Five things to watch as Lions face Jaguars at Ford Field; plus prediction

In the last month the Lions have knocked down three big barriers: winning on the road, winning back to back; and winning three straight.

After the Thanksgiving loss to the Bills, their next barrier is clear.

“Can we come back off an ‘L’ and be the same team we were when we were on the win streak? That’s the next thing we’ve got to prove we can do,’’ Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said this week. “I know that’s a team deal but defensively can we be the same defense that was on the field stopping people in crucial situations. That’s going to be a huge test for us, guys are really looking forward to that.’’ 

The Lions will have that chance when they face the Jacksonville Jaguars at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Ford Field. The teams, which are both 4-7, are nearly mirror images of each other. Young teams, learning how to win and stay in playoff contention even in December. The Jaguars have won two of their last three including a big win over the Ravens on Sunday.

Rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams was activated on Saturday making him eligible to play on Sunday. Coach Dan Campbell was noncommittal on Friday on whether Williams would make his debut on Sunday. The first-round pick, who is coming off a torn ACL, had his first full practices this week. His speed impressed immediately. “He’s fast. He’s very fast. He’s very, very fast,’’’ quarterback Jared Goff said. Even though he’s active, he might not get a ton of snaps. The Lions usually ease players in after injury.

Five things to watch:

1. There’s not much wiggle room, but the Lions still hold a chance of getting to the playoffs. Campbell said he does not talk to the team about that, he knows they’ve figured it out.  “I think we – everything has to be about this opponent, this next game, I really believe that. And I know there’s a lot of coach speak in that, but I really do man. I think this is – this is a crucial game for us,’’ Campbell said. “We’ve got to be able to get back in the win column, do things right, do what we’ve done over the last three or four weeks here. And you’ve got to go earn a win again, doesn’t matter who that opponent is because there again, they’re playing pretty good football. If we take a step back from where we’ve been, then our chances of winning go way down. So, I think everything has to be about this one. And we have to put our head down and go to work, and do the things right, do all the little things right. And then, six weeks from now, you look up and the dust has cleared and let’s see what happens.”

2. Jags quarterback Trevor Lawrence is hitting stride. The first overall pick in 2021 has thrown six touchdown passes and zero interceptions in the last three games with a quarterback rating of more than 100 in each. Oh, and he’s mobile which poses more challenges to the Lions defense. “When you look at it, every week I feel like, man, if you’re not careful he’ll pick you apart. And they’ll have schemes that they do well, things they hang their hat on, but they’ll attack your coverages and he’s been pretty good,’’ Campbell said. “He doesn’t hold that ball long, he’s going to get it out. But I think that was the icing on the cake for him, to see him driving down the field, man, at the end of that game and make critical throws. He’s playing at a high level and with a lot of confidence, so I don’t have to tell you, man, we’ve got to try to push the pocket on him. We’ve got to challenge a little bit at times and see if we can get him out of rhythm.”

3. Getting a fast start is key for the Lions against a team that has momentum on its side and can win a game late in the fourth quarter. “You’d always love to get to a fast start. We always would want to do that. The three-and-out on defense or offense, you take it all the way down and score a touchdown. There again, I think more than anything you just want to be efficient. You always want it to go perfect, but I think more than anything you just – you want to know that anything that transpires is because the opponent earned it and we didn’t just give it away, whatever that drive or that series is to start the game out,’’ Campbell said. “But yeah, we need to get to a fast start, we need to get a fast start in the third quarter too. We’ve got to be better there. But they are, they’re playing with a lot of confidence.”

4. While Lions running back Jamaal Williams leads the NFL with 13 touchdowns, D’Andre Swift is beginning to be more of a factor in the offense after coming back from injury.  “I thought (Swift) did some good things for us (on Thanksgiving). I thought there – he brought us a little bit of life and he’s – I feel like every week he’s starting to feel better and getting himself back into where he wants to be and where we want him to be,’’ Campbell said. “So, I anticipate him getting a little bit more this week.”

5. Lions defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson and Jags outside linebacker Travon Walker were the top two picks in this year’s NFL draft. They won’t be on the field at the same time, but all eyes will be on the two. Hutchinson, who was named the NFC’s defensive rookie of the month for November, has not forgotten that the Jaguars passed on him. The hometown guy is happy playing for the Lions but seems to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder.  Walker has also got off to a good start. If the Jaguars had drafted Hutchinson, Walker might very well be on the LIons roster. “We really liked Travon, liked him a lot. We were really high on him, and I think he’s what we thought he would be. He’s very versatile, he plays their outside linebacker and base, and then plays their rush end,’’ Campbell said. “He can play both sides, he’s got length, he’s got speed, he’s got power, and he’s – every week he gets a little bit better. So, I think – I think they’ve got a good pick up over there and I think we got a good pick up, so.”

