There will be a lot of reunions happening when the Detroit Lions and Denver Broncos face off on Saturday night in primetime. Most surround the New Orleans Saints, where Broncos head coach Sean Payton used to lead and Lions head coach Dan Campbell cut his teeth as a coach. Campbell considers Payton one of his biggest mentors, and knowing him as well as he does, he knows the Broncos coach’s competitive spirit is going to be through the roof this week.
“We better be on our stuff because he’s going to come here to try to embarrass us,” Campbell said on Monday.
Campbell spent five years as the assistant head coach of the Saints under Patyon, but he is far from the only Lions employee who branched off from the Payton tree. Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn spent those same five years as the team’s defensive backs coach. And Lions linebacker Alex Anzalone’s NFL career started with four years under Payton’s tutelage.
Anzalone, too, knows that this is the exact type of game Payton will get up for.
“I know that Sean’s probably trying to come here and put 50 up on us,” Anzalone said. “That’s what we have to be ready (for). That’s just how he is, just because of all the personal connections.”
But, of course, that motivation goes both ways. Campbell will undeniably be eager to showcase to his mentor that he has the Lions as legitimate contenders in Year 3 of his leadership. Anzalone admitted his week of preparation is different, too, as he looks to impress Payton and several other Broncos coaches that he has personal connections with from their Saints days (ie: outside linebackers coach Michael Wilhoite)
“I know for me, you have a different type of approach to these types of games,” Anzalone said. “Just because you know someone personally. It definitely, probably brings a little more of an edge to how you go about your week.”
That said, both teams appear to be headed in opposite directions right now. After a 5-1 start, the Lions are just 4-3 in their most recent seven games, and they were lucky to escape a couple of those games with wins.
The Broncos, on the other hand, started the year 1-5, but have now won six of their last seven games. Payton has already drawn on the 2022 Lions (who went from 1-6 to 9-8) as a comparison and inspiration for the team’s turnaround.
“At 1-5, we just pointed to a similar situation a year ago,” Payton said on Monday. “In other words, a team who was 1-6 and was able to flip the script. That was really it.”
Campbell, though, is confident this year’s squad will be improved and ready for this week’s challenge.
“That’s our motivation, that’s my motivation and it’s about winning, man. All we’ve got to do is find a way to win and we’re going to have to be at our best, and we will be at our best.”