Lions defense makes one more play, solidifies 15-9 win over Packers

DETROIT — One more play, that’s what Lions coach Dan Campbell always preaches. Apparently the team was listening because on Sunday, against the NFC North division rival Green Bay Packers, the Lions dug deep and did just that.

It led to a 15-9 win that broke a five game losing streak for the 2-6 Lions. It was the fifth straight loss for Green Bay (3-6).

“I’m proud of our guys. They just don’t go away. They just, they believe they can win every week. They put it in and we made one more play today,’’ Campbell said. “We made one more play than they did to win the game.’’

Campbell gave defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn the game ball.

While the offense scored enough to win, it was the defense that forced three turnovers that was the difference.

“(Glenn) coaches his heart out and he put everything into it, as he always does, and those guys responded,’’ Campbell said.. “We knew we needed takeaways today. A minimum of two is what we talked about, and  Kerby Joseph came up big. Hutch (Aidan Hutchinson) got one. But as a whole, that defense, man, they rose up. You know, I thought we played aggressive. I did think we challenged on the perimeter.’’

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers (3-6) had no answers. Rodgers, who had four interceptions in the first eight games, had three on Sunday and all were in the Red Zone. Two were by rookie safety Kerby Joseph and the other was by rookie defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson.

The Packers had other chances to score. With two minutes left in the fourth quarter Green Bay got the ball back at their own 43 after the Lions failed to convert on a fourth-and-3. Two minutes is a lifetime in the NFL so time wasn’t an issue, the Lions defense was. After converting a fourth-and-2 with a 32-yard pass to Samori Toure, the Packers were at Detroit’s 17-yard line. Four incomplete passes later — again, thanks to sterling defense —, Lions quarterback Jared Goff took a knee for the win.

“Well look, I just think it’s – look, I felt like we had a good plan for (Rodgers). And just how we wanted to play, look, you have to disguise. I mean you have to. And he’ll take it all the way down to the wire to get a bead on what you’re doing. And then, if you have an opportunity, you have to make the most of it, and we did that today,’’ Campbell said.

Leading up to Sunday, Campbell had fired defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant on Tuesday and Brad Holmes had traded tight end T.J. Hockenson for draft picks. Still Campbell was able to get his guys to focus on getting the win.

The Lions got on the board first just before halftime when Goff connected with tight end Shane Zykstra, who was wide-open, from one yard out for a score. Jamaal Williams ran it in for the 2-point conversion. 

Rodgers connected with Allen Lazard for a 20-yard touchdown play, but the two-point conversion failed thanks to a pass breakup from Lions corner Jeff Okudah. So the LIons held an 8-6 lead. 

Early in the fourth quarter, on a third-and-goal from the 3-yard line, rookie tight end James Mitchell caught his first career touchdown. That gave Detroit a 15-6 edge. The Packers’ Mason Crosby kicked a 25-yard field goal. And that was it.

After the win on Sunday, the workhorse Campbell looked emotionally drained.

“Of course it feels good. I’ll be honest with you, I’m exhausted, so like I want to go home, put the feet up, drink a beer. So it feels real good. I’m just proud of them. I really am. I’m proud of our coaches. I’m proud of the players,’’ Campbell said. “I’m proud of everybody because everybody puts a lot of work into it. I know it’s only two (wins), but my gosh man. And there again, to see, end of the game, man, one stop, our defense comes through. I just think we need that, we needed that.’’

