The LA Rams are set to host Jared Goff and the Detroit Lions on Sunday. While Rams fans are quite familiar with Goff and teammate Michael Brockers, the two teams have not had many high stakes matchups recently.
In fact, it is only the second time that Sean McVay has coached against the Lions in his Rams career. That was in December of 2018, with Goff giving the Rams a 10-3 lead in the second quarter on a touchdown to Robert Woods, and Matthew Stafford pulling the game within three for Detroit late in the third quarter.
LA pulled away with two Todd Gurley touchdowns in the fourth quarter, winning 30-16.
As you can tell, there are notable differences between the two teams now, and major differences for a rebuilding Lions franchise. To get to know the 2021 Lions better, I sent five Qs to Mike Payton at Pride of Detroit, and he sent me back five corresponding As.
Q - Let’s talk about this concept of “rebuilding” really quickly because I know Detroit is going through another new plan right now with former Rams exec Brad Holmes. The Lions drafted Matthew Stafford in 2009, then Ndamukong Suh in 2010, then had a pretty good team in 2011. Clue in the uninitiated, what went wrong in 2012 and would you do anything differently this time around as opposed to the 2009 rebuild?
A - I’ve long thought that 2011 was an anomaly. The Lions rebuild was really complete in 2014 and it saw the Lions go 11-5 and field one of the best defenses of the 2010’s. Sadly the Lions tied so much money into Stafford, Johnson and Suh that one of them had to go. It was Suh. The Lions made the playoffs two more times during the Caldwell era and then Matt Patricia came in and tore the entire roster apart for reasons that will never be understood. Patricia was supposed to be the guy to take them to the next step. He instead is the guy that has the Lions on another full scale rebuild.
If you could go back, I would have offered Suh more money and made sure that the 2014 team stayed together going forward. The Lions youth was coming along really well at the time and they just needed a couple extra pieces to contend. Sadly that didn’t happen.
Q - Frankly there’s only one thing about the 2021 Detroit Lions that confuses me and that’s the conflicting messages sent by the front office in contrast with what’s seen out of Dan Campbell’s press conferences each week. It seems like the Lions in general would love nothing more than the number one pick (which will be a difficult asset to attain if for no other reason than the Houston Texans. That’s all: the Houston Texans) and yet Campbell has literally cried after a loss. I don’t besmirch him for crying and I like Campbell’s emotional commitment to the players, I just find it to fly in the face of the general message Detroit should be sending this year which is...be patient. What’s your take on Dan Campbell through six? Is he emotionally ready for 1-16, if such a record happens?
A - I don’t get the feeling that this team wants to go out and lose or that they really want the first pick. The Lions are a very young team that has dealt with a season ending injury of a key player almost every week of the season. To top it off, Jared Goff is broken beyond repair and he has nobody to throw it to. But, I see a team that puts up a fight no matter what. Even if they get blown out, they’re still fighting. This team wants to win, but they just don’t know how to. Sadly they might not have the talent to either. I think Dan Campbell realizes how bad the team is, but I think he’d still love to see his young players enjoy the feeling of a win. After the Ravens and Vikings losses, I can’t blame him for crying. It was rough to watch. I can’t imagine how it felt to be a part of it.
Q - If you could choose between Jared Goff or “the field” to be the Lions Week 1 starter in 2022, which bet would you take? I don’t mean the literal football field starting over Jared Goff....but have you seen the field’s EPA per throw?
A - I’m going with Jared Goff to be the Lions starter in 2022. While I did say he was broken, I’ll also give him some benefit of doubt due to what he has to work with. But, that’s not why he starts. He starts because the Lions will probably want to give their rookie quarterback some time to grow from the bench before he starts. There’s no way Goff is on this team in 2023 though.
Q - In the 2020 draft, Joe Burrow and Chase Young left little room for choice with the top-two picks, putting the Lions in position to draft the best available player once the Bengals and WFT were officially done. Detroit’s old GM took Jeff Okudah with the number three pick and though it is rare to see a cornerback go in the top-three, the choice didn’t draw much, if any criticism. That’s how good Okudah was looking come out of Ohio State but he was the forgotten rookie last year and then he ruptured his Achilles in Week 1. How excited are you by the prospect of a healthy Okudah joining the Lions again in 2022 and is there any remorse (rationally speaking) about choosing him over the other options in the draft?
A - The way I see it is that if the Lions don’t take Jeff Okudah at three in the 2020 draft, whatever team that was there would have. Okudah was widely considered to be one of the top five players in that draft. He’s had a really rough go in the NFL and it sucks to see. He was getting better slowly before the injury. I don’t know if he’ll ever live up to his draft status after this injury. You really hate to see something like this. Sure would have loved to have seen Justin Jefferson in a Lions jersey instead though.
Q - How confident are you at this moment in Penei Sewell at right tackle? Is this an area to potentially exploit or has he consistently been getting better after opting out in 2020 and then moving positions after the draft?
A - Sewell has had moments where just looks incredible out there. He had a great game last week against the Bengals. But, then there’s games like he had against the Ravens that make you wonder if the Lions made a mistake. If I have to boil it down, I’d say Sewell is pretty good for a 20 year old kid who didn’t play football for a year, spent the summer at right tackle and then switched over to left a few days before the first game of the year. I think he’ll live up to his draft status over time. I’d be lying though if I said I’m not concerned about a sudden move back to the right side if and when Taylor Decker returns. Sewell really struggled there over the summer. It’s going to take some time to get used to it.