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.

Five things to watch as Lions try to win 3 straight at Giants; plus prediction

It’s been five years since the Lions have won three games in a row. They’ve got a chance to snap that streak when they play at the New York Giants on Sunday.

Detroit, which started the season 1-6, is coming off wins against the Packers and on the road at Chicago. Game day experience for the rookies is paying benefits. Despite the early losses, coach Dan Campbell still believed in his team. He always said he believed they were close. A win at the Giants would be another huge step in the team’s growth.

“No, we’re not changing anything we do, we’ve got to continue to – everything we’ve preached since really day one, we’re still preaching the same things. We tweaked a couple of things schematically, but ultimately, I mean nothing has changed,’’ Campbell said. 

“So, it’s just about continuing to grow, gain your confidence and when you have an opportunity to make a play, we’ve got to make more plays than they did. And really, we just talked about some of the reasons, but we were more disciplined,’’ he added.

Five things to watch as the Lions(3-6)  face the Giants (7-2):

1. Giants running back Saquon Barkley carried a season-high 35 times in the Giant’s win over Houston last week. He’s a beast who must be stopped by the Lions defense that has given up 160.9 rushing yards per game. So far this season he’s averaging 4.7 yards per carry with six rushing touchdowns. “He is dangerous. He can run between the tackles, but if he finds a crease, and those guys push on him enough upfront, they’ll bang away at you, but he’s got enough patience, and if he can find that crease, he’s got breakaway speed,’’ Campbell said. “He’s got strength to get through the hole, and he can turn a routine run into an explosive run like that. You see him on the perimeter, and he gets an edge, he’s gone. So, that’s where he’s just different. He’s got this dynamic speed about him among other things. So we say it all week, but I mean gap responsibility, and everybody’s got to do your job, and we can’t have one error, one bust, one guy out of position because that’s all it’ll take for them to get something big out of it, turn it into points.’’

2. Detroit’s defense is young but they’ve been on the field to help seal the two recent wins. It’s a learning experience that will carry forward. “I think the most important thing is for the players because listen, they hear so much negativity that it’s tough. But again, man, if you just keep yourself in this cocoon like we have done and just go out there and improve and continue to believe in who we are, believe in this team, believe in the defensive players that’s around. Listen, we’re young and we know that, but again like just to get a chance to do that and to feel that, that just breeds winning,’’ defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “I’ve been a part of that. I’ve seen that happen. I’ve seen the change to where, man, once you start to do that and once guys start understanding and believing it, and understanding how to win, those things start to really propel you as a team in general.”

3. Week to week rookie defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson is developing. So far he leads all NFL rookies in sacks with 5.5. No other rookie has more than three. Notably he has an interception too. It’s not just about the stats, though. “Every week he gets a little bit better, and he makes a few more plays. He learns pretty quickly. Look, there’s still things that happened to him, but he doesn’t make those same mistakes twice, which is what you’re looking for,’’ Campbell said. “And one of the things that we appreciate about him, not only is he growing, but he is an asset in the run game and the pass game. He’s all encompassing. I mean he plays with a high motor, he plays with technique, he’s relentless. I mean, hell, he got a critical holding penalty the other day just trying to violently shed the block, and that’s a 10-yard penalty against them and knocks them back to second-and-18, which turns into (Jeff) Okudah’s touchdown, so everything – there’s things that you see all the time, and then there’s indirect production that we’re getting out of him that’s good, but he’s growing. He’s getting better. I mean he’s still – he’s got a long ways to go, but every week, he gets a little better.”

4. The offense, which started the season on fire, has not been quite as explosive in recent weeks. One reason could be that they are missing key wide receivers like D.J. Chark and Josh Reynolds. Chark, who was on injured reserve, was back at practice on Wednesday so he’s getting closer. Reynolds (back) is officially listed as questionable for Sunday. Quarterback Jared Goff said he’s getting used to throwing to different receivers. “We’ve had a lot of guys kind of in and out of the lineup. You kind of stop asking who’s up this week. You just kind of get used to whoever’s going to be in there. We’ll be ready and fill in, and you saw Tom Kennedy last week do a good job and making a big play there at the end, so we have confidence in those guys, but to be honest, whatever happens, happens. I’m somewhat used to there being just kind of a shuffled deck.’’

5. One reason the Lions have been able to stack two wins is because the backups on offense and defense have stepped up. One prime example is wide receiver Tom Kennedy who came through with a huge 44-yard catch on third down in the win at the Bears. Kennedy can play multiple roles which makes him valuable. “He’s better suited at other things, not everything, but he has to do everything for us in case he’s needed, and he is needed right now,’’ Campbell said. “And so, we get in there and it’s a pivotal moment to where it’s – he’s really number one in the read, back to Saint (Amon-Ra St. Brown) is number two and he shows up. And Goff hits his back foot, lets it go, hell of a throw, the protection was great, he wins on the route early and so when called upon he makes a play. But yeah, it’s crucial because you don’t know, you may only get one opportunity, but you have to be there when you’re called upon.”

INs and OUTs: Defensive linemen Charles Harris (groin) and Josh Paschal (knee) are out. Safety DeShon Elliott (concussion), Frank Ragnow (foot), Reynolds (back) and linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez (elbow) are questionable but Ragnow has said he will play. 

(Prediction: Lions 24, Giants  21.)