamaal Williams completed the 91-yard scoring drive with a one-yard touchdown run. The extra point was good, giving the Lions a 31-30 lead. 

Five of the many reasons the Lions won:

1. Even after the Lions’ final score, the Bears had enough time to get downfield and kick a field goal to win it. But Aidan Hutchinson, Julian Okwara and the entirety of the defense had another plan. In that possession, Fields was sacked twice. Once by Hutchinson on second-and-10, then by Okwara on fourth-and-8. “That’s two weeks in a row where our defense has come up huge. That is a tough offense to play, that quarterback it’s everything we talked about. You can play perfect and play the game you want to play and if you just let him out four plays it will kill you, it could be four touchdowns,’’ Campbell said. “At the end of the day we bottled him up enough and forced him to have to stay in there and make some plays that’s hard for him to do. … Even though we got hurt on a couple of plays they stayed true to it.’’ Fields finished with 13 carries for 147 yards and two rushing touchdowns. He was also 12 of 20 for 167 yards, two passing touchdowns and one interception.

2. Another huge play came with 3:14 left and the Lions needing a touchdown. On third-and-8 from Detroit’s 42, Jared Goff connected with wide receiver Tom Kennedy for a 44-yard gain getting them to Chicago’s 14-yard line. Two plays later Jamaal Williams ran in for the game-winning touchdown. “It doesn’t shock me or surprise me that TK came up with a big play. He’s there when needed and that was big for us,’’ Campbell said.

3. Jeff Okudah’s interception and return for the touchdown early in the fourth was also key. (Notably, Okudah and Fields are both Ohio State products.) “Our defense came up big. When we desperately needed a takeaway we get that and we get points, Jeff (Okudah) makes a heck of a play,’’ Campbell said.

4. The offense had struggled a bit in the win over the Packers a week ago, but came back to life in Chicago. Goff finished 19 of 26 for 236 yards and one touchdown. His only interception was negated by a Bears penalty. “I thought Goff threw the ball well today, it wasn’t perfect all the time but I thought he was feeling it,’’ Campbell said. “He made some pivotal throws when we absolutely needed them. I thought he played quarterback for us very well and, there again, when we needed a huge drive he made some monster plays.’’

5. Over so many losses during so many years, the Lions have shot themselves in the foot with penalties. Not on Sunday. “As a whole our team played very disciplined today overall. We ended up with two penalties, their penalties really helped us,’’ Campbell said. Indeed the Bears were called for nine penalties costing them 86 yards. Also, another tried-and-true method of shooting oneself in the foot is turnovers. The Lions never turned the ball over on Sunday.

BY THE NUMBERS: The Lions only went for it on fourth down once and converted it. That was a fourth-and-2 from the Bears’ 2 in the second quarter. Goff connected with tight end Brock Wright for the score. … Alex Anzalone led the defense with 10 tackles, one pass defense and on forced fumble. Hutchinson had eight tackles and one sack. Julian Okwara had a pair of sacks. … The Bears finished with 258 rushing yards compared to just 95 for the Lions. But Detroit had 228 passing yards compared to 150 for Chicago.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

(Next up: Lions (3-6) at N.Y. Giants (7-2) at 1 p.m., on Sunday, Nov. 20. The Giants topped the Texans 24-16 on Sunday.)

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)