The Miami Dolphins are headed to Michigan this weekend to face the Detroit Lions, an AFC versus NFC showdown that typically only happens every four years. The last meeting between the Lions and the Dolphins was in 2018, with Detroit winning that game 32-21 in Miami. The Lions also won the last time this matchup was played in Detroit, coming out of that 2014 meeting with a 20-16 victory.
Since 2018, a lot has changed for both clubs. Miami’s head coach in 2018 was Adam Gase, with Mike Tannenbaum as the team’s Executive Vice President of Football Operations. Miami had just selected safety Minkah Fitzpatrick with their first-round pick in the Draft and Ryan Tannehill was back at quarterback after his knee injury in 2016.
Since then, Gase was replaced by Brian Flores, who was then replaced by Mike McDaniel this year, Tannenbaum left the team after the 2018 season, Fitzpatrick was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Tannehill was traded to the Tennessee Titans.
For the Lions, the 2018 squad had Matt Patricia as the head coach, Bob Quinn as the general manager, and Matthew Stafford under center. The team facing Miami this weekend has Dan Campbell on the sidelines, Brad Holmes as the general manager and, after trading Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams in 2021, Jared Goff is the team’s quarterback.
These are two teams who are not very familiar with each other. That also means there are two fan bases not very familiar with each other or the teams playing this weekend. To get a better idea of who the 2022 Lions are, I had a chance to speak with Mike Payton from Pride of Detroit. Our discussion took a look at why the Lions seem to be struggling this year, despite being able to put points on the scoreboard, where Miami could have success, and what is happening with quarterback Jared Goff.
Our conversation started and ended with looks at some former Dolphins now with the Lions. Campbell, the Lions' head coach, previously served on Miami’s coaching staff. He started as a coaching intern in 2010 just after retiring from his playing days as a tight end. In 2011 he became the team’s tight end coach, then was promoted to be the team’s interim head coach in 2015 after the team fired Joe Philbin. Our conversation about the Lions started with Campbell.
At 4-15 through a year plus, the Dan Campbell era of the Lions is not off to an amazing start. As a former interim head coach for the Dolphins, and one that went 5-7 after Miami had started the year 1-3 under Joe Philbin, there is definitely a desire in Miami to see him succeed. How are fans feeling about him? Is he on the hot seat this year?
Fans still very much like Dan Campbell. When the Lions hired him and Brad Holmes, everyone was aware that this was going to be a process and the Lions did not want to build a team that could turn it around quickly, but a team that could have sustained success. That’s why the Lions signed both to long contracts. Sure there’s frustration that the Lions aren’t winning games, but it’s understood that the Lions, with the youngest roster in the league, still have time to get this team ready.
Jared Goff can be a frustrating quarterback to figure out from the outside looking in. Watching him weekly as a Lions fan must be maddening. He has times where he looks like a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback, then he has times where he looks like he is not sure what to do with the ball. The turnovers have to be infuriating as well. What are your thoughts on Goff and how do the Lions get him back on track?
You know how people always say “he’s a quarterback that needs everything around him to be perfect?” Jared Goff is the epitome of that. Early on when everyone was healthy, he looked like a guy that the Lions could rely on during their rebuild and maybe even be the guy. Then the injuries started happening and Goff regressed to his worst version. That back and forth in his play has made him unreliable and because of that, Goff’s days in Detroit will soon be over. The Lions have an out in his contract after this season and will probably look to draft their quarterback of the future in April.
At the start of the season, I thought the Lions were a team who was going to take a step forward and start working their way up the standings. Heading into Week 8, Detroit is 1-5 on the year and is sitting in the first-overall draft pick position. Aside from the turnovers, what has the Lions struggling to win games?
The youth, inexperience and injuries have really melded together for this team. The Lions are trying to piece things together in a way that works and it’s showing. Luckily it would seem that things are starting to come together a bit. The Lions defense had been the worst in the league going into last week’s matchup with the Cowboys, but they were able to keep them out of the end zone until late in the game when things started to fall apart. Hopefully that’s a sign of things starting to improve there after the Lions shuffled players around. This team will win more games this season, but the next step won’t be taken till probably next year.
On the other side of that coin, what is working well for the Lions? What should Miami prepare to see when it comes to trying to stop the offense or put up points on the defense?
Health is the big thing. The Lions will be getting Amon-Ra St. Brown and D’Andre Swift back for this game and when those guys are on the field, the offense really starts to work. Especially with Swift. The Lions run game and the line that blocks for that run game just rolls in a different way when Swift is on the field. Defensively we’ve seen rookies like Aidan Hutchinson, Malcolm Rodriguez, Kerby Joseph and Josh Paschal show up big for the team and it’s helped the defense get better. Look for Hockenson especially. The Lions have moved him to the two-point stance, where he succeeded most at Michigan, and it’s already paying dividends. He had a two-sack game against the Cowboys.
The Dolphins are 3.5-point favorites with a 50.5-point total according to DraftKings SportsBook. Do you think the spread is accurate? Would you expect an over or under on the point total this weekend?
I think that’s a solid spread. I don’t see this being a high-scoring game. It could be a lot like the Dolphins' game against the Steelers last week. a defensive battle. I’ve been known to get these things wrong though. So be prepared for a shootout that goes into overtime. Still, I think the spread stands.
There are two former Dolphins on the Lions roster I would love to discuss. First, defensive end Charles Harris is a player who was a first-round pick by the Dolphins but in three years with the team he tallied 3.5 sacks and only started in seven games. Last year with the Lions, he recorded 7.5 sacks and started 14 games, then this year he has a sack in four games started. Is he an effective pass rusher and someone who excites Lions fans? The other is defensive lineman Benito Jones. As my readers probably will know from the preseason, I really liked Jones with Miami. He was a practice squad player who had some appearances when he was elevated, and he was just that guy that seemed to be willing to do the ugly things for the line. He has appeared in six games for the Lions this year after the team claimed him following the final round of roster cuts this year - Miami likely would have signed him back to the practice squad if he did not get claimed. How is he used by the Lions and has he done anything worthy of being noticed?
So far, Charles Harris has unfortunately not played to the level he did last year. He’s also been dealing with injuries lately too. He’s been on the injury report all week and probably won’t play Sunday. As for Jones, he’s been pretty quiet this season. That can be a good thing though. He hasn’t had any moments where he was to blame for a big play. Then again, he hasn’t had any big plays himself though. He’s just been a good hand.