For the Lions, hype doesn’t inspire them to explore the possibilities. They’ve been through so many lows that every touch of a high makes you wonder if they have the perspective and humility to handle it. Preseason kicked off with the fearless Dan Campbell, who he admitted won’t take his kneecap-bitting debut two years ago.
“What’s going to worry you is the hype train,” the coach said as the team geared up for its third season. “This thing is just picking up steam and is out of control at the moment.”
For the past six weeks, Campbell has attempted to condition the Lions to remain the hard-fought side, winning eight of their last 10 games last season and entering what is perhaps the most anticipated season in team history . The Lions not only enjoy a high reputation. They are Fun and is held in such high esteem that the NFL chose Detroit to visit Kansas City, Missouri, and challenge the defending champion Chiefs on Thursday night to open the season.
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That’s very different from sticking to Thanksgiving tradition and force-feeding the common Lions in front of a captive national TV audience in November. This is the league that names them one of their most compelling teams. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the franchise’s solid reputation. The last time we saw the Lions, they traveled to Green Bay on a Sunday night and ended the 2022 regular season by overtaking the Packers and sparking the departure of the great Aaron Rodgers, a legendary Detroit tormentor. The Packers had to win to make the playoffs, and the Lions only played for pride. And that was enough. The lasting memory heightened the Lions’ perception, transforming them from a promising team that got hot when the stakes were low to an emerging force with a flashy offensive plan and the kneecap-friendly mindset of a competitor.
And here they are now, with a chance to make a deeper impression. Detroit fits the profile of an up-and-coming team. In 2021, Campbell’s first season, the Lions were 3-13-1. They started 6-1 a year ago but then bounced back and finished 8-9. Last season, they produced a top-five offense, with coordinator Ben Johnson devising plays that had football nerds swooning and restoring glory to quarterback Jared Goff, who rolled back the clock to his productive days with the Los Angeles Rams .
Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is a star, and like the Chiefs’ poor man’s version, Detroit has found ways to be effective in Johnson’s system without dynamic secondary reception options. Goff distributed the ball, made simple plays and trusted his teammates. The running game was similarly solid. This allowed Detroit to make some gains despite a defense that was bottom in yards allowed.
In the NFL, going from terrible to mediocre performance isn’t difficult for most teams. The hardest step is the one Detroit has to take this season. With the Lions being a popular pick for winning an NFC North during the transition, they are expected to open up a window of opportunity for competition. They start this year with a six-year playoff drought. They’ve only made it to the postseason three times this century. They have rarely been decent and consistent since Barry Sanders shone and coach Wayne Fontes guided them to four playoff appearances in five years in the 1990s.
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The last time the Lions had anything going, they fired Jim Caldwell after he had three successful seasons in four years because former general manager Bob Quinn and the Lions’ owners “wanted to take this team to the next level.” . Then they hired Patricia and put her face back in the sewer.
If Campbell can lead Detroit to a division title, it would be their first since 1993. As daunting as it may seem, Campbell is up to the challenge. He worries about the hype, but only because he wants to use it as a motivation for his team to put in work and earn a new status.
“I don’t feel any weight,” he told reporters. “I feel the wind under my goddamn wings, man.”
“Truthfully?” one reporter wondered.
“Honestly,” said the 47-year-old former tight end, muscles bulging as he leaned against a lectern. “Absolutely, absolutely. I love this man. That’s excellent. I love our fans. They feel it like we feel it. It’s not a burden. This is not pressure. That’s not a weight. That gives me inspiration. That’s what it does for me.”
Campbell has gone from being a cartoonish character in his first press conference to a respected young coach. He is by far the most entertaining coach in a league of enterprising and prudent men who would rather whistle than say anything revealing to the media. Campbell is a regular guy and an underrated CEO. To complement this, he hired a great coaching staff led by Johnson and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn. He took on a team with a losing mentality and encouraged a belief in the dressing room. Now he needs to stay ahead of the panic, which won’t be easy given that Detroit faces Kansas City and the Seattle Seahawks, two playoff teams, earlier in the season.
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On paper, Detroit seems poised to deliver. The Lions still appear to lack talent in the qualifying positions, but their quality could make up for any depth concerns. They added April draft No. 12 Jahmyr Gibbs as a multidimensional player to their backfield after trailing running backs Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift. When Johnson uses it properly, Gibbs excels as a hybrid running back/wide receiver.
But while Detroit’s offense is intriguing, defense needs to improve if the team is to keep up. The Lions have added significant talent as linebackers and defensive backs, which could help them become better than a defense that either gives up the big play or creates big plays of its own with sacks and takeaways. Glenn has the passion and pedagogical instinct to build a competent unit around defensive end Aidan Hutchinson. Now he has to do it.
For the Lions, the potential is huge. But they know the fear will remain until they prove themselves. There are two sides to the hype and they raise different questions. Most teams make you wonder, “Are they real?” For others, you can’t avoid asking, “What could go wrong?”
In 94 weak seasons, Detroit has seen fleeting moments of recovery drowned out by fear. Perhaps this time, however, the Lions can thrive on the opportunity.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2023/09/07/detroit-lions-dan-campbell-expectations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_homepage Today’s NFL game features the Lions, the Chiefs and plenty of hype