That means Ifeatu Melifonwu, despite a poor performance last weekend, gets another start at safety for Sunday’s must-win game against the Chicago Bears (and star quarterback Justin Fields) at Ford Field.
Elliott, who ranks second on the team with 91 tackles, injured his left shoulder trying to make a diving tackle in the third quarter Dec. 18 against the New York Jets. He didn’t play in last Saturday’s 37-23 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
Last week, Lions coach Dan Campbell said both Melifonwu and C.J. Moore would take reps at safety against the Panthers. Instead, Melifonwu started and played 66 defensive snaps (97%) compared to two defensive snaps (3%) for Moore.
Melifonwu struggled in his emergency start. He missed tackles, allowed a touchdown and played a significant role in the Lions’ defense conceding 320 rushing yards. An improvement is necessary.
“Aggressiveness, finish on the tackles, use your hands,” Campbell said Friday. “He’s a big, long athlete, and he’s got the tools. It’s just, ‘You got your first start under your belt. Now we need to see the aggressive side come out. You got to play more violent and finish plays.’ That’s what we’re looking for him.”
On the other side, it’s Melifonwu’s job until something changes.
“I think we’re going to see a player that sees it faster and triggers faster,” Campbell said. “He knows what we’re looking for, the intensity and aggressiveness. I anticipate we’ll see a better version of Iffy.”
“Everybody else, we’re pretty good right now,” Campbell said.
DJ Chark has been ‘what we need him to be’
Wide receiver DJ Chark missed six games earlier this season with an ankle injury and returned in a limited role Week 11 against the New York Giants. He needed about two games to get acclimated again.
In Weeks 13-16, Chark was the Lions’ top target.
“We know what we need him to be,” receivers coach Antwaan Randle El said Friday. “He’s been that and will continue in these next couple games. And hopefully, we get in the playoffs.”
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The 26-year-old, who signed a one-year, $10 million contract in March, has caught 16 of 20 targets for 318 yards and one touchdown, averaging 19.9 yards per catch. His re-emergence into the offense helped sparked quarterback Jared Goff’s deep-ball threat.
His veteran presence, too, is key to the Lions’ success on offense.
“He’s been to the Pro Bowl, stuff like that,” Randle El said. “He knows the grind. He knows the work and how to make plays. When it comes to making plays, it’s us making plays. We help each other. … It’s never, ‘I’m making these plays, look at what I’ve done.’ When it comes to the humble part, the young guys see that.”
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Chark’s activity has been supplemented by the consistent production of second-year wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, who posted at least 50 yards in each of his past nine games and 775 total yards during that span.
The 23-year-old is responsible for 96 receptions, 1,050 yards and six touchdowns this season.
“The next step is to continue to remain consistent,” Randle El said. “For us, it’s giving him the workload. Not overloading him but continuing to give him the workload and let him work through it. … He has not had a low, so to speak. He’s been that rock for us, if you will, at that spot.”
Jamaal Williams’ workload
Veteran Jamaal Williams is the Lions’ lead running back, as third-year running back D’Andre Swift — according to running backs coach Duce Staley — continues “battling through some things” with his health.
But Williams hasn’t looked like a true No. 1.
“His confidence hasn’t changed,” Staley said Friday. “Jamaal is the same every day. He’s continuing to work, making sure we hit the hole as backs, making sure we see the hole. That has a lot to do with the scheme and how we put things together.”
Over the past four games, Williams averaged 2.47 yards per game (47 carries, 116 yards, one touchdown). In his first 11 games, he averaged 4.15 yards per game (177 carries, 734 yards, nine touchdowns).
He hasn’t surpassed 37 yards on the ground since Week 12.
“Workload has nothing to do with it,” Staley said. “We just got to be more efficient. That’s running backs, (offensive line), coaches. We got to be more efficient and make sure we put our guys in the right place.”
Meanwhile, Swift has carried the ball more than 10 times in two games this season: Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles (15 carries) and Week 13 against the Jacksonville Jaguars (14 carries).
Swift, the No. 35 overall pick in 2020, set a goal of 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards before the season began. With two games remaining, he has 439 rushing yards and 289 receiving yards.
“Just learning and growing,” Staley said. “He’s still a young player. Being able to deal with a couple things as he’s dealt with injuries, being able to fight through them, getting out there on the field, knowing you’re not 100% (healthy), maybe 70-80%, and you can still be productive. You go through some things, and you got to find a way. Special players do, and he has.”
Like a playoff game?
Here’s what Campbell said Friday when asked if he’s treating Sunday’s matchup with the Bears like a playoff game: “I don’t know. I haven’t used those words with the team. I just know we got to win this game. However you cut it, this is important. I’ll tell you why it’s important: It’s important to win. It’s important to establish our identity. That’s the most important thing to me right now.”
Contact Evan Petzold at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.