Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell had a play sheet in his left hand and a walkie-talkie in his right hand during a recent practice.
In many ways, Campbell has his hands full. And he knows it.
The first-year coach, searching for ways to spark his winless team last month, took over play-calling duties from offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn and gave himself the important chore for the first time.
Campbell said there are three calls he'd like to have back, including a run on third-and-32 from midfield in the latest loss to Chicago, and acknowledged he's learning on the fly.
“I’m not going to lie, there are things about it between learning to be a head coach and a play caller," the brutally honest coach said. “It’s stuff that I’m working through right now that I can get better at."
Quarterback Jared Goff has witnessed Campbell improving each week with his new gig.
“Anytime you take something over like that in the middle of the season and haven’t done it before, it’s going to take a week or two, and I think he’s really settled in this past week," Goff said. “I know he’d be the first one to say he wants things back, but I think he’s doing a great job and feel confident in him.”
Detroit (0-10-1) is down to six more chances to win a game in Campbell's debut season, and its next opportunity against the Minnesota Vikings (5-6) might be one of its best to pull off an upset. The Lions have only one game left — at Seattle on Jan. 2 — against a team that isn't currently in the playoff picture.
At Ford Field on Sunday, Detroit and Minnesota will be desperately seeking a win for different reasons. The Lions haven't won in nearly a calendar year and the Vikings need a win to maintain realistic playoff hopes.
“The good thing is, we are a playoff team," Minnesota receiver Adam Thielen said. “We know what we’re capable of, but we have six games to now go and prove it and to ultimately get in."
Both teams have starting running backs with injured shoulders.
Minnesota's Dalvin Cook was hurt late in the third quarter at San Francisco last Sunday, giving Alexander Mattison and rookie Kene Nwangwu increased roles in the backfield. When Cook missed the previous matchup against Detroit with a sprained ankle, Mattison had 95 yards rushing, 50 yards receiving and a touchdown.
D'Andre Swift aggravated his shoulder injury in a 16-14 loss to Chicago on Thanksgiving. Jamaal Williams, a former Green Bay Packer in his first season in Detroit, had a season-high 15 carries for 65 yards and five receptions against the Bears.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of Jamaal Williams," Campbell said.
Nwangwu has two touchdowns on just eight kickoff returns. The fourth-round draft pick out of Iowa State scored on a 99-yard runback last week at San Francisco to become the first NFL player with multiple kickoff return touchdowns in a season since Cordarrelle Patterson had two for the Vikings in 2016.
Nwangwu marveled this week at the size of the hole blockers created for him to burst through.
“This one was pickup big, like you could drive a car through it,” said Nwangwu, who injured his knee in the first preseason game and didn’t make his debut for the Vikings until Oct. 31.
Nwangwu has carried the ball two times for 16 yards, but he has a chance to be more involved with the offense due to Cook’s injury.
“I don’t think he really wants to be satisfied being a kick returner," coach Mike Zimmer said.
Minnesota's eight-point loss to the 49ers was its largest margin of defeat this season. The Vikings also have setbacks by seven and four points, by three points in a pair of overtime games, and 34-33 at Arizona.
“One key mistake really kept us from winning those," cornerback Bashaud Breeland said. “If those go in our favor, we could be undefeated right now."
Detroit is coming off a two-point loss to Chicago on Thanksgiving, a three-point setback at Cleveland and a 16-16 tie at Pittsburgh.
RESTED AND READY
The Lions, and Goff in particular, hope having nine days off will help heal bumps and bruises to improve their chances of winning.
“I don’t want to make any excuses, but just having that minor oblique deal that was bothering me, just getting right on that," said Goff, who played Chicago after missing the previous game with an injury.
Minnesota beat Detroit 19-17 at home in Week 5 on Greg Joseph’s 54-yard field goal as time expired for its eighth straight win in the series.
MINNESOTA (5-6) at DETROIT (0-10-1)
Sunday, 1 p.m. EST, Fox
BETTING LINE: Vikings by 7, according to FanDuel SportsBook.
AGAINST THE SPREAD: Minnesota 6-5; Detroit 6-4-1.
SERIES RECORD: Vikings lead 79-39-2.
LAST MEETING: Vikings beat Lions 19-17 on Oct. 10 in Minnesota.
LAST WEEK: Vikings lost to 49ers, 34-26; Lions lost to Bears, 16-14.
