Lions Dan Campbell sees encouraging signs from young defense

After hitting rock bottom two weeks ago, coach Dan Campbell said he sees the Lions climbing back out of the depths even after the 24-6 loss at Dallas.

“I’m encouraged by our defense, it was encouraging. It’s hard to lose but when you watch the way they played yesterday and I told them, I said this last night, they played exactly the way we practiced,’’ Campbell said on Monday. “It was high energy, they were intense, they were urgent, we got a ball out – we got a turnover. You could feel the pressure on third down. We hit the quarterback early. We challenged on the perimeter, our secondary was coming down hitting and tackling.’’

The Lions fell to 1-5 after the loss. The defense has been at the bottom of the NFL standings in points per game and yards allowed. For the talent on that side of the ball, more was expected.

After rock bottom — the 29-0 loss to the Patriots — Campbell, his staff and players took the bye week to examine what was going on, on both sides of the ball but defense was more of an issue. Even though the Lions offense was shut out in that Patriots game, it was one of the NFL’s most high-scoring offenses up to that point.

Defensively, coordinator Aaron Glenn and Campbell made changes including benching veteran defensive lineman Michael Brockers. Campbell called him a “pro’s pro” and said he is willing to help the younger guys even if he’s not playing.

Campbell said the loss was Jeff Okudah’s best game since he’s been in Detroit and it’s exactly how he practiced last week. He also noted that Julian Okwara had his best game.

“That’s encouraging because when your defense begins to start finding their way there a little bit, you’ve got a chance. It’s a credit to A.G. We changed a few things, kind of went back to what we were doing last year, just the way we played those big boys up front. Getting Hutch (Aidan Hutchinson) up in the 2-point, having (Josh) Paschal back and (John) Cominsky. I thought they all showed up.’’

He also noted the physical play of cornerback Amani (Oruwariye) who had been benched for the Patriots’ game and finished with 15 tackles on Sunday. Also, Campbell was pleased with rookie Kerby Joseph who forced a fumble in the red zone. 

“One of the reasons we liked (Joseph), he’s a ball guy. He’s got instincts back there, he’s got range and he’s this close. Every week he’s gotten better and better and better,’’ Campbell said of the third-round pick. “That was huge, we preached takeaways last week and he came up with a big one in the red zone. So he’s trending the right way.’’

The scheme has also changed. 

“We’re going to set edges and funnel everything inside to our backers, our two big guys, now anything pops through there, if it gets out to perimeter between edge setter and your linebacker now you put them in a phone booth for your corner, you don’t have to tackle on the perimeter where you have all that space,’’ Campbell said. “We just felt like it was going to help everybody and it did.”

Four rookies started on defense — Hutchinson, Kerby, Malcolm Rodriguez and Josh Paschal (in his first NFL game). Paschal, a second-round pick, also was called out by Campbell for having an encouraging debut. 

Campbell said he likes the young group because they’re football guys, have good FBI (football intelligence), high motor and ability.

Now about the offense, which was missing running back D’Andre Swift (ankle/shoulder) and wide receiver D.J. Chark (ankle). Plus, wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown was taken out of the game early for a concussion test and not allowed back in under new NFL rules. He was cleared of a concussion and Campbell expects him back for Sunday’s game against the Dolphins.

The defense showed up with a few changes and the addition of Paschal and John Cominsky — and the return of Oruwariye — on Sunday.

Could the offense improve with Swift and St. Brown in the lineup?

“I would say this, it wouldn’t hurt,’’ Campbell said.

Five takeaways: Turnovers costly as Lions lose 24-6 to Dallas Cowboys

Coming off the bye week, the Lions defense played with confidence but the offense struggled in the 24-6 loss at the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. The Lions (1-5) took the early lead and held on with a 6-3 halftime edge, but they could not finish. Detroit turned the ball over five times in the second half. 

Coach Dan Campbell was clearly frustrated with the loss, but said he is not down. 

“There’s things that pop up but that’s what we’re charged with. That’s what I’m charged with. it doesn’t matter who we have or what we’re doing or who we’re playing, the bottom line is you have to find a way to win,’’ Campbell said. “I really felt like we were on track to do that and we made a couple of mistakes that killed us, the turnovers.’’

Five takeaways from the loss:
1. The defense came out on fire. Aidan Hutchinson picked up a half a sack on the third snap and added a full sack later. Cornerback Jeff Okudah stood out with 15 tackles. Campbell said it was Okudah’s best week of practice and best game this season. He also praised rookie defensive lineman Josh Paschal for his explosiveness, versatility, high motor and intelligence in his first NFL game. Corner Amani Oruwariye, who was benched in the last game, was back as a starter and had a good game.. The Cowboys had not started a game with two three-and-outs since 1991 (per CBS). “I told those guys I feel you can win when you play that type of defense, they set the tone for the game, they played hard, they were on point, we were physical on the perimeter,’’ Campbell said.”I thought our corners and safeties really showed up. That was a step in the right direction.”

2. Jared Goff threw two interceptions which pretty much wiped out any success he had in the rest of the game. Goff was sacked five times by the Cowboys’ defense, one of the best in the NFL. He finished 21 of 26 for 228 yards. “There’s no excuse but some of those at the end you’re down a couple of scores, you’re trying to hold it a little bit to find a throw. We’ll look at the tape,’’ Campbell said.

