For Detroit Lions, ‘secret sauce’ starts with winning turnover battle

Detroit Free Press

If there’s one takeaway from the Detroit Lions‘ current three-game winning streak it’s that takeaways matter.

The Lions have forced six turnovers in wins over the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and New York Giants the past three weeks after forcing six total in their 1-6 start. They’ve won the turnover battle in each of those games to improve to plus-one in the turnover department for the season.

Just seven teams have a better turnover margin. All but the Arizona Cardinals (plus-5 entering Monday night) have a winning record.

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“It becomes contagious,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “When you’re able to get a couple and then you get a couple more, pretty soon it really becomes second nature and it’s hard to explain. I know it always starts with effort, that’s for sure. Effort and a conscious effort to go after the football and we’re getting that.”

The Lions scored 14 points off three Giants turnovers Sunday.

Aidan Hutchinson intercepted a Daniel Jones pass late in the first half to set up the Lions’ first touchdown and break open a 6-3 game. Kerby Jones picked off another Jones pass in the third quarter. And Hutchinson recovered a fumble forced by Will Harris with 7:53 to play to snuff out any hopes of a Giants comeback.

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Last week, Jeff Okudah returned a Justin Fields interception for a touchdown as the Lions rallied from 14 points down in the fourth quarter. And in Week 9, the Lions picked off three Aaron Rodgers’ passes in their win over the Packers.

Along with more opportunistic play on defense, the Lions have displayed better ball security on offense in recent weeks.

Since losing five turnovers in a Week 7 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, they’ve committed one turnover, a Jared Goff interception against the Packers. Goff had another pick called back on penalty against the Bears, and D’Andre Swift recovered his own fumble Sunday.

Campbell said winning the turnover battle will be crucial to the Lions’ chances of upsetting the Buffalo Bills on Thursday. The Bills have thrown 10 interceptions this season, tied for third-most in the NFL.

“It’s huge. We desperately will need them,” Campbell said. “And look, that’s been part of the secret sauce for us. We are getting them and that’s — that means we’re turning a corner because we are getting them out. So we’ve got to continue that trend and if we can put him 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.”

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Injury update

The Lions listed seven starters as non-participants on their estimated practice report Monday: Jeff Okudah (concussion), Evan Brown (ankle), Josh Reynolds (back), Frank Ragnow (toe), Charles Harris (groin), Josh Paschal (knee) and Jonah Jackson (illness).

“This could be tough on the injury deal this week trying to figure out who will be ready and who won’t,” Campbell said.

Okudah and Brown left Sunday’s win over the Giants with injuries, and Campbell said Okudah does not have enough time to clear concussion protocol before Thursday. Reynolds, Harris and Paschal did not play against the Giants.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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