(PREDICTION: Lions 28, Jaguars 24. Should be close.)

Five things to watch as the Lions look to beat the Bills; plus prediction

With the LIons returning home with a three-game win streak, coach Dan Campbell expects Ford Field to be electric on Thanksgiving when they face the Buffalo Bills.

“That was one of the first things I thought of after this (Giants) game on the plane ride home is like, man, this place is going to be – because it’s been good. I mean, it’s been electric and I can only imagine now,’’ Campbell said. “ I already know it’s going to be on fire. … It’s going to be great. It’s going to be great.”

The fans should provide a welcoming atmosphere but the Lions (4-6) have to play a clean game to have a chance to beat the Bills (7-2) who have lost two of their last three.

Campbell said he’s not sure he sees this as a measuring stick kind of game.

“I think any time you win in this League, you have to do some things right no matter who you’re playing and it all comes down to the same things,’’ Campbell said. “And you’re trying to give yourself the best opportunity to win a game, and so to me, if we can do that when we’re competitive and we come out on top by the end of this game then we did things right,’’ Campbell said. “But if we play good clean football, I like our odds.”

The LIons haven’t won a Thanksgiving game since 2016. If they beat the Bills they will have a 4-0 record in November for the first time since 1962, per NFL research. Sixty years is a long time..

Five things to watch as Lions welcome the Bills:

1. Bills quarterback Josh Allen has been on the injury report with a shoulder but Campbell said he looks good on film. Mobile quarterbacks like Allen have found some success against these Lions. Allen, who has passed for 21 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions, is also the Bills’ leading rusher with 483 yards and four rushing touchdowns. Campbell said Allen is much like Bears quarterback Justin Fields.  “(He) can certainly throw in the pocket, throw on the run, can break tackles, run you over, has a quick release, he’s accurate. I mean, he just – he can do it all. He can do everything and does it very well. So, everything starts with him,’’ Campbell said. “We talked about (Giants RB Saquon) Barkley last week, everything starts with this guy. So, to say that you’re going to completely shut that down is hard for any defense, but certainly we’ve got to contain him as much as we possibly can. And I think that a lot of that comes on challenging the perimeter.’’ Fields gashed the Lions with 147 rushing yards and two rushing TDs, but Detroit eked out the win.

2. Detroit’s defense has stepped up its game on takeaways with seven during the three-game win streak. That needs to continue on Thursday.  “We’re going to need them and look, that’s been part of the secret sauce for us. We are getting them and that’s – and that means we’re turning a corner because we are getting them out. And so, we’ve got to continue that trend and if we can put (Allen) in a position to where he feels like he needs to get rid of the ball and we get our hands on it. We have to capitalize, so it’s going to be big for us. It’s been big for us.” On Sunday the Lions picked off Giants quarterback Daniel Jones twice, doubling his interception total for the season.

3. It’s no coincidence that the Lions defense improves from week to week. That’s always the hope when three rookies start. Aidan Hutchinson, who was the NFC’s defensive player of the week, has 5.5 sacks and two interceptions so far. He is developing before our eyes. Same with rooki cornerback Kerby Joseph (who leads the team with three interceptions) and rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez who is everywhere. Wins breed confidence which is just what this young bunch needed.

4. Jared Goff’s command of the offense has also grown over the last three games even though he’s been missing key receivers. D.J. Chark, who returned for 11 snaps on Sunday, is expected to see more action against the Bills. Whoever is up, Goff has been able to get them the ball with much success. That effort is helped in a huge way by running back Jamaal Williams who opens up the passing game. Goff said the Bills do nearly everything well defensively. “They obviously rush the passer well, Von (Miller), and a handful of those guys over there, and they’re just extremely sound,’’ Goff said. “I think it’s got to be the top linebacker duo in the :league if (Tremaine) Edmunds is able to play, and (Matt) Milano, and on the backend, they’re sharp as well. They’re really sound and do a good job and pressure when they need to and create chaos.”

5. While the team has improved week to week, so has Campbell’s coaching. Funny how that works. Last year was his first Thanksgiving game as a head coach and it came up on him fast. It was a lesson learned. Expect the team to be well prepared for the Bills.

(Prediction: Lions 28,  Bills 27) OK, on Sunday I picked the Lions to beat the Giants and got grief for it until afterward. The Bills have the NFL’s second-best offense and their defense allows only 17.4 points per game. Yet, they have lost two of their last three. Numbers aren’t everything – the Lions defense is still ranked 32nd even after shutting down the Giants. After careful deliberation I’m picking the Lions who will be riding an emotional high.)

