Five things to watch as favored Lions face Vikings; plus, prediction

Dan Campbell admits he is shocked that his Lions (5-7) are the favorites in Sunday’s rematch with the NFC North division leading Minnesota Vikings (10-2) at Ford Field. 

“All those things don’t matter, point spread, who’s favored, it doesn’t – this team finds ways to win, and if we’re not ready to go, and we don’t handle our business – it’s going to take every one of us, coaches and players, to win this game,’’ Campbell said on Friday. “That’s what I do know because they’ve got plenty over there, and there again, a team that finds ways to win, those are dangerous teams.”

Detroit, which has won four of its last five, has turned heads around the NFL. Since a comeback win to defeat the LIons 28-24 on Sept, 25, the Vikings are 8-1.

Besides the record, the big difference is that the Lions are learning how to win.

“I think obviously, the more you win and the ways that you learn to win, you get better at it because there’s a number of ways to do it, and that’s really what transpired. We’ve done it,’’ Campbell said. “The gameplans have all been different. The opponents are different. Win with the lead, come from behind, keep the lead in a tight game, I think you learn to stay composed, certainly when things don’t go your way, you don’t go in the tank, and it’s just about cleaning up the errors that maybe cost you a play or two or that gave them a little bit.’’

Five things to watch:

1. Detroit’s young defense improves each week. Coordinator Aaron Glenn said they have found their identity.  “We’re a tough and violent team. That’s who we are. That’s going to attack the football. I think it shows as far as the takeaways that we’ve gotten and just the way that we play defense overall,’’ Glenn said.”We might not be the most athletic, but man, it’s going to be a tough out against us every time you play against us. That’s how I want it.”

2. In their first meeting the LIons held Vikings WR Justin Jefferson to a season-low in yards (3 catches, 14 yards). Obviously the plan is to do the same. “I will tell you this, it’s hard to try to hold that player to that now. I mean, he is a player that I really, really respect on a number of different levels. Just my own opinion, I think he’s – if not the best receiver, he’s one of the top two. And the reason I say that is not just because of the production,’’ Glenn said. “I think he’s – he embodies everything I think a football player should be about. I think he’s tough, I think he’s competitive. Man, you see him take some hits and he gets right back up and gets ready to play. So, he’s an Aaron Glenn type of guy, but we have to get after him just like we did last time.”

3. It would be foolhardy to expect the LIons offense to score on every possession like they did in the win over the Jaguars last Sunday. But expect the offense to keep humming. Quarterback Jared Goff feels like he’s playing the best ball of his career and it’s tough to argue. The relationship with coordinator Ben Johnson has continued to grow and it shows on the field and the scoreboard.

4. Look for rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams to see more action after he got his feet wet last week in a limited debut. Johnson won’t speculate on a rep count for Williams but is encouraged to see Williams and Goff work together in practice to find a chemistry.  “That’s critical, that’s big. Knowing where he’s going to be, what his – the top of his break’s going to look like so our quarterback can anticipate that throw, that goes a long way,’’ Johnson said. There’s much talk about Williams’ potential (as there should be), but D.J. Chark returned from injury last week and shined while Amon-Ra St. Brown continues to amaze. “It’s been fun to watch his progression since he got here over a year and a half ago. And truthfully, I really think he’s playing like a top five, top 10 receiver in this League right now,’’ Johnson said. “He generates separation on a weekly basis. I think he’s very hard to cover. We’re trying the best we can to keep defenses guessing a little bit of where he’s going to line up, but he does a lot of things himself.’’

5. Perhaps the offensive line doesn’t get enough credit for its role in the Lions run game which averages 127 yards per game. “We talk about it in our room. We point things out on the film. You see these guys finishing, coming off the ball the way they do. Those guys take pride in that, talking about the O-line,’’ running backs coach Duce Staley said. “And our guys take pride in hitting the hole. So, we definitely talk about it in my room.”

INS and OUTS: Guard Kayode Awosika (ankle), linebacker Derrick Barnes (knee) and cornerback Chase Lucas (hamstring) have been ruled out for Sunday. Guard/center Evan Grown (ankle) is doubtful. Cornerback Will Harris (hip) is questionable, along with three who were listed with an illness — cornerback Jeff Okudah, wide receiver Kalif Raymond and quarterback Nate Sudfeld.

PREDICTION: Lions 28, Vikings 24.


Lions GM: Hockenson would have been traded even with a 6-1 record

ALLEN PARK — Brad Holmes, the Lions general manager, insisted on Wednesday that he would have traded tight end T.J. Hockenson even if the Lions 1-6 record was reversed.

The 25-year-old Hockenson was traded to the Vikings for a second-round pick (2023) and a third-rounder (2024) on Tuesday, the NFL trade deadline day.

