Four Downs: Lions’ Ford Field advantage, future goals, Swift’s return and Okudah’s struggles

Detroit News

Allen Park — Here are four observations after having a night to ponder the Detroit Lions’ 41-10 victory over the Chicago Bears.

First down

Before taking any questions at his postgame press conference, Lions coach Dan Campbell made a point to thank the fans. And while winning football is what sells tickets and puts butts in the seats, the enthusiasm the fan base has shown through the stretch run hasn’t gone unnoticed.

For the third time this season, more than 66,000 packed Ford Field, and the crowd was loud from the opening kickoff. In recent weeks, there’s no question the venue has served as a true home-field advantage for the Lions.

Answering a question a few minutes later about how meaningful next week’s game against the Packers at Lambeau Field will be, Campbell raved about the moment ahead for his team, saying “this is as special as it gets,” before bringing the discussion back to Ford Field.

“The only downside about today is the fact that this is our last home game,” Campbell said. “And you want this to be — no man, we’re going to have a few more home games here down the road in January. But as far as where we’re at right now, it doesn’t get any better than this.”

The wording here is a little unclear. If you put quotes around the part starting at “no man,” it’s Campbell sharing his internal monologue, bemoaning the fact the Lions didn’t do enough for home playoff games to be on the table this year. And if you hear it the other way, it’s the coach talking about a bright future, with division titles on the way.

A few minutes later, seeking clarity on the comment, a reporter asked if the standard has changed, and if a home playoff game is the expectation next season. The coach didn’t shy away from it.

“I know this, we need to be competing for division championship next year,” Campbell said. “I mean, that’s the goal. That’s what (general manager) Brad (Holmes) and I set out to do. And you do that, and then, man, you’re able to get a home game, get you a couple of home games and now everything runs through Ford Field, it runs through Detroit.”

Campbell’s directness remains one of his best traits, and in this moment, his sentiment is correct. While he made sure to remind everyone there’s a highly meaningful game to be played next week, he’s absolutely right, the expectation should be a division title next season. His team has won seven of the past nine games, with a chance to win eight of the final 10. It’s a young roster, with a core that will largely stay intact this offseason, which has gained invaluable experience, growing together throughout this successful run. Plus, they’re not just winning games, but often winning convincingly.

The expectation in 2023 is a division title, and should include a playoff win. Next year will be 30 years since the Lions claimed a division crown. It’s time. Sure, they could stand to add a few more pieces in free agency and the draft, but the future is here and the time to strike is now.

Second down

D’Andre Swift hasn’t been right since the season opener, when he suffered a high-ankle sprain. Add in a shoulder injury a couple of weeks later and it’s been a frustrating season for the dual-threat who had shared a lofty goal of posting a 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in his third season.

The Lions shut down Swift for a month because of the injuries, but even after he returned to action, he wasn’t close to 100 percent. That’s significantly limited both his playing time and production since he racked up 175 yards from scrimmage in that Week 1 loss to Philadelphia.

We were teased by a performance against Jacksonville in early December, when he received 14 carries and added four receptions, but he was right back on the injury report because of the ankle the following week. And in the three games following that burst, he mustered just 139 yards of offense.

But, here we are, the day after Swift’s best game since the opener. He didn’t play a ton, seeing the field just 25 snaps, but he flashed electric movement skills we haven’t seen in months, bursting around the edge and through narrow gaps, and spinning out of tackle attempts.

It’s a reminder of how much more potent Detroit’s offense can be when he’s closer to full strength. It also speaks to the potential need to add Swift insurance this upcoming offseason, using the draft to acquire a back who shares his dual-threat ability, with hopefully fewer durability concerns.

Third down

The Lions didn’t hide a desire to get rookie receiver Jameson Williams more involved this week and they followed through, having him get a handful more snaps, run a few more routes, resulting in a season-high three targets.

It was good to see more versatility in that usage, as well. It wasn’t vertical route after vertical route, but rather an expansion of the tree. It started with an intermediate dig route across the middle, where quarterback Jared Goff had to pat the ball several times while waiting for the receiver to clear an underneath zone defender ready to jump into the passing lane for an interception. The disjointed rhythm of the play resulted in Goff throwing behind Williams and the receiver failing to adjust to the slightly off-target throw.

Goff looked Williams’ way at least three other times, but on a quick throw to the perimeter and a second pass across the middle, the QB put the ball into the turf both times. The first was definitely intentional, with the defense clearly having a beat on the play design. The second might have been, as well. Goff also opted for a check-down after not liking the coverage look when Williams was clearly the primary read, running a deeper pattern.

The end result was zero catches. Disappointing, to be sure, but the team still found a way to get the rookie involved and engaged, flipping him a reverse in the third quarter. It was the first time Williams had the ball in his hands in three weeks, and he didn’t disappoint, accelerating around the right side and following his blocks for a 40-yard gain.

Clearly, there’s still a rhythm being developed with his role in the offense, his chemistry with the QB and even his own route running, but this was an important afternoon for his development and incorporation into the offense.

Fourth down

Looking to rebound from a stretch of subpar performances and last week’s benching, cornerback Jeff Okudah got the start, but logged just 17 snaps as part of a clear rotation with Mike Hughes. Arguably, that wasn’t expected going into the contest, but maybe it should have been.

The coaching staff has been quick to praise Hughes in recent weeks, noting he has earned playing time. And the former first-round pick’s best performances have been while working outside. With Jerry Jacobs more locked into an every-snap role, and Okudah in a rut, it was clear who would sacrifice reps in favor of Hughes.

What does it all mean for Okudah? Tough to say. He’s under contract next year, while Hughes is not. And two years removed from an Achilles injury, with a full offseason dedicated to football-specific training and not rehab, should only result in improved and more consistent performance compared to the flashes we witnessed through the early stages of the season.

But, when considering Detroit’s draft-pick stockpile, with two first-round and two second-round selections this April, it feels increasingly likely the Lions will bring in at least one high-level corner to challenge Okudah, and Jacobs, for playing time to start the 2023 season.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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