Get ready for a massive showdown.
The Detroit Lions vs. the New York Jets on Sunday afternoon.
Second-year Lions coach Dan Campbell vs. second-year Jets coach Robert Saleh.
Rebuilding team vs. rebuilding team.
Toughness vs. grit.
And, of course, second-year coach Dan Campbell vs. second-year coach Robert Saleh.
Playoffs on the line.
“It’s a huge test because I know that this team we’re getting ready to face is very much like we are,” Campbell said Wednesday. “I think Coach Saleh’s a — he’s about the toughness and overcoming adversity, all these things, and you’re built a certain way.”
This game between a 6-7 team and a 7-6 team becomes even more interesting when you consider Saleh and Campbell interviewed for the same job in early 2021, when the Lions were replacing Matt Patricia.
“I was just thankful for the organization to even have a conversation with me, and Sheila (Hamp) and everybody, and Rod Wood, and (Chris) Spielman, they were all phenomenal to speak to,” Saleh told reporters Wednesday. “And thankful for that conversation, but really happy that I’m here.”
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The Jets hired Saleh on Jan. 14, 2021, and Hamp hired Campbell six days later.
So which team made the right decision?
The Lions or the Jets?
Would you rather have Campbell or Saleh?
Let’s take a look how they got here, heading into Sunday’s massive game.
Saleh has tried to instill toughness. Campbell has tried to instill grit.
Saleh has faced some difficult decisions, such as benching quarterback Zach Wilson a few weeks ago.
Campbell has faced some difficult decisions, such as demoting, then firing, offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn last season and firing defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant this year.
Saleh took some heat after the Jets started this season 1-2; Campbell faced even more when the Lions started 1-6.
But the Jets turned their season around by winning five of six.
Just as the Lions turned their season around by winning five of six.
“He’s an unbelievable human being,” Campbell said of Saleh.
They talked last winter at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, and Campbell walked away impressed.
“We talked a little bit,” Campbell said. “I wouldn’t say we went real far in depth as to what we did, but just kind of the similarities to our squads and things that you didn’t necessarily expect or things you did expect and the way they went. So, it was good.”
A tale of changing cultures
There are so many similarities between these two teams, not to mention these two coaches.
Saleh is a local guy — he grew up in Dearborn.
And Campbell has local ties — he played parts of three seasons with the Lions.
Heck, they even sound alike.
On Wednesday, Saleh said: “They’re going to get their shots in, but you just got to keep going toe-to-toe and keep fighting.”
Which is pretty close to what Campbell said a short time later: “This is a heavyweight fight.”
Saleh formed his football philosophies working under some great coaches, such as Brian Kelly (Central Michigan) and Pete Carroll (Seattle Seahawks).
And Campbell developed his philosophies playing under Bill Parcells and working under some great coaches such as Sean Payton (New Orleans Saints).
Saleh quickly changed the Jets’ culture. After winning two games the season before he arrived, they won four games in 2021 and seven this year.
Meanwhile, Campbell quickly changed the Lions’ culture. After winning just one of their final seven the season before he arrived, they won three of their final seven in 2021 have a shot at six of their final seven this season.
But here is where things diverge: They are doing it in different ways.
Saleh has a fantastic defense. The Jets have 39 sacks, tied for fourth most in the NFL. They have held opponents to 300 yards or fewer nine times this year, the most in the NFL.
“They’re aggressive,” Campbell said. “They — they’re aggressive and they’re very disruptive, especially that front.”
And the Lions have a fantastic offense.
So it will be strength vs. strength on Sunday.
“You’re going to need to challenge them because they’re going to challenge us,” Campbell said. “It’s something we do well, they do well.”
The Jets have given up 76 explosive plays — plays of at least 20 yards — the fourth-fewest in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Lions have produced 55 such plays, the sixth-most in the NFL.
“Look, they’re playing really good football,” Campbell said.
But so are the Lions.
After a rough start, Campbell has this team humming, charging right into this massive showdown.
Which is going to be fascinating.
Which team hired the better coach?
Maybe, this is one of those rare instances where both organizations made the right decision.
Saleh seems to be the right coach for the Jets.
And after the last six weeks, Campbell seems to be the right coach for the Lions — I can’t imagine this team without him right now.
Maybe, they both ended up where they are supposed to be.
Contact Jeff Seidel: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.
To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.