Results of all the work in training camp and the offseason will come into focus for the 2022 season when the Lions open against the Philadelphia Eagles at 1 p.m. on Sunday at a sold-out Ford Field.
Coming off a 3-13-1 season, expectations are mostly high. That was fed by the Lions’ star treatment on HBO’s “Hard Knocks.” Still, coach Dan Campbell doesn’t think that adds more pressure. The team has picked up fans from around the country. The top selling Lions jerseys are Aidan Hutchinson and Malcolm Rodriguez who both turned out to be stars on the show.
“I know that it’s going to be a packed house, and I mean you couldn’t ask for anything more when you’re opening up the season. Us being at home, man, it’s the first one, and it’s going to be electric. And this is what we talked about,’’ said Campbell entering his second season. “Man, when I came in last year, that’s where we want to get it to a point to where, man the fans are excited, and they’ve got some hope, and now it’s our job to keep them in it, and keep them excited, and to know that we’re in there, and we’re in it. At the end of the game, we find a way to win. So, no, look – the ‘Hard Knocks’ deal, it doesn’t change any of our expectations in this building about who we are, where we’re at, where we need to go. That’s not for us to decide. All we’ve got to do is worry about what we worry about every day, man.’’
Campbell and his staff aren’t into predictions. No one has mentioned the ‘P’ word even if they’re thinking it. Instead it’s the old one day at a time philosophy. Campbell said he had talked with Lions principal owner Sheila Ford Hamp.
“I said, ‘You know what, here’s where we’re at. We’re better. We’re better than we were this time last year, and that’s where it is.’ Now, what does that mean? It means we’re better than we were this time last year. I don’t know what that equates into, I just know we’re better. So, look, ‘Hard Knocks’ can make anyone look good, so I mean, that’s what TV does. They can make anything look good. They’re going to pull the best of the best, and so that’s not reality,’’ Campbell said. “Reality is what we’re getting ready to do, and what we’ve been doing every day in practice and all the reps we’ve banked, and these guys playing together, communicating, and that’s reality. That’s all we can worry about is how we see it in this building and go to work.”
Five things to watch for on Sunday:
ONE Jared Goff is a different quarterback heading into this season and he’s working under a new offensive coordinator in Ben Johnbson. Goff said the transition has been smooth and, in fact, better than he could imagine. “The trust he has in me, and the amount of questions he asks me, and vice versa, the amount of questions I can ask him. And his responsiveness, and how great he is at listening, all that stuff is so helpful for a quarterback and I don’t take it for granted,’’ Goff said. “He’s a great coach and someone I’m excited to work with.”
TWO Defensively, shutting down quarterback Jalen Hurts is key. His mobility sets him apart from many in the NFL. “Here’s the thing you have to be careful with when you’re playing a player like that. Sometimes you can overcoach a player to be so careful that you’re not getting a rush,’’ Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “Obviously rushing is important but most important I’m not going to sit back and tell Charles (Harris) and Aidan (Hutchinson) to sit back, man we’re going after this guy and we have to have other guys play off him also. Do we want to be reckless? No, we don’t want to do that. We have to be assignment sound and play hard, physical football.’’ Last season in the Eagles 44-6 win over the Lions, Hurts rushed for 71 yards on 7 carries and was 9 of 14 for 103 yards passing.
THREE One of the Eagles’ keys on defense is cornerback Darius Slay who got his start in the NFL with the Lions. He’s 31 but still effective. “I think that when you have ability and as you continue to develop through the years you still have plenty of ability, but you just gain knowledge of the game and how you play different receivers, what you can get away with and what you can’t, that’s where you’ve seen him grow,’’ Campbell said. “That’s why he’s still playing at a high level. … He knows exactly who he is and what he’s capable of. … I know they feel good about him over there and I understand why.’’
FOUR Entering his second season, Campbell is amped up. His intensity was visibly higher this week starting with Monday’s press conference. He said it’s hard to say just one thing that makes him excited for the season to start. “ I’m just most excited now that it’s – that now we’re in the arena. There’s no more standing outside waiting for the gates to open, man. We’re going in, and so now there’s nowhere to run,’’ Campbell said. “There’s nowhere to hide. It’s just us. And the heat’s on, and if you don’t love that, you don’t belong up here. So, I’m most excited about that, and I’m most excited about just I think – I do believe we have a gritty group, and I think we’re tough, and I think we’re physical, and we’ve got to play with our hair on fire. And I think we will, so I’m excited about that.”
FIVE The Lions start the season with a banged-up offensive line. The big loss is right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai who injured his back, was placed on injured reserve and will miss at least the first four games of the season. Tommy Kraemer, who could have stepped in at right guard, is out with a back injury according to Friday’s report. He didn’t practice this week. Center Frank Ragnow (groin) is questionable to play. He had limited practice on Friday after sitting out on Thursday. Campbell and offensive line coach Hank Fraley moved the linemen around during camp so they should have multiple options. Also, defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike (back) is out while safety Ifeatu Melifonwu (hamstring) is doubtful. Linebacker Julian Okwara (hamstring) is also questionable.
PREDICTION: Eagles 28, Lions 21. Detroit is a better team than last year but Philadelphia will just prove to be too much.