ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Fans are no longer permitted at the Detroit Lions‘ practice facility, but the sounds of roaring crowds have continued to echo throughout.
This week, in anticipation of their Thursday night game against the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs (8:20 p.m. ET on NBC), the Lions have blasted artificial crowd noise during practices to ready the team for the hostile road environment they’ll face at Arrowhead Stadium.
“They do a good job,” said Lions Pro Bowl offensive tackle Penei Sewell. “I think the speakers probably blew out by the end of the week, but it’s gonna get us prepared and we’re gonna be right for Thursday.”
Getting right for the start of the season has been one of the Lions’ top goals this offseason. Detroit has posted an NFL-worst 2-14 record through Weeks 1-9 in 2021 and 2022 combined. And with expectations higher than ever for the team, they know they can’t afford to get off to another slow start in 2023.
“That whole thing right there was a point of emphasis for the training camp itself; was just starting fast every day, whether it’s practice or the game or whatever it is,” said Lions defensive lineman Alim McNeill. “We’ve got to start a lot faster.”
“Since the day we started this new season, from the first day of OTAs, everything has been about starting fast because we have to start the season off better,” McNeill said. “Obviously, we’re worried about K.C., but yeah, we have to start the season off better.”
The Lions started the 2021 season 0-8 en route to a 3-13-1 finish. In 2022, they began 2-6 before surging late and ending the campaign with their first winning record (9-8) since 2017.
One of the reasons for their late turnarounds in each of coach Dan Campbell’s two years is improved quarterback play.
Over that span, in Weeks 10-18 Jared Goff was third in Total QBR, led the NFL in QBR (99.2) on passes 20-plus yards downfield and after play-action (84.7) with a league-high 17-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio on such throws, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In Weeks 1-9, his Total QBR was 43.1 and his overall TD-to-INT ratio was 22-to-13.
“I think you’re always urgent every year. I think the last two years we haven’t started quick, so maybe there’s a little bit of an increased awareness of it,” Goff said. “Yeah, sure, I think making sure that we don’t dig ourselves in a hole, but at the same time, we’re trying to win every game. But yeah, we’re aware of it, but it’s one game at a time and the first one is the Chiefs and try to go out there and win that one.”
To help accelerate preparation for the season, Campbell scheduled a pair of joint practices against the New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars this summer, allowing the team to work on more specific in-game situations against a live opponent and rest starters during preseason games.
“I think we’ve done a lot more situational work, which these early games — I believe you’ve heard me say this — but it’s the team that makes the least amount of mistakes not the most plays that wins, and I think that will go a long way,” Campbell said. “And certainly, your conditioning. I don’t think anybody will be in better condition than we will [be] going into Game 1.
“I think we’re as prepared as we can be so, no, I think that we just hone in on the things that we do, and I think those will serve us right and we’ll see where we go.”
Where they hope to go is to their first playoff game since 2016. The Lions are 0-4-1 in their past five season openers, tied with the Atlanta Falcons for the second-longest active winless streak in such games behind the Indianapolis Colts (nine straight losses). But Detroit believes it has all the ingredients to solve its early season issues this year.
“It just goes into that confidence because now that it’s going into Year 3 with Coach Dan and the coaching staff, everyone knows the drills,” Sewell told ESPN. “Now, it’s just more of attention to detail, doing it the right way, getting those reps and just getting a feel for it. So, this whole offseason has been that emphasis of trying to get the details down and going faster.”