Five things to watch as Lions look to bounce back against Bears; plus prediction

While the Chicago Bears have lost eight straight, they aren’t a team that can be overlooked. That’s the word that coach Dan Campbell preached this week.

The Lions (7-8) are still clinging to a playoff dream and need a win against the Bears (3-12) on Sunday at Ford Field to keep that dream alive.The Bears were torched by the Bills, 35-13, on Christmas eve and have lost 11 of their last 12.

“This is the Buffalo Bills as far as we’re concerned,’’ Campbell said.

In their first matchup, Detroit eked out a 31-30 win over the Bears at Chicago on Nov. 13. The Lions are coming off a brutal 37-23 loss at Carolina. 

“I know these coaches, and I know these players and I know what they’re made of, and I just go back to the fact that this team is assembled for a reason. So, there is nothing that would tell me that these guys won’t bounce back,’’ Campbell said. 

Five things to watch:

1. Find a way to stop quarterback Justin Fields. In their first meeting, Fields had 13 carries for 147 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a 67-yard scamper late in the game. He also passed for 167 yards, two touchdowns and one interceptions. “He is the X-factor for that team, and it shows all over the tape,’’ LIons defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “The No. 1 thing that we’ve learned (from the first matchup) is how strong this player is, and we had him wrapped up a couple times in that game. We missed a tackle on him, and listen, he’s an athletic player. He’s going to make some plays. I mean, that’s just the crux. He’s going to do that. The things that we have to do is be able to eliminate the big plays that he’s able to make, and he made a couple of plays against us. So, we have to do everything in our power to be able to stop those plays, and I’m not just talking about him running. I’m talking about him passing the ball also.”

2. Along with stopping Fields, overall the defense has to stop the run. They were pathetic against the Panthers, allowing 320 rushing yards (240 in the first half). They knew Carolina was going to run and yet they looked unprepared. And even after the Panthers got off to a fast start with their ground game, the defense didn’t appear to have any answers. They have to prove they are better than how they played that game. 

3. Lions have to find the same run game they had going early in the season. It’s been a struggle of late. In the loss at Carolina they managed just 45 rushing yards averaging 2.6 yards per carry. That won’t cut it. “So, we’re not even getting our guys back to the line scrimmage and allowing our backs to potentially break tackles or get on the post safety and that’s where early in the year those guys were so dangerous because they were making guys miss at the second and third levels and getting these 50-yard runs,’’ offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said. “And it takes everybody, it’s not just the O-line, tight ends play a big role in it, our receivers got to continue to do some dirty work and us as coaches we’ve got to look in the mirror as well and making sure we’re putting our guys in the right positions because I can tell you right now there’s a few times over the last couple of weeks we’re not putting our guys in good spots. So, we’re addressing that and we’ll make sure that we are sound and giving them a chance.”

4. Jared Goff has gone seven straight games (5-2) without throwing an interception and it’s not because he’s playing it safe. He’s found success with the deep ball. ​​”I felt like he’s been capable of making any throw, second level or deep, and like I said, it really comes down to us getting past the guys. Do we like the matchup on the outside or we feel confident we’re going to get over the top of safeties? And then, like I said, the more reps we get with these wideouts, and see them come down and make a contested catch, the more trust he has to go ahead and pull that trigger,’’ Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said. “I would say he probably could have done it a little bit more last game too. There were a couple other opportunities, so we’re continuing to encourage him to do that, and really start some practice for us where we’re getting in that groove.”

5. No one can say if rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams will have a bigger role against the Bears. In his three games Williams has had just one catch. He was on the field for 11 offensive snaps against the Panthers. He’s building trust with Goff but there’s a ton of competition for the ball. “We try to work in all of our playmakers. He’s certainly in that group, but I think D.J. (Chark)’s shown that he’s going to make big plays for us. (Amon-Ra) St. Brown has been our most consistent player over the course of the season. We’d be getting a lot of criticism if we’re not giving him the touches,’’ Johnson said. “Our backs are really good players when the ball’s in their hands, so I mean we have a lot of talent spread out. Each week, guys have plays in the gameplan, and it’s a matter of whether the situation, the defense allows us to get it to our primary receiver or not. So, no, I don’t think we’re pressing to force the ball to anybody. We’ll continue to do what we’ve been doing, and if that means he gets a 100-yard game this week, then great, but I’d like all of our skill players to have that because really, honestly, they’re dangerous like that. All of them are.’’

(Prediction: Lions 35, Bears 21)


Dan Campbell says Lions will regroup, be prepared for Bears

ALLEN PARK — A closer look at the film showed Lions coach Dan Campbell what happened when his bunch got kicked in the teeth in a 37-23 loss at the Panthers on Saturday.

“There was a lack of aggressiveness, a lack of finish, a lack of detail, a lack of discipline. There were a number of different things that showed up that were very uncharacteristic of how we played and one of the reasons we’d played pretty well (in the 6-1 run),’’ Campbell said on Monday.

The Lions defense was torched by the Panthers — allowing 320 rushing yards — and the Lions’ offense couldn’t get a foothold on the rushing game, finishing with just 45 yards.

It was not complementary football. It was not even close to good football.

“Some of that is the way you start, you get yourself in a bit of a hole, then some guys are trying to make plays and they’re making it worse by not staying true to what their job description is,’’ Campbell said. “We’ve got some new guys playing. Some guys, there were a couple of looks they were getting confused on. It was a little of everything.’’

Campbell was resolute that his team will be ready to face the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Ford Field. On Nov. 13, the Lions eked out a 31-30 win at Chicago, allowing quarterback Justin Fields 147 rushing yards and the Bears 258 rushing yards overall.

Immediately after the Christmas Eve loss, Campbell took the blame for the loss. It was no different on Monday.

“Look I’m just going to say this again, it stings, it’s awful but man it’s the best thing that can happen to us,’’ Campbell said. “I think no matter who you are and whatever you do, some of your best work is when you get your face kicked in – I know not everybody gets their face kicked in. 

“But I know when your back is against the wall and you get trodden on and everything is at its worst you either stay down there or you get up and you come back motivated and upset with calculated energy and aggression and you go so there’s a purpose,’ Campbell said. “I think this is the best thing for us.’’

Because he saw his team’s resilience to win six of seven after that 1-6 start, Campbell seems confident in a turn-around.

“We’ve got the right type of guys who are going to come in here, they’re prideful, they’ll put their best foot forward,’’ Campbell said. “They’ll be ready to go.’’

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.)