VIKINGS OFFENSE: OVERALL (9), RUSH (15), PASS (8), SCORING (9T).
VIKINGS DEFENSE: OVERALL (30), RUSH (30), PASS (22), SCORING (24).
LIONS OFFENSE: OVERALL (29), RUSH (20), PASS (29), SCORING (30).
LIONS DEFENSE: OVERALL (28), RUSH (29), PASS (16), SCORING (27).
TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Vikings plus-5; Lions minus-1.
VIKINGS PLAYER TO WATCH: RB Alexander Mattison. With Dalvin Cook’s injured shoulder, Mattison is in line for the lead role in the backfield. He had his first rushing TD of the season last week after Cook was hurt. The last time the Vikings played at Detroit in the 2020 season finale, Mattison had 95 rushing yards, 50 receiving yards and a receiving TD.
LIONS PLAYER TO WATCH: RB Jamaal Williams. Due to D'Andre Swift's shoulder injury, Williams is expected to be very busy. He had a season-high 15 carries for 65 yards, one shy of his season high, and five receptions on Thanksgiving against Chicago. Williams has a pair of 100-yard rushing games in his career and a third would be a big boost against a team giving up 134.4 yards rushing per game to rank among the NFL's worst.
KEY INJURIES: In addition to Cook, LB Anthony Barr (hamstring) also left the last game against the 49ers with an injury. CB Patrick Peterson went on the COVID-19 reserve list on Monday. DT Dalvin Tomlinson remained on the COVID-19 reserve list this week after sitting out at San Francisco. DE Everson Griffen (non-football illness) remains out indefinitely. DE Danielle Hunter (pectoral) and TE Irv Smith (knee) are out for the season. DT Michael Pierce (elbow) has missed the last seven games. ... Swift aggravated a shoulder injury last week and the Lions have been preparing to play without him. ... OLB Trey Flowers (knee) has missed two straight games and four this season. ... G Halapoulivaati Vaitai (concussion) returned to practice this week after being inactive against Chicago. ... LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin (shoulder) did not practice Wednesday.
SERIES NOTES: Minnesota has won eight straight games against the Lions after coach Mike Zimmer started 2-5 against them. ... In the last matchup, Greg Joseph made a 54-yard field goal as time expired to give the Vikings a two-point win after Campbell successfully called for the go-ahead 2-point conversion try with 37 seconds left.
STATS AND STUFF: Vikings WR Adam Thielen has the third-highest career TD total (51) in NFL history by an undrafted player in the common draft era that began in 1967. Only Rod Smith (69) and Gary Clark (65) had more. Thielen is tied for the league lead with 10 TD receptions this season. ... RB Kene Nwangwu has two kickoff return TDs in eight career attempts. He’s the first player in the NFL with multiple kickoff return TDs in a season since Cordarrelle Patterson had two for the Vikings in 2016. ... WR Justin Jefferson passed the 1,000-yard mark for the season last week, becoming the eighth player in team history with multiple 1,000-yard seasons. Only Hall of Famer Randy Moss (1998-99) also did so in his first two years in the league. If he has 73 or more yards receiving at Detroit, he will reach 2,500 in his 28th game to tie Lance Alworth's pace to that mark, and trail just Odell Beckham (25), Charlie Hennigan (26) and Bill Groman (27). ... Minnesota has won four straight road games against division opponents. ... The Lions are the NFL’s only winless team and have a 15-game streak without a victory, dating to Dec. 6, 2020, at Chicago. ... The Lions' point differential over the last three games is five points with a 2-point loss, a 3-point setback and a tie. ... Detroit's defense has allowed 16 or fewer points the past three games. .... QB Jared Goff, after missing one game with an oblique injury, completed a career-high 84% of his passes against the Bears. Goff became the first to have a perfect passer rating against Minnesota three years ago while playing for the Los Angeles Rams. He was 26 of 33 for 465 yards with five TDs. ... TE T.J. Hockenson scored on Thanksgiving for the first time since Week 2. ... CB Amani Oruwariye has career highs with five INTs and nine passes defended.
FANTASY TIP: Start Vikings QB Kirk Cousins, who is from Holland, Michigan, and played at Michigan State. In four starts at Detroit, he has 13 TDs (11 passing, two rushing) with no INTs, 1,297 passing yards and a 127.3 passer rating. He has two or more TD passes with a 90-plus passer rating in nine straight road games.