The Lions have one of the youngest rosters in the NFL. Last year the Lions had one of the youngest rosters of the last 15 years. Even more rookies are playing significant snaps this year after drafting and playing our first 4 selections meaningful minutes. The Lions are taking the Tom Izzo approach to team building. Izzo schedules some very tough early season games and has a very deep rotation throughout the year. By the time the tournament comes around, they have the most well-rounded experienced team. He uses these early season losses or tough games as motivation and teaching lessons. It sets the tone for a hard year of practices so they hit their stride in the tournament. Other college teams prefer to schedule small schools, play their best 5 players, and dominate the lesser competition. This approach is short sighted. It gets their coach a few more wins for his resume, but when the hard part of their schedule hits or a player gets hurt, their bench has barely played and their best players haven't had any true tests. They've been thinking they are great and perhaps haven't practiced as hard. When adversity hits, they fold. The margin between winning, losing and greatness is so razor thin. While the NFL sets the schedule, we started the season with our toughest tests. Dan Campbell is playing the young guys and letting them take their lumps.
Looking back the last two weeks, just because the Bears offense, coaching, and front office are suspect, doesn't mean their entire team is terrible. The Bears just beat the Vikings. They have a better defense than the Lions and are currently sporting the number one rushing defense in the entire NFL at 79.0 ypg. We are a run first team. Goff is best in play action. Their elite defense was better than our offense. We can make fun of them overall but the Lions aren't first in the league in any major categories. Our achilles heal is running quarterbacks. We need to play better up front, but we know that unit has the least amount of investment and experience. Had we protected the football better, it would have been a better game.
The Packers game fit all the criteria for a letdown game. Playing a lesser team on a short week, after a close win over a lesser team. If they had lost the game against the Bears, they are likely a little more locked in for this game. The offensive line was bad this game. They usually aren't. The turnovers made it even harder on the defense. We underestimated just how hard every game in the NFL is, and on a short week, lost the turnover battle. The Lions will have a longer week to recover after two tough division games and time to make adjustments.
Remember Aidan Hutchinson's year last year? He started slow and then figured it out big time. The Lions are in a much better spot starting 8-3 and then digging out of the 1 win hole they were in last year. I expect the same development from a few of our first and second year players. Jack Campbell will be better come playoff time for having gotten time at every position. Even though he didnt rush the passer in college and has been bad at it thus far, this experience will be valuable for looks in the playoffs and into next year. Although they are not rookies, Jameson Williams, Josh Paschal, and Levi Onwuzurike have all missed significant time due to injury and are gaining valuable experience now. Brian Branch and Kerby Joseph have been playing hurt and learning as well. Even if they started strong, the NFL is a competitive league and now that there is tape on them, teams have started to exploit their inexperience. Tom Izzo plays his bench deeper than most teams. Against Duke this year, 10 MSU players got at least 5 minutes in the game. Duke played 7. Dan Campbell will be March Madness Tom Izzo, thanks in large part to the deep rotation of young players gaining experience all season. We always forget mid season Tom Izzo can be maddening because he doesn't always play his best players the most minutes, but we are always thankful come March. I expect these young players to adjust to the adjustments of the adjustments. It's the NFL. We have great coaches, young players, and a 2.5 game lead in the division. Nows not the time to panic, it's time to be glad we've been able to build a division lead while playing one of the youngest rosters in the NFL.