NOTES: Safety Kerby Joseph, who ended the game in concussion protocol, had a breakout game with 10 tackles (five solo), three pass defenses and two interceptions. He became the first Lions rookie to produce a two-interception game since S Devon Mitchell in 1986 and the first Lions safety to record a two-interception game since S Louis Delmas in 2013. … Linebacker Derrick Barnes had a career-high 12 tackles (four solo), one tackle for loss, one pass defense and one  sack. He is the first Lions linebacker since Julian Peterson in 2010 to produce a game with at least 10 tackles, one pass defense and a sack. … Rookie defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson logged two assisted tackles, one pass defense and one interception. The first-round pick became the Lions’ fourth rookie defensive lineman to record an interception, joining Ndamukong Suh (2010), Jim Doran (1951) and Thurman McGraw (1950). He joins Suh as the only Lions rookies to produce at least 4.5 sacks and one interception in a season. … The Lions now have 1,073 rushing yards through the first eight games of the season. This marks their most rushing yards through the first eight games of any season since 1998.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions.)

(Next up: Lions (2-6) at Bears (3-6), at 1 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 13)


Lions LB Derrick Barnes impresses, battles for starting role; camp notes

Lions linebacker Derrick Barnes, a fourth-round pick in 2021, has noticed the game slowing down during training camp and the first two preseason games.

Barnes is looking to win a starting role. So far linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard likes what he sees.

“Derrick Barnes is coming, that’s a real thing. That player is a very explosive, very violent, very strong linebacker. For Derrick it’s always been above the neck, it’s not below the neck. He has everything you’re looking for below the neck,’’ Sheppard said.

“To play stack linebacker at a high level, it takes repetition, you can know the playbook all you want, when things are moving you got to know what you’re keying, what you’re diagnosing and in a matter of 2 or 3 seconds be able to ready and go make plays, that takes time,’’ Sheppard said. “And It’s my job as his coach to put him in as many situations as I can possibly do to prepare him for that. That player is a player that I am very pleased with.’’

Sheppard said he wasn’t telling the media anything he had not shared with his players.

As a rookie Barnes played in all 17 games with six starts last season. He finished with 67 tackles (36 solo) and two sacks.

Barnes said he came in during the spring OTAs with a focus on learning the playbook and now hopes to go out and execute. He appreciates the coaches who push him and all the guys in the linebackers room.

“Just the way he coaches, techniques for linebackers to work on, Just the mental aspect like he’s really big on that,’’ Barnes said after Thursday’s camp practice. “That’s helped me out a lot, helped me understand more about football, not only just going out and hitting somebody. Just the route concepts and what the offense is trying to do to the defense.’’

Barnes and rookie Malcolm Rodriguez are pushing each other.

“That’s what the whole room is about, competition. Malcolm is really advanced for how young he is. We learn from each other, he’s a good player and pushes me to be better, that goes around for the whole room,’’ Barnes said.

Backup QB position still open

Coach Dan Campbell wants to see either Tim Boyle or David Blough step up win the backup quarterback position. Both took reps during Thursday’s practice in preparation for Sunday’s preseason game at the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

“I think what we need, is we need somebody to really take the reins, somebody needs to step up out of the two. I thought they both progressed last week,’’ Campbell said.  “Somebody needs to step up and run this offense, play efficient, play smart, take care of the football, get us first downs and when we get to the red zone score touchdowns for us.’’

Campbell said Boyle is likely to get the start on Sunday and will play with the starters. Blough started the second preseason game, a win at the Colts.

Jared Goff started the preseason opener. He will not play on Sunday no matter how much he pleads with Campbell to get playing time. He was at camp on Thursday, but didn’t throw during the team drills.

Returners named

Kalif Raymond will be the punt returner with Godwin Igwebuike returning kicks, according to Campbell on Thursday.

“At the end of the day in the preseason what you’re looking for is guys making explosive plays,’’ special teams coach Dave Fipp said.

“The good news for us is that there are a lot of positions on this roster that are really competitive. I think kick returning stuff is definitely one of those. We’ll see what happens in the last preseason game,’’ he added.

For returners there’s no way to know how much work they might get in the preseason games. It just depends on the flow of the game.

“I would say at the end of the day you only get a handful of reps for punt return, kick return,’’ Fipp said. “You don’t know how many times they’re going to punt the ball. We’ve punted the ball three times in two games. So if you’re playing against us and their returner got three looks, who do you put in. … There’s really no right way to do it.’’

