Lions win validates Dan Campbell’s vision, plan moving forward

ALLEN PARK — A win in Week 2 in the big scheme of the NFLseason isn’t necessarily key for most teams.

But the Lions  36-27 win over the Commanders on Sunday validates what coach Dan Campbell and his staff are working toward. That is huge for a team that didn’t pick up its first win until Week 13 last year and finished 3-13-1.

“I think it was a great step, a step in the right direction for us to finally learn how to get over the hump and close out the game,’’ wide receiver Josh Reynolds said. “I’m proud of the guys. I think they got the first taste of it on how good we can be and how to close out a game. I think that was a giant step.’’

Campbell has preached finishing and details week in and week out. He’s confident in his team and regularly will say they have the right guys on the roster. 

“Listen we’ve got the guys, they’re going to go to work no matter what happens, they’re going to put in the work, they’re going to try to get better, they’re going to compete,’’ Campbell said on Monday. “So that’s never an issue. But to be able to get our win early in the season, Week 2, you get early validation to what we’re doing and we’re doing that without all our bullets.’’

Three offensive line starters were among the big absences.

“We’ve got some guys out and everything we’ve talked about, next man up, do your job, help us win and we did that with the guys that were available yesterday, the 48-man roster for game day,’’ Campbell said. “I think it’s big, it’s validation that we’re heading in the right direction. These guys believe and they’re doing what we ask them to do and it’s paying off.’’

Left tackle Taylor Decker and right tackle Penei Sewell, both veterans, talked before the game about how they had to dominate and play with confidence so those around them would play the same way.

“The level of expectation of whoever’s out  there doesn’t change because you’re in the NFL and you’re a professional,’’ Decker said, emphasizing there’s a standard in the offensive line room that doesn’t change for anyone.

Dan Skipper had never played the guard position and started at left guard. Logan Stenberg took a few lumps in his first start a week ago at right guard and improved on Sunday. Center Evan Brown played in a dozen games last season so he had a little experience to lean on.

The offensive line blocking is a big reason the Lions lead the NFL with 7.2 rushing yards per carry. The blocking of the wide receivers was key in putting together eight explosive plays. 

But it was all three units — offense, defense, special teams — that contributed to the win. After holding a 22-0 lead at the half, the Commanders were able to get back in the game but the Lions held them off for the win. 

“We kept that lead, we didn’t crumble and didn’t let the stress and pressure break us. We hung in there and finished the game,’’ Campbell said. “That’s what excites me more than anything about what how it went down yesterday.’’

(Next up: Lions (1-1) at Minnesota Vikings (1-0) at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 25. The Vikings face the Eagles in Monday Night Football.)

Jared Goff’s conviction to play and more from Lions’ 27-23 preseason loss

DETROIT — Perhaps more was learned about Jared Goff from what happened in the days prior to the game than the 10 plays he was on the field on Friday night.

Coach Dan Campbell was going to keep the quarterback out, but when Goff found out the offensive line starters were in, that is where he wanted to be.

“I didn’t want those guys out there without me,’’ Goff said following the 27-23 preseason loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Goff and the offensive starters played the opening drive which was capped off by a 9-yard touchdown run by D’Andre Swift.

“I will say this about Goff. I was proud of him. We didn’t intend to play him. He came into my office and said, ‘I want to play.’ And I said, ‘You’re not playing.’ He said, ‘If they’re playing, I’m playing.’ So I said, ‘OK.’ I appreciate that about him,’’ Campbell said, noting that he liked Goff’s conviction.

Except for a scratchy throat, Goff was healthy. Campbell was just going to let him rest.

Starting left tackle Taylor Decker said he was fired up when he heard that Goff wanted to play. 

Goff went 3 of 4 for 47 yards on that drive.

“He went out there and ran the offense. That’s really what you’re looking for in your ‘ones’. You want to see them play fast and efficiently down the field and score a touchdown,’’ Campbell said.

The five offensive line starters never got a chance to play one game together due to injuries last season so they were happy to be out there together.

Decker said he thinks the line played with a bit of swagger. He attributed it to open communication and comfort playing with each other.

Backup quarterbacks: Tim Boyle (9 of 16, 111 yards) got off to a rocky start on his first drive but the offense scored a field goal and he passed to Devin Funchess for a touchdown during his time on the field. Early in the third quarter he threw an interception, giving Atlanta the ball on Detroit’s 15, but the Falcons had to settle for a field goal.

