Detroit Lions’ home opener offers a stiff test. But judge them on a sliding scale

Detroit Free Press

It was over by halftime and when it was over officially, when the Detroit Lions had lost their eighth straight game to start the season last fall, a 44-6 drubbing by Philadelphia, the Lions buried the game tape.

Shovels were involved. Plenty of symbolism, too.

“It was an embarrassing loss,” head coach Dan Campbell said Monday morning from the team’s headquarters. “They let us have it, they rubbed our nose in it, and that’s — listen man, they came in and did what they — everything that they wanted to do they did to us times 10. So, I think we’ve acknowledged that.”

The next week, the Lions tied the Steelers, though it took a couple more weeks before they got their first win. They won two of their last four and it’s that stretch that Campbell and his staff hope carries over to this season, which begins Sunday at Ford Field against, you guessed it, Philadelphia.

The loss to the Eagles helped turn the season, Campbell believes, if you believe there can be a turning point in a season that ends with three wins and a tie.

I do.

Besides, it’s relative.

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It’s also time to see how long the Lions — and Campbell’s rebuild — need to be judged by effort and execution instead of winning, to see what they’ve learned since that loss to Philly.

“I would fully expect them to come in and see if we’ve fixed our problems,” he said. “… If I’m them, I’m doing the same thing. We’re going to come back and attack you the same way.”

Oh, the Eagles will offer a few wrinkles, to be sure — no team remains the same season over season. But they’ll likely be close to the playoff team they were a season ago.

Which is to say they’ll present an immediate test.

“We understand the opponent that’s coming in,” he said. “I mean, this isn’t some — this is a good football team that we’re getting ready to play with.”

One game won’t determine the Lions’ course, of course, but it will give a solid test to the offensive line, the pride of the Lions. The Eagles have one of the better defensive lines in the country.

They also have good cornerbacks (you may remember Darius Slay?) and a run-heavy offense led by Jalen Hurts, who runs well himself, and who will give the Lions’ defense an immediate opportunity to see if they’ve improved covering mobile quarterbacks.

Campbell was psyched Monday, the first game-week news conference of the season. His team had planned to lift and stretch and run a bit but mostly study film. It was scheduled to be a light day, before an off day today, before three days of game prep to kick things off.

The head coach was pumped, his natural state, I know. But even by his standards, the sparks flew.


“Well, because it’s here,” he said. “I mean, it’s — the season is upon us now. We’ve got our — we have our players, we have our crew, we have the brotherhood if you will. And it’s the 53 with the 16-man vet squad or practice squad.”

This isn’t a team dominated by a single player or even a position group, unless you count the offensive line, and even those players remain more potential than resumé. Campbell likes the idea of strength in numbers. He spent the offseason trying to convince his team it’s the only way they can win.

“As long as we hold onto that,” he said, “I think we can be more than competitive.”

Which is relative, I know.

Last season, the Lions stayed in all but three games into the second half. That’s one measure of competitiveness.

So how to judge that this season?

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No blowouts?

A few more wins?

Yes, on both counts. But the more subtle aspects of a rebuild will be in play, too.

Will Campbell and his staff show an ability to adjust from half to half? Or at times from possession to possession?

Will the Lions improve as the season progresses, even if they aren’t winning?

Will Jared Goff look more aligned with his receivers? With the offense? Will the pass rush improve? And the defense overall?

From the look of training camp, the roster appears more talented. But, again, what does that mean?

The NFL may be designed for teams to jump from below .500 to the playoffs but most teams don’t. Getting better takes time. And Campbell will need time.

He’ll also need data, hard data, and he should get a good bit of it this Sunday at Ford Field, when his team takes the field against the team that whipped it a year ago, against the team that led to change last season.

“We had to do things differently because where we were going wasn’t going … to cut it,” said Campbell. “So yeah, I mean it’s somewhat a blessing in disguise, I guess. You make the most of something that’s a negative, you turn it into a positive and I felt like we did that to a certain extent.”

There’s another qualifier: “A certain extent.”

This is where the Lions live these days, and this is where they must be measured. Growth is relative. Change is measured with qualifiers. And the Eagles will give them the chance to begin measuring right away.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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