Five keys to the Lions beating Giants, 31-18, for third straight win

Give Lions coach Dan Campbell credit. While his coaching ability was being questioned after a 1-6 start this season, he remained steadfastly confident that his team was close. He said it repeatedly, loss after loss. He did not waiver.

On Sunday the Lions (4-6) won their third straight game with a 31-18 drubbing of the New York Giants (7-3) on the road. It’s the first time since 2017 the Lions have won three straight. 

In the last three weeks, the offense and defense have worked together to find ways to win. The offense was golden from the get-go when the defense was stumbling. The offense has recovered after a downfall and the defense, which started three rookies, has grown from week to week.

“This is the same team it’s been. It’s the same team that showed up after the Washington game and the week after  that,’’ Campbell said in a postgame media session. “They put in the same amount of work, but when you bank the reps and you continue to talk about these things and you clean up a few things and you know that you’re really only one play away literally and you can’t look at anything outside of that, you just say,  ‘Look, for all the errors or things we made a mistake on the opponent did too, but we made the error that killed us. Now we’re making the plays that are helping us win these. But nothing has really changed as to what we are or what we do. We’re figuring things out.’’

With the win they moved into second place in the NC North. They face the Buffalo Bills (7-3) on Thanksgiving at Ford Field.

The defense, which was ranked 32nd in the NFL entering the game, was in beast mode, The offense came up with key plays.

“Everything that we said we had to do and needed to do to beat this team, we did that for almost all of the game, there were a couple of spots in there,’’ Campbell said. “These guys are playing their asses off and they are starting to figure out a way to win – we all are – it’s a credit to these guys and the coaches.’’

Five of many keys that contributed to the win:

1. Win the turnover battle, win the game. The LIons forced three Giants’ turnovers while the offense never turned the ball over.. Aidan Hutchinson and Kerby Joseph intercepted quarterback Daniel Jones who had gone six games without an interception. Then in the fourth quarter when the Giants were trying to claw their way back Charles Harris forced a fumble and Hutchinson recovered it. In these three straight wins the LIons have created seven turnovers. It’s a focus and they are making it happen. “It becomes contagious. When you’re able to get a couple and you get a couple more. Pretty soon it becomes second nature,’’ Campbell said. “It’s hard to explain but it always starts with effort.’’

2. Giants running back Saquon Barkley, who averaged 103.4 yards per game this season entering the game, was held to 15 carries for 22 yards. His longest scamper was 4 yards. The Lions defense turned him into a nonfactor. “We knew he was the key, we could not let him get going and we did that. … That was huge because everything did run through him,’’ Campbell said. “That was the main focus of our defense this week, they performed it perfectly.’’ Barkley never got going – in the first drive he had six carries for 6 yards.

3. With three rushing touchdowns, Jamaal Williams was the key to the offense. That makes it a dozen for the season for him which is equal to the total rushing touchdowns the Lions had last season. “Look, his production speaks for itself and everything you see and know about him is who he is. He’s all heart — he’s emotion, he’s heart — he just is a steady productive, hard-running, hard-working smart football player,’’ Campbell said. “ If you listed your most consistent players, most dependable consistent players he would definitely be at the top of that list.’’ Williams finished with 17 carries for 74 yards. 

4. Again, it was a game won in the trenches. The defensive line including Hutchinson and Alim McNeill, who was in Daniel Jones face early and often. McNeil and John Cominsky were credited with sacks. McNeil and Isaiah Buggs were credited by Campbell for  clogging up the middle making it tough to get anywhere on the ground. The offensive line created holes for Williams, D’Andre Swift (5 carries, 20 yards) and Justin Jackson (9 carries, 66 yards) especially late in the game when the Lions had a big enough lead that they just wanted to literally run time off the clock. “That’s another credit to this offensive line. It’s not the easiest thing in the world now when you choose to run the ball and the defense knows you’re going to run it and they probably have an idea where they’re going to run it when you get late in the game,’’ Campbell said. “The offensive line finished that game out for us.’’

5. Quarterback Jared Goff and the offense took advantage of Hutchinson’s interception in the  second quarter with an 18-yard effort finishing with Williams’ 4-yard touchdown run which gave the Lions a 10-6 lead. While the defense will get much credit for the win, the offense was in gear through all four quarters. They didn’t play perfectly but also did not shoot themselves in the foot. Goff finished 17 of 26 for 165 yards and zero interceptions. The Lions finished with 325 total net yards.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

BY THE NUMBERS: DeShon Elliott and Will Harris led the defense with 8 tackles each. … Aidan Hutchinson had an interception, a pass defense, a fumble recovery and three tackles. … The Giants were 5 of 13 on third downs while the Lions were a bit better at 6 of 13. The Giants were 2 of 3 on fourth downs while the Lions never attempted one. .. The Giants missed on all three point-after attempts – two bad kicks and an incomplete pass.