David Blough made his case to be the No. 2 quarterback when he came out hot – passing for 26 yards on his first throw and leading the offense down the field for a field goal late in the third quarter. He was 6 of 9 for 59 yards on that drive along with a 9-yard keeper.

More impressive were his pair of fourth down passes on a drive in the fourth quarter that ended in a field goal. A fumble and loss with two minutes left ended the game for him but overall it was a good performance. He finished 18 of 28 for 141 yards.

“I’m not displeased with those guys at all,’’ Campbell said of Blough and Boyle.

Hutchinson debuts: Of course, all eyes were on rookie defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson. The Michigan product did not disappoint. On his first two snaps he had back-to-back tackles, the second one for a 2-yard loss. 

“It was awesome. I’m glad I got the opportunities and plays came my way,’’ said Hutchinson who finished with two tackles.

“Obviously no game is perfect. I was out there for a few plays, I’ve got to clean some things up.’’

The music: “Billie Jean” was played at Ford Field late in the second quarter while Metallica’s “No Leaf Clover” was blared over the speakers to start the fourth quarter. Both songs figured prominently in the first episode of HBO’s Hard Knocks. Hutchinson was shown singing the Michael Jackson hit and Campbell quoted from “No Leaf Clover” speaking to the team.

Next up: Friday night was Lions’ only preseason home game. Next they’re on the road at Indianapolis on Aug. 20 (1 p.m.) and at Pittsburgh on Aug. 28 (4:30 p.m.) Detroit’s regular season opener is on Sept. 11 at Ford Field against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Lions were 0-3 in preseason in 2021 with two of those games at Ford Field.

Lions offensive line off to good start on first day in pads

On the first day in pads at Lions training camp on Monday, the offensive line made a few knock-down plays that had the fans oohing and ahhing.

In one set of one-on-one drills against the defensive line, the offensive guys showed their stuff on each matchup.

“You put the pads on, it’s real football, I’m very confident in our O-line going one on one matchups with anyone. That being said, I think our D-line is going to be really good this year,’’ left tackle Taylor Decker said. “You saw Charles Harris come on last year, he’s picked up right where he left ott. He’s a beast, he’s a really good player, he’s a super high effort all the time. I think as Aidan (Hutchinson) learns you’re going to see him — he loves to ball, he’s into it, he loves to learn. It’s going to make both groups better.’’

A year ago, the offensive line also looked to be a strength but due to injuries there was never a game where all five starters played. Not one game.

Now they’re back and healthy. Decker sat out Saturday as a precaution due to his foot injury last year but on Monday he said it’s fine.

“I think we expect every single guy on the offensive line to play at a high high level at their position, whatever that means as far as accolades I don’t know. You come out here every single day and you try to get better as an individual, you’re going to help the guard next to you, then you’re going to help the unit, then you’re going to help the offense, then you’re going to help the team,’’ Decker said.

They expect much out of themselves. Decker and right tackle Penei Sewell both noted how going against the Lions defensive line – including Harris and rookie Aidan Hutchinson – will help make them better.

“It benefits me a lot to see those two guys. Charles came in and shocked the world (last year).. I didn’t really know who he was, he’s a beast,’’ Sewell said. “To have Aidan follow that type of guy that makes him better and I’m following Deck. It’s kind of the same thing back and forth. Iron sharpens iron, everyone knows that.’’

Sewell, who flattened cornerback Jeff Okudah in one drill on Monday, is entering his second season and feels more comfortable since he knows his teammates so well now. They’re a tight-knit group as is typical for most offensive lines.

“That chemistry too makes my job way easier out there. I know what to expect. The speed is way slower, everything is not coming at me 1,000 mph, everyone is normal speed and I like it,’’ Sewell said,

Perhaps the most growth is expected from Sewell who is making the jump from year one to year two.

“I think I’ll know more as we get more padded practices. One thing me and him have talked about as far as just keeping the width of the pocket, just setting aggressive, being confident on your sets and changing up your sets. That’s something as I’ve gotten older I’ve done a lot more of. It might be third-and-10 but I’m going to jump set this guy because he’s not expecting it,’’ Decker said.

Along with Decker and Sewell, other offensive line starters are expected to be Frank Ragnow at center, Jonah Jackson at left guard and Vaitai Halapoulivaati at right guard.

“Our excitement is through the roof. We know what we’re capable., everyone knows what we’re demanding out of each and everyone of us in the room,’’ Sewell said. “The sky’s the limit, only we can control that and how far we can go.’’