Fipp said he values tape of past regular season games to spot a returner’s strengths.

Five keys from Lions GM Brad Holmes one week before the draft

Of course Brad Holmes is not giving away his draft strategy. Still the Lions general manager, who is entering his second draft with the team, shared a few insights one week before the NFL draft.

The Lions have two first-round picks (No. 2 and 32) when the draft kicks off at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 28. Overall they have eight picks over the three-day event.

“Right now, we’re in a good place. There are still things that are fluid here and there, there is still some new information coming in as we speak. But we’re confident in our process up to this point,’ Holmes said at a pre-draft press conference on Thursday.

Even though Holmes had a decent draft a year ago, the Lions are coming off a three-win season. That point can’t be overlooked. The team was young and due to injuries many younger players got thrown into the fire. Some found success, others got a little singed but could be better for the experience.

He would not rule out taking a quarterback with the No. 2 pick, insisting he is looking for a game-changer at that pick and every pick. “So, if that position is a quarterback, then it’s a quarterback. Just because often, it’s been slated that, well, picking up there, it’s either going to be a quarterback or a pass rusher or a tackle and all that type of stuff. But look, I said from Day One, give me a game-changer at any position, and there are multiple positions where we do see that potential game-changers could be there in the future,” Holmes said. “Time will tell of course however they develop.”

Five of the key highlights from Holmes on Thursday:

1. With the second overall pick, it’s not just a matter of nailing down his top two prospects. “Anything can happen (on) any day, I will say that. But it’s not just narrowing it down to your top two. You better have your top five. You better have your top 10 in place because you just don’t know what’s going to happen each day,’’ Holmes said. “We do have it narrowed down, and we feel confident where we’re at with how we have it pared down. We’ll just let the process unfold.”

2. He is confident that Dan Campbell and the coaching staff can once again prepare rookies for Sundays in the NFL.  “Like I said, we’re very fortunate and we’re very blessed, and to get into position to have a coaching staff that has a passion of developing, and the proof’s in the pudding. It’s proven; they’ve actually done it. So, it gives you a lot of optimism,’’ Holmes said. Last year’s top pick, right tackle Penei Sewell, was a starter from the get-go. But the staff also got several rookies to contribute including linebacker Derrick Barnes (fourth round) who started six games and played in 17  and wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (fourth round) who also started six games and played in all 17.

3. Holmes and his scouting staff aim to find the right balance for a prospect between his college production and potential. “You can’t ignore production, but you’ve also got to look at those critical factors of the actual player. Is he doing everything in his power, does he have the skillset, does he have the traits to do certain things? Does he have the football character? There’s a lot of different factors that can come in that can project to more production when they get into the NFL. How were they used in their scheme in college versus what our scheme is going to be? There’s a lot of different factors that go into that, but you definitely can’t ignore the actual production because that’s real (and) factual,’’ Holmes said.

4. While no one will downplay the importance of the draft, last year Holmes was able to work undrafted prospects like cornerbacks Jerry Jacobs and A.J. Parker into the lineup. That fact could play into draft-weekend decisions. “It just gives you confidence that we were able to identify some of those guys. Being that those guys have a year under their belt, they carry that invaluable experience that they have and that play time into this year. So, yeah, absolutely. It kind of affects a little bit how you look at it, like you can’t forget about those guys. It gets you excited about what those guys are going to be this year coming up,’’ Holmes said.

5. Holmes and coach Dan Campbell proved last season that they don’t look at pedigree or draft credentials when it comes time to getting the best players on the field. “Dan and I have always said you can call us the land of opportunity, but we don’t care where you come from. … If you step in this building, you’ve got an opportunity to compete and it doesn’t matter where you come from. You can talk about meritocracy, in the sense of whoever’s the best is the best. Well, that’s kind of how we approach it because of undrafted free agents.”