3. It was the second straight game the Lions’ offense has not scored a touchdown. They were 3-of-9 on third-down attempts. Running back Jamaal Williams fumbled twice — losing the second one at the Cowboys’ 1-yard line. Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown suffered a concussion early in the game and was ruled out. He was missed not just for his catches but he excels at blocking. Tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Brock Wright had good showings on National Tight End day with a combined 8 catches for 105 yard. The offense was missing running back D’Andre Swift, who could return next week, and wide receiver D.J. Chark who was placed on injured reserve. “Offensively we played the type of game we needed to play against this opponent minus the turnovers and that’s what killed us – turnovers and inopportune penalties,’’ Campbell said.

4.  Two plays stood out as possibly questionable. On Goff’s first interception by Stefon Diggs it looked like maybe Diggs didn’t not have control of the ball when he hit the turf. However, Campbell said he was told by officials that indeed Diggs had possession. CBS analyst Tony Romo disagreed. Because it was a turnover, Campbell could not ask for a replay. Then when Brock Wright caught a 17-yard pass, there was a question of whether it was a touchdown or if he was stopped just short. Campbell didn’t have a good view, so he was waiting for his guy upstairs to call him and recommend whether he should challenge it. He didn’t get a call (he has a line solely for this purpose) so the next play was run and that’s when Williams fumbled the ball on the 1-yard line.

5. The defense still has work to do but Glenn made changes during the bye week, including benching captain Michael Brockers, that seemed to bring life back into the unit. The offense should immediately improve with the return of Swift. He was close this week, maybe next week against the Dolphins. St. Brown could be out a while going through the concussion protocol. That will hurt the offense too. It’s next man up, but it’s difficult to match the talent of Swift and St. Brown.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

(Next up: Miami Dolphins at Lions, 1 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 30)

Lions offer no excuses after loss to Eagles; still a few positives emerged

DETROIT — The Lions fought back from a 17-point deficit in the third quarter to make it a game, but they came up just short.

Quarterback Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles were just too much and prevailed in a 38-35 win on Sunday in the season opener at Ford Field.

“What mistakes did they make? They really didn’t,’’ Lions coach Dan Campbell said.

The coach made no excuses. His defense allowed 38 points and Hurts provided 333 yards (243 yards passing).

“I was proud we fought our way back, but we’ve got a lot to clean up,’’ Campbell said.

The Lions haven’t won a season opener since 2017. And, again, Campbell and the players made no excuses, but they did find reasons that this team is different from the one that lost 44-6 to the Eagles last season.

“The good news is we didn’t play very well, but we only lost by 3,’’ Campbell said 

Running back D’Andre Swift provided a spark offensively with 144 rushing yards (9.6 yards per carry) along with 3 catches for 31 yards.

Swift credited the execution up front as phenomenal along with the blocking downfield. 

“It’s good but we let one slip away from us,’’ Swift said.

That seemed to be a theme afterward. 

Quarterback Jared Goff (21-37, 215 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception) agreed that they left too much on the field.

“We felt like we could have scored 50 points,’’ Goff said. “We shot ourselves in the foot.’’

His interception which was returned for a touchdown in the second quarter gave the Eagles a 21-7 lead. Goff said it was a matter of miscommunication between him and tight end T.J. Hockenson. 

The Lions offense opened with a 9-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, but then sputtered with three 3-and-outs. Goff found more of a rhythm in the second half and in doing so said they may have found a bit of their offensive identity including explosive plays and going downfield.

The Lions were down 24-14 at the half, but scored three touchdowns in the second half. Ama-Ra St. Brown caught a 4-yard pass, Jamaal Williams scored on a 1-yard run and wide receiver D.J. Chark caught a 22-pass in the corner of the endzone.

The defense had its hands full from the get-go.

“I think in the run game, we did a good job against them. It was more of the pass, drop back, scramble situations that we weren’t able to contain him,’’ linebacker Alex Anzalone (9 tackles) said. “Obviously, that was a focus and a point of emphasis this week, so we’ve just got to figure out how to be disciplined and our rush lanes and where the help is in coverage situations and get it cleaned up.”

Rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez, who drew loud cheers every time his name was mentioned by the P.A. announcer, played against Hurts in college. “He’s very slick and obviously, he’s progressed in the League. He got a couple of runs on us, so we’ve got to fix it. The next day, we’ve got to fix it,’’ Rodriguez said.

 Safety Tracy Walker led the defense with 11 tackles, a sack and a pass defense. He could have added to those numbers, but was tossed out of the game in the second half after two personal fouls on the same play. 

“I just let my team down. Me, as a team captain, I’ve just got to be better,’’ Walker said. “I was hot-headed at the moment, and like I said, I’ve just got to make better decisions at the end of the day.”

Cornerback Jeff Okudah, who is coming back from a torn Achilles, finished with 10 tackles while linebacker Alex Anzalone had 9.

“I think I did pretty well, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the win,’’ Okudah said. “That’s something that we preach upon, and the win is what’s going to change the narrative about the Detroit Lions.”

First-round pick Aidan Hutchinson only notched one tackle. His presence was felt even if it didn’t show up in the stats.

“He’ll be better next week,’’ Campbell said. “He needed this.”

(Up next: Washington Commanders at Lions, at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18. The Commanders defeated the Jaguars, 28-22, on Sunday.)