Five things to know as Lions face Vikings

It is Week 5 and the Lions are still looking for their first win. It’s been a bumpy start for first-year coach Dan Campbell who has his injury-decimated team showing flashes of good play but not nearly enough for a win.

Minnesota is typically a tough place to play but the Vikings (1-3) are coming off a 14-7 home loss to Cleveland. Still the Vikings are 10-point favorites.

A win would not fix everything for the Lions, but it certainly would help. 

“(A win) helps you get going. It helps you jump out of bed maybe a little bit better. And so, yeah, it does. That’s what this is about is getting that first win for us and getting a win. But at the end of the day, no matter what happens, you’ve got to put your best foot forward and we’ve got to go back to work no matter what,’’ Campbell said. “You’ve got to go back to work and find a way to improve. And you guys get tired of hearing me say this, but we are in a race to improve and it’s got to be that way every day, every week, every game.”

Five things to watch as the Lions face the Vikings:

1. Somehow going into Minnesota Campbell has been able to keep up the morale of this young squad.: “Morale’s been good. I mean, these guys did exactly what they needed to do was, ‘Let’s go back to work.’ And that’s a credit to the guys on this team, but I think even more importantly our veteran leadership. I think it’s all about – here’s what we know, you’ll never correct a problem if we don’t go back to work and those guys did that. That’s the first step and at least gives you a shot, so they have. It was up, the energy was up. We’ve had quite a few competitive periods. We try to mix them in every week, but I think we’ve had really more of them than we’ve done in a while just to – un-scouted looks, O versus D, critical fourth-and-2, third-and-2, red zone – we’ll have another red zone today and just dial it up and see who wins. And so, it’s been good. The energy’s been good and there again, it’s not about the energy, it’s about those little details that make you or break you in a game.”

2.  In terms of injuries, the good news is that tight end T.J. Hockenson (knee) and tackle Penei Sewell (ankle) have a chance to play on Sunday. Both had limited practice on Friday. DE Michael Brockers (shoulder) is expected to return. RB D’Andre Swift (groin), RB Jamaal Williams (hip) and OLB Trey Flowers (knee) are all listed as questionable. The Lions needed a pretty healthy team to have a chance at some wins and they definitely do not have that. Taylor Decker (hand) is still not ready and Romeo Okwara (Achilles) was the 12th player placed on injured reserve. Frank Ragnow was the 11th.

3. Much of the Vikings’ defensive game plan is built around their pass rush so it helps Minnesota that defensive end Danielle Hunter returns from injury. “Look, he’s an element that they need and I think he’s one of those pieces that makes them pretty dangerous because he’s one of those D-ends that I think plays the run as good as anybody and he’s an excellent pass rusher, too. So, he can transition from run to rush very quickly and run action stuff and he’s long. He’s a heck of an athlete, high motor, so it’s helped them,’’ Campbell said. This makes it much tougher on the Lions makeshift  offensive line which is missing Decker (hand) and Ragnow (turf toe). Good thing it looks like Sewell will be ready to go. Evan Brown will likely step in again at center.

4. So without key pieces, Campbell is putting together an offensive game plan that hopefully plays to their strengths.  “We’ve gone back and tried to really look at what we think we do well. We’re four weeks in now. ‘What do our guys do well? Knowing what we have up front moving forward and what they have, how do we help?’ So, the plan is catered that way somewhat and there again, we’ve got to play complementary football,’’ Campbell said. “We can’t get in one of these – like we’ve been, we can’t get in one of these, ‘We’re down and we’re in two-minute mode and we’re having to throw it every play and they know it, we know it.’ That doesn’t serve us well all of the time.” Actually, most of the time.

5. In the four losses, giving up chunk plays of 20 yards or longer has been a killer for Detroit’s defense. The cornerback crew is decimated with Jeff Okudah and Ifeatu Melifonwu on injured reserve, but the others have to step up. “That’s the one area that we’ve got to look at, and as coaches, too. ‘How do we get these guys in situations to where they’re not giving up these big plays?’ I was always told by Bill Parcells, ‘How many times do we’ve got to get hit in the face with a skunk before you smell it?’ And that’s a true statement,’’ Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “So, we have to do something also to be able to help these guys and we have done some things now, for the player and coach. The players have got to execute, the coach has got to put them in positions to where they can execute and be at their best.”  Sounds like a plan.

Prediction: Vikings 24, Lions 17.

Detroit Lions draft: Five things to know

With the Lions in full rebuild, re-stocking mode, the NFL draft could not possibly be more important.

Is it a bigger deal than in recent history? Quite possibly.

It will be the first major test GM Brad Holmes and his staff including Chris Spielman. Don’t forget Holmes was the director of college scouting for the Rams before Detroit hired him, so this is not all foreign territory.

Unlike a year ago, when GM Bob Quinn and his staff each worked from their houses due to the pandemic, Holmes will have company with up to 10 people in the war room with him. 

With the No. 7 pick, Holmes could have plenty of options. The key to a trade is it takes two teams. This sounds basic, but if he doesn’t move up or down and gets criticized it doesn’t mean he didn’t try.

The Lions have six draft picks overall. 

Round 1: No. 7

Round 2: No. 41

Round 3: No. 72

Round 3: No. 101 (from Rams)

Round 4: No. 112

Round 5: No. 153

The draft opens on Thursday at 8 p.m. Rounds 2 and 3 will take place starting Friday at 7 p.m. The draft for the remaining rounds will start at noon on Saturday.

