The Detroit Lions' defense is playing some pretty good football during their current 4-1 stretch, and they could be getting another key component of their pass rush back this week for a pivotal NFC North matchup against the Minnesota Vikings.
Veteran pass rusher Romeo Okwara seems poised to rejoin the lineup Sunday after rehabbing a torn Achilles suffered Week 4 of last season for more than a year.
"It's been great just being out there with the team," Okwara said this week. "Just kind of getting back into it. Knocking the rust off a little bit. I'm just really excited to get after it this weekend. It's been a long time coming."
It has been a long time coming for Okwara, who suffered the Achilles injury Oct. 3 vs. Chicago last season. He rejoined practice the week of the Thanksgiving game and was close to returning to game action last week vs. Jacksonville, but the team wanted to give him an extra week to get his legs under him after such an extended time off rehabbing.
The Lions are the healthiest they have been upfront on defense in a long time and playing some pretty good football at the point of attack. Okwara, who led the Lions with 10.0 sacks in 2020, provides another rusher the Lions can throw at Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins on Sunday, along with Aidan Hutchinson, John Cominsky, Josh Paschal, James Houston and Austin Bryant.
"I like to pass rush a little bit," Okwara said with a big smile. "But really just anything they ask of me. It's my first game back so really just looking for whatever coach asks me to do, I'll be up for it."
The Vikings have allowed 30 sacks this season, which ranks in the middle of the pack in the NFL. Detroit ranks in the bottom third of the NFL with 22.0 sacks on the year, so getting Okwara back could be a big boost for them Sunday.
There are always coaching decisions, certain plays and outcomes in games that stay with coaches or players. With a rematch of Detroit's Week 3 loss in Minneapolis against the Vikings set to take place at Ford Field on Sunday, Lions head coach Dan Campbell said one of those regrets for him was how the Vikings contest ended with the Lions on the wrong side of a 28-24 outcome.
After that contest, Campbell lamented a decision to try a long field goal instead of going for it on a 4th and 4 play at the Minnesota 36-yard line leading 24-21 with just over a minute left in the game. Instead of attempting the long field goal, Campbell wished he would have given his offense a chance to win it with a conversion. He didn't. Kicker Austin Seibert missed the 54-yard field goal try and Minnesota took advantage of the short field to score the winning touchdown with less than a minute left.
"Look, it burns. Of course, it burns me," Campbell said. "I mean that'll be there until the day I die. That's not going to go away. It does, but I also know, I can't wallow in that, and let that pull me down.
"I mean it is what it is, and it happened for a reason, and honestly, I think us losing five in a row is why we're where we're at right now, so that's kind of how I look at it. Maybe we needed this to happen to get to where we're at right now at this point."
It still doesn't lessen the sting for Campbell.
"I'll never forget because that to me – I let my players down," Campbell said. "And it's hard enough to have success and to win in this league without your coach doing something that pulls you back and I felt like that was one of those."
It's one of those coaching decisions Campbell has learned from and isn't likely to make again.
The Lions started the 21-day practice window for running back Craig Reynolds to return from IR. He missed the team's last four games after suffering a rib injury vs. Green Bay Nov. 6.
Reynolds had been operating as the Lions third running back before the injury. They were relying on him pretty heavily early on as D’Andre Swift dealt with ankle and shoulder injuries. Through eight games, Reynolds rushed the ball 23 times for 102 yards (4.4 average) and has registered nine catches on 10 targets for 116 yards.