Bill Cowher: Dan Campbell could give Lions air of toughness they lacked

Detroit News

Justin Rogers
| The Detroit News

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ identity under Bill Cowher was as defined as the former coach’s jawline. Those teams, which he led to 10 postseason appearances, eight division titles and a Super Bowl championship, oozed toughness and physicality. 

So when Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell started talking about biting off kneecaps during his introductory press conference, that’s something Cowher, now a CBS Sports analyst, can appreciate. 

“I always looked at the Lions, to me, I never thought of them as being a tough team,” Cowher said. “I just never have. Does it go back to Barry Sanders, his way of running and his style, which was so uniquely special? But Dan Campbell does give them a unique personality. He is going to sit there and talk about a culture that’s based on us being tough, biting off kneecaps on the way getting back up. We’re not going to be defined by how many times we get knocked down, and if we keep getting knocked down, we’ll start biting off your ankles.

“He’s going to go down fighting,” Cowher continued. “That’s kind of who he is, right? I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Honestly, why not? It starts from the inside out. There’s going to be a degree of toughness that they’re going to play with, they’re going to have to practice with, and that will be their approach.”

It a league that has become decidedly pass-heavy in recent years, all signs point to Campbell bringing a more run-focused attack to Detroit. The Lions traded away prolific passer Matthew Stafford in exchange for another quarterback, Jared Goff, who is at his best with a stable ground game that let’s him operate out of play-action. And new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, the last time he held that play-calling role, he orchestrated the league’s top-ranked rushing attack in Buffalo. 

Cowher is also able see that writing on the wall, and even though the league has evolved since he retired after the 2006 season, there are still examples of successful run-first teams.

In terms of yards per carry, the top two teams from the 2020 season — Baltimore and Tennessee — both qualified for the postseason, while Super Bowl qualifier Kansas City averaged 4.5 yards per attempt to complement the team’s lethal passing attack led by All-Pro QB Patrick Mahomes.

A year earlier, the 49ers rode a backfield that averaged 4.6 yards per carry and a strong defense to the Super Bowl, nearly upsetting the Chiefs in the championship game. 

“We’ll see how it unfolds, but you know what, if I’m in Detroit right now, it’s refreshing newness that you have,” Cowher said.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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