Five things to know:

1. The Lions desperately need a No. 1 wide receiver but will they take one in the first round? Options include Jaylen Waddle (Alabama) and Ja’Marr Chase (LSU). Detroit has quite a history of making this move. From 2003 to 2007 they used their first-round picks on wide receivers four times. Charles Rogers (2003) was an absolute bust. Calvin Johnson (2007) is a Hall of Famer. Since Johnson, they’ve drafted three tight ends in the first round but no wide receiver. Holmes said he’s well aware of the franchise’s draft history but it should not affect who he picks.

2. Needs abound on both sides of the ball. In a pre-draft press conference Holmes would not say whether he’ll focus on offense or defense in the first round. It doesn’t make sense to limit himself. So don’t be disappointed one way or the other. This team needs work.

3. A quarterback could be a more likely pick in the first round. With Matthew Stafford gone and Jared Goff in his place, the Lions could be looking for a long-term replacement at quarterback. Trey Lance (North Dakota State) is one option. Would Ohio State’s Justin Fields be a reach at No. 7? There’s some debate on that. Quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence (Clemson), Zach Wilson (BYU) and Mac Jones (Ohio State) could go 1-2-3. If Holmes loves one of them it could be costly to try to move up.

4. Taylor Decker said this week he’d welcome help on the offensive line. Several mock drafts have Oregon’s Penei Sewell getting drafted by the Lions. From 2012 to 2018 the Lions drafted four starting offensive linemen: Riley Reiff (2012), Laken Tomlinson (2015), Decker (2016) and Frank Ragnow (2018). Only Decker and Ragnow are still with the Lions. Reiff signed with the Bengals and Tomlinson with the 49ers. There is a need. Is Sewell the guy?

5. Holmes could pull a surprise, but don’t expect him to go too far off the charts. He said he’s learned from others that when that pick is called, he must be comfortable with the decision. It’s OK if no one has mocked that person to Detroit, but he sounds like he won’t take a flyer, he’ll be totally at ease that he’s made the right pick. 

PREDICTION: WR Jaylen Waddle, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions face Eagles in Philadelphia

ALLEN PARK — After two weeks, the Lions remain undefeated even though that first-week tie still seems kind of ugly.

Onward.

The Lions are 5-point underdogs on the road at Philadelphia at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford said he doesn’t think at all about being 1-0-1.

“It’s just a huge challenge for us this week. Going to Philadelphia is a tough place to play. They have a bunch of good players and have been a really good team for a long time, so it’s just a new challenge for us, something we have to attack on its own,’’ Stafford said.

Stafford and his teammates agree that Sunday’s comeback win against the Chargers doesn’t mean much this week.

I think just because you did it last week doesn’t mean you’re going to do it again the next week, but also if you didn’t do it the week before, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it the next week,’’ Stafford said. “No, we take every challenge head-on as a new one.”

Five things to know about the Lions at the Eagles (1-1):

1. In the win over the Chargers, Stafford was let loose. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell called an aggressive game even after Stafford had thrown two interceptions. Afterward Stafford was smiling and it wasn’t just because of the win. Bevell is known for depending on the run game and certainly a balance (not necessarily 50-50) is key to an offense putting up points in the NFL, but Stafford has to be allowed to throw the bombs, to throw on an important third down. Maybe this is the change the Lions have needed over the past few years. Now we’ll see if it continues.

2. Stafford must be kept clean again. It’s rare when he goes through a game without being sacked like he did on Sunday. In the last five seasons he’s been sacked 213 times with only 7 games with no sacks. “Keeping the quarterback safe and protected is No. 1. You know obviously you’ve seen us do different things with Matthew (and the first thing is always trying to take care of him and how we keep him upright, even if he gets an opportunity to run,’’ Bevell said. “That’s always in the forefront of our minds because those guys are really hard to find, and we have a good one and we want to protect that guy.”

3. After missing left tackle Taylor Decker for one game and linebacker Jarrad Davis for two, it looks like the Lions will be mostly healthy in Philadelphia. Both practiced all week and are officially listed as questionable. Tyrell Crosby did a commendable job filling in for Decker on Sunday, but having a healthy Decker return would be a positive facing Fletcher Cox and the Eagles’ defensive line. “They have a solid front with Fletcher and Brandon Graham on the same side. They can move those guys around with (Derek) Barnett. It’s an active front,’’ Bevell said. “They do a great job of getting penetration and really trying to work up the field and wreak havoc that way. Fletcher has been a good player for a long time and something that we’ll have to make sure that we have answers for. It’s a good combination of him and Brandon Graham working on the side together.”

4. Matt Patricia did not confirm that Jarrad Davis will play on Sunday, but seemed optimistic before Friday’s practice. Davis’ presence would be huge against the EAgles offense led by Carson Wentz and fueled by TE Zach Ertz. “I think J.D., just in general, obviously this is a kid that loves the game,’’ Patricia said. “He just loves to come in and prepare every week and he loves to learn and he’s just every single day – that intensity to get better, as a coach, is something you love to see. I think he obviously provides a layer of leadership, I’ll say comfort or calmness, to the middle of the defense when he’s out there because of his knowledge and his ability to control the middle part of what we do in the defensive scheme. I think those other guys have done a great job and really Devon Kennard I think has stepped in great as far as the communication on the field. I think he’s done a phenomenal job of that too.’’

5. Special teams have not gotten off to a good start this season. Would expect that Matt Prater’s missed 40-yard field goal and missed extra point are just anomalies. Patricia said punt returner Jamal Agnew was benched for that game after a fumble, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be back as the return guy. Patricia does have options in Danny Amendola and Ty Johnson. Special teams also had too many penalties which is something that should be easy to clean up.

PREDICTION: Eagles 27, Lions 24. (Philadelphia is banged up while Detroit is mostly healthy. Still, it’s a tough place to play and pulling out a win would be a tough task.)