I’ve never liked the term “meaningless games” to describe the remaining contests of a team out of the playoff race. It may be “meaningless” when it comes to the postseason, but there is so much else going on during a football game. Players are fighting for pride, doing the job they love, trying to create good tape for upcoming free agency, and they may even be trying to hit an incentive bonus.
And for a team as injury-riddled as the Detroit Lions, some of these players are attempting to capitalize on an opportunity they may not have gotten elsewhere. Just look at this week’s snap counts and you’ll see significant contributions by guys like Craig Reynolds, Tom Kennedy, Will Holden, Anthony Pittman, and Evan Brown—who wouldn’t even be no the active roster on other teams. Tell me these games are meaningless to them.
The game is just as important to the coaching staff, too. This team is still in its infancy stage with this rebuild, so the coaching staff is still trying to figure out what works with some of these players and what doesn’t. This is also a key opportunity for Dan Campbell to find players that will push through adversity and give it their all on every play—a key character trait for what he’s trying to build here in Detroit.
So don’t tell me these games are meaningless. Instead, tell me what you’re hoping to see from this team in their final two games of the 2021 NFL season.
Today’s Question of the Day is:
What are you hoping to see the Lions accomplish in the final two games of the season?
My answer: The development of Ifeatu Melifonwu.
All year, we have seen defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant work their magic on the secondary. Undrafted rookie Jerry Jacobs went from massive underdog to make the roster to capable starter. Amani Oruwariye went from borderline No. 2 cornerback, to showing incredible improvement by the end of his season. Tracy Walker was in the midst of a breakout season before injury, they’ve found uses for a struggling player like Will Harris, and another undrafted rookie, AJ Parker, has perhaps been the steadiest player in the secondary.
Unfortunately, a quadricep injury robbed Melifonwu of the opportunity for that same growth in his rookie season. He missed two months of the season after suffering the injury in Week 2 against the Green Bay Packers. On Sunday, he made his first start since then, and it didn’t go particularly well. Head coach Dan Campbell, as he is want to do, kept it real on Monday.
“The film showed a guy who—look, he went in there and competed. He drew Kyle Pitts quite a bit and it showed that he hasn’t played a lot since Green Bay is what it showed,” Campbell said bluntly. “And that’s okay as long as he improves from here.”
Melifonwu doesn’t have a ton of time to have that Glenn/Pleasant magic rub off on him, but these final two games are incredibly valuable experience for the third-round pick. Not only is it game-play experience you can’t replicate in practice, but he’ll be going against some pretty darn good receivers over the next two weeks. The Seahawks have guys like Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, while the Packers have Davante Adams and one of the best quarterbacks of all time throwing to him.
It’s going to be a challenge for Melifonwu, and he’ll likely make a handful of mistakes. But that’s exactly what he needs right now. And with Detroit’s cornerback situation in 2022 far from settled, some improvement from Melifonwu could go a long way.