Lions notebook: Youth has fans excited about future, but experience can help beat Packers

Detroit News

Allen Park — The Detroit Lions’ youth is one of the main reasons why fans and organization alike are excited for the team’s future.

But this Sunday night, as the Lions (8-8) travel to Green Bay for a primetime showdown with the NFC North rival Packers (8-8), Detroit will need to show it has indeed grown up in a hurry, as it looks to complete an unthinkable turnaround.

In that sense, the Lions head coach Dan Campbell feels fortunate to be led into this game by Jared Goff. The former Rams quarterback has been in these spots — completed this rise from laughingstock to legit contenders — before.

“It will be played like a playoff game, because it is win and get in, or you don’t win and you go home, one way or another,” Lions head coach Dan Campbell said. “I think out of all positions, you want your quarterback to have been there and felt a little bit. Of all (the players), he needs to make sure that his emotions are always on an even plane, and he can think through things like he has all year.

“He’s been in some, as we know, huge games. He’s been in the big one, so this won’t be anything new to him and I think it does help, especially in that position.”

And yet, at this point of the Lions’ season, Goff said he hasn’t felt the need to step up and force guys to realize the potential of their journey to Green Bay.

“(I’ll say something) if I feel like I need to,” said Goff, who owns six playoff starts with the Rams. “They’ve played in big games. We got a lot of guys that have played in big-time college games and big-time playoff games and big-time games regardless, so, I think they’ll handle it the right way.

Campbell himself hasn’t shied away from communicating the stakes of what Week 18 will provide, which is probably why Goff hasn’t felt the need to take it upon himself (at least not yet).

“… I think that is normal, just making sure everyone knows what time it is. And it’s a in-division game, it’s everything you can add onto it. It’s a night game — Sunday night in Lambeau, the whole thing. It’s as big as they get late in the year, and (we’re just) making sure these guys know,” Goff said. “And I believe they do.”

On the defensive side of the ball, that stabilizing force with experience is much less active on gameday. In fact, Michael Brockers — who made the 2018 Super Bowl with Goff’s Rams team — is that guy for the defense, defensive line coach Todd Wash said.

“Before we started the meeting, I said, ‘Hey, how many guys have been in the playoffs?'” Wash said. “There’s not very many guys in our room to raise their hands, but (Brockers) was one of them, and he talked about how the intensity is gonna be higher than any other regular-season game, come Sunday night.

“We’re all playing for something.”

More: ‘I’m a team guy’: Despite benching, Brockers’ humility, leadership fuel Lions’ turnaround

Failure to launch

The more Lions rookie James Houston continues to ball out, the more the question is begged: What the heck took the Lions so long to get him in action?

Houston made his NFL debut on Thanksgiving Day against the Buffalo Bills and has racked up eight sacks in the six games following, out-pacing the first six games of any player in NFL history since sacks were invented. Wash said his lack of involvement earlier in the year was because guys at the position were healthy — but admitted that not getting him up sooner was probably an oversight.

More: Lions film review: Exploring James Houston’s expanding role and steady impact

“They were all healthy. It’s just trying to get all these bodies up, and we’ve seen it flashed a lot in practice,” Wash said. “When you talk to (Lions offensive tackle Taylor Decker), Deck said he’s probably one of our best pass rushers. And it just took us awhile to get smart, probably.”

Wash continued, “When he was up, he hadn’t taken any practice reps, so some of the stuff did shock us there. There’s no doubt. But the more he’s up, the more that he’s able to execute the system. He’s a heck of a player.”

The more he’s able to execute the system, the more playing time he gets. He played a career-high 63% of defensive snaps in Sunday’s win over the Bears, besting his previous high of 40% in Week 15 against the New York Jets.

“The biggest thing is he’s really starting to pick up on the package,” Wash said. “Obviously, when he was on the practice squad and stuff like that, he doesn’t get a lot of practice reps, so the more and more he’s been up on the active roster, he’s getting more and more practice reps done in the system and executing really well.

“So that’s a credit to him to be able to play the same position on first and second down, and then play defensive end on third down.”

Big Commish

With all the love from this past weekend going to a trio of rookies, allow Wash to point out how big of a factor John Cominsky has been in allowing Houston, Aidan Hutchinson and Josh Paschal to find their lane. Cominsky, Wash said, is not your run-of-the-mill defensive lineman: He’s also kind of a quarterback.

“Commish really makes that third-down group go,” Wash said. “We call him our quarterback. He sets the rush plan. He sets — if there’s blitzes and somebody’s confused, he knows what everybody does. Hell, he can coach the room.”

Cominsky, a former fourth-round pick in 2019 (Atlanta Falcons) who was claimed by the Lions off waivers in May, missed Weeks 3-6 with a wrist injury he’s battled for most of the season. He came up with his fourth sack of the season on Sunday, too. You may not have realized it — and that’s just fine with him.

“He studies, he plays his tail off, and he’s getting opportunities, really,” Wash said. “… But the thing with Commish is he’s probably the most unselfish player. He doesn’t care if he gets sacks or hurries, as long as we’re executing and winning. That’s all he cares about.”

Twitter: @nolanbianchi

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