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.)