Five things to know about Lions hosting Bengals

Five games, five losses.  Looking for their first win, the Lions are back at Ford Field on Sunday to face the Cincinnati Bengals (3-2). 

If you’re thinking the Lions are feeling sorry for themselves because they’ve lost two of the last three games with 50-yard plus field goals and have the distinction of being the only team that’s been on the losing end of that situation.

“I think you’re always affected by (losing). I don’t think you can not be affected by it. It’s good to be mad. It’s good to be pissed off. It’s good to be wanting to be better,’’ quarterback Jared Goff said this week. “I think the scary thing is if it went numb, right? If everyone’s out here just, ‘Oh, whatever.’ I don’t believe that’s the case and I don’t believe that will ever be the case. So, it’s definitely a thing that we have amongst us, that energy, that forward thinking of, ‘We can’t keep letting these get to us.’”  

It’s another week which means a few more players placed on injured reserve and the positive thought that this train will get back on track sometime soon.

Five things to watch on Sunday: 

1. Getting off to a better offensive start might just save the heartache of a last second winning field goal from the opponent. But the Lions have been outscored 82-33 in the first half of the five games and ball security too often is just a dream. “We’ve had four turnovers in the last couple of weeks in scoring territory. When we improve in that area – and that can start with me – the play selections, our calls when we get in those areas, but it also starts with our protection and our quarterback decision making,’’ offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said. “We can all get better in that area and we plan on doing that, but having four turnovers in scoring territory, that’s been tough not coming away with points in those situations.” 

2. The defense, which at times looks painfully young, has had a few good stretches. Just ask coordinator Aaron Glenn who said he is proud of the defense. “Each week, you continue to see improvement. It’s something we talk about each week about how we want this defense to operate, to be able to fight the way that they fight,’’ Glenn said. “You’re starting to see a little swagger with them. You’re starting to see a little bit more anticipation as far as plays are concerned. Each week – for the last three weeks, we’ve forced a turnover. We’re hitting the quarterback, we’re getting sacks.’’

3. A big reason for the defense’s success so far is Charles Harris who has a four-game sack streak going.  “First and foremost is (his) talent has always been there. A lot of times as a coach, you have to make sure you can match that talent with a scheme that allows him to go out there and be successful, and that’s one thing we as coaches we pride ourselves on is to make sure that as much as we can, each player makes sure whatever they do best, you put them in those positions to be able to successful and we try to do that with Charles,’’ Glenn said. “Right now, he’s hitting the quarterback and getting the sacks that we expect him to get and we want to continue to do it with him along with everybody else and what they do well …:

4. Although Campbell would never use it as an excuse, his coaching staff is still getting to know each other in its first season together. But he thinks there has been growth so far. “We have because it’s – first of all, just being able to work together and get through all of these – get through just all of the ins and outs of working with one another, then working with me, game day, and building game plans together,’’ Campbell said. “You figure a lot out about each other. Really, no different than players, but what the strength of your staff is. Some excel at different areas than others and, how do you blend that and how do they complement each other? And so, it’s evolving and you’re figuring it out and that’s as big of a part of it as the players as well. And then inside of that, you do. You get the injuries, and so you’re kind of adapting to that and where you go. It’s getting better, but it is. It’s a process.”

5. With a young team there are many learning situations, including closing out a game: “I think you have to try to put yourself in as many of those situations as you can in preparation for games. But then, yeah, you just – the only way to gain confidence is to prove you can do it in a game and be there and have found a way to finish out because now you know what that feels like,’’ Campbell said. “You know what it looks like, you understand what the pressure is and you overcome it. You find a way to make that one extra play, or that one less mistake that your opponent made to win. So, absolutely. You are eventually trying to train yourself to find a way to win those games and understand the pressure that you’re put under to perform and not crack.”

PREDICTION: Bengals 34, Lions 24

Five reasons Lions lost heartbreaker to Vikings, 19-17

There are heartbreakers and then there are HEARTBREAKERS. For the second time in three games, the Lions have lost to opponents kicking field goals of 50 yards plus with no time remaining.

Coach Dan Campbell wiped away tears as he stepped to the podium for his post-game presser on Sunday after Detroit lost 19-17 to the Vikings thanks to a 54-yard field goal with no time left. 

Two weeks ago Detroit lost to the Ravens by the identical score after an NFL record-setting 66-yard field goal.

Credit goes to Campbell for finding a way to keep his bunch in the loss at Minnesota on Sunday.

“I do think in the long run this is going to pay dividends for us,’’ Campbell said. “As ugly as it is right now and hard to swallow, I do think we are building something special here that’s going to serve us well in the long term.’’

It wasn’t over until it was over. D’Andre Swift scored a touchdown on a 7-yard scamper to get within one point. Then Campbell made the bold call to go for the win instead of the tie. Jared Goff connected with KhaDarel Hodge for the 2-point conversion to give the Lions a 17-16 lead with 37 seconds left. 

The Vikings had a pair of timeouts in their pocket and were able to get in field goal range, in part due to Kirk Cousins passes to Adam Thielen for 19 and 21 yards. Greg Joseph kicked the game-winning 54-yard field goal.

So close. Again.

“We’re going to be on the winning side of these before long, hopefully sooner than later,’’ Campbell said. “It’s coming. I don’t know when, but it’s coming when you play that way and fight that way. Clean up a couple of these mishaps that shot us in the foot, our days to be on the winning side of that are coming.’’

Five things to know about the loss:

1. Quarterback Jared Goff had two key turnovers. When he was sacked late in the first quarter and fumbled the ball with the Vikings recovering. Then he was intercepted by Eddie Kendricks early in the third quarter. This loss is not all on him, but he’s got to be better. The makeshift offensive line (missing Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow due to injury) needs to protect him better too. Goff finished 21 of 35 for 203 yards. 

2. Back to the offensive line. Remember when Penei Sewelll looked so good filling in for left tackle Taylor Decker in the first game or two? He’s playing like a rookie now, mostly good plays but big mistakes now and then that are costly. Decker was on the sideline giving him pointers. Sewell, who just turned 21 on Saturday, will learn and in the meantime he will see Everson Griffen in his nightmares.

3. Surprisingly the Vikings didn’t attempt a pass on every down. The Lions inexperienced secondary could not keep up. Vikings’ wide receiver Justin Jefferson had seven catches for 124 yards. Tracy Walker had a solid game and there were a few good plays sprinkled throughout but not enough. Still Campbell said he thought the defense played “lights out.”  They held the Vikings to just one touchdown.

4. The Lions have a decent running game. If they were winning games, the speedy duo of D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Willams would be getting more credit. They combined for 108 rushing yards in the loss. Williams had 57 while Swift had 51 rushing yards and the lone touchdown.

5. Were there calls the coaches would like back? Sure. But Campbell explained they were tied to risk-reward. He’s learning this young bunch’s strengths and weaknesses and game-planning around that. He went for field goals on fourth down on Sunday instead of like the previous week when he tried to convert. A loss is a loss, but he’s not letting this team get blown out. And he refuses to let them hang their heads.

UP NEXT: Cincinnati Bengals (3-2)  at Lions (0-5), 1 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 17. The Bengals lost, 25-22, to the Green Bay Packers in overtime on Sunday.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

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.