“This move was not reflective of our record. If our record was reversed and it made sense for us we would have still done it,’’ Holmes said during Wednesday’s practice “It wasn’t anything of that nature, it made sense for us and we’ll move forward with it.’’

Hockenson, a 2019 first-round pick, had 26 catches for 395 yards and three touchdowns in the first seven games.

“I think that we’ve proven that our offense can score a lot of points, I’m sure he was a part of it. But the deal would have made sense, it was not based on record whatsoever,’’ Holmes reiterated. “I think it was a good deal for the future of our team and that’s my job, I’ve always got to have a laser focus on the current and also the future.’’

Holmes said this is not a sign that the team has given up on the season after losing five straight games.

“We’re working hard every single day to win as many games as possible. We’ve still got 10 games left and that’s what we’re working hard to do,’’ Holmes said. “Just because we’re in that phase of rebuilding doesn’t mean we can’t go out and work as hard as we can and win some games.’’

He said it is archaic thinking that trading in the division is a bad thing.

“When we make these kinds of decisions I’m totally at peace. T.J. is a good football player and the next time we play him he’ll still be a good football player, he’ll make a play or make some plays and score a touchdown or whatever he does. The camera will be in my face, I’ll look at it and wave,’’ Holmes said.

Hockenson is in the fourth year of his rookie deal. The Lions picked up his $4.9 million fifth-year option, putting him under contract through 2023. He is eligible for an extension.

Holmes said that many factors went into the trade decision and wo9rking on an extension for Hockenson was just one of them.

The GM also thanked Hockenson for his contributions to the team.

“I want to publicly express my appreciation for everything T.J. did for us. We’ve had a great relationship since I’ve been here. I wish him all the best, besides when we’re playing him, going forward,’’ Holmes said.

(Up next: Packers (3-5) at Lions (1-6) at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 6)

Lions coach Dan Campbell: No time to panic after loss to Vikings

ALLEN PARK — Dan Campbell admits his mistakes, but on Monday said he has no reason to panic following the 28-24 loss at Minnesota on Sunday.

The Lions dropped to 1-2 and will face the Seattle Seahawks (1-2) at Ford Field on Sunday.

On Sunday, the Lions were up two scores with 8 minutes left and could not finish.

“Listen, I get the road that everybody’s been down. Listen I’m not sweating it, I’m not sweating it and this team is not sweating it. We’ve got a long season,’’ Campbell said on Monday. “You look throughout this league,it happens this way every year. I feel like what happens early in the season, it really molds who you are going to be as the season goes on and late in the season.

“Those that can endure the adversity of the season, the ups and downs, and just stay in the race are the ones that have success,’’ the coach added.

In his first season the Lions finished 3-13-1 and didn’t win their first game until Dec. 5. They haven’t won a road game under Campbell.

On fourth-and-4 at the Vikings 36-yard line late  in the game, Campbell called for a 54-yard field goal attempt rather than to try for the first down.

“Before that point we had some chances to close that game out offensively that we didn’t capitalize on,’’ Campbell said. “At the end of the day when you look at all three units, what was the unit that was going to give you the best chance to win that type of game and it was offense. I thought (Jared) Goff was throwing the ball well, we were protecting well. That’s the way we should’ve gone.’’

Still he said he had confidence that Austin Seibert could make that kick even though he had missed his first attempt on Sunday.

“I would be willing to give him another go. If I didn’t feel that way I wouldn’t have let him kick at the end of the game. I know he missed the first one, but he came back and made the second one,’’ Campbell said. “So I felt like he’d make this and it didn’t work out, but yeah. Now, full disclosure, he’s a little bit sore today so we’ll see what happens with him.’’

Center Frank Ragnow wasn’t clear on whether he was surprised they went for the field goal on that fourth down. 

“I try to just stay in my lane, just try to execute my job. You’d love to go for it, but hindsight is everything,’’ Ragnow said. “To be honest, us as players, us as an offensive line, at the end of the game we shouldn’t have been put in that position. We should have been way more clean up front, a lot better execution all around, me especially. We shouldn’t even put coach in that position. We should’ve closed the game out before that.’’

NOTES: Safety Tracy Walker tore his Achilles on Sunday and will be out for the rest of the season. Campbell called it a “significant loss” and said they haven’t decided on how to replace him. He’s inclined to keep Will Harris, a safety turned cornerback, at cornerback … Campbell also said D’Andre Swift’s shoulder injury could keep him out this week, but nothing for certain yet. The Lions have a bye after the Seattle game so sitting Swift could give him extra time for healing and rest.

(Up next: Seattle Seahawks (1-2) at Lions (1-2) at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 2, at Ford Field.)