Continuing our series of offseason breakdowns following the 2021 schedule release, theRams.com examines the Rams' Week 7 home opponent, the Detroit Lions (SoFi Stadium, Oct. 24, 1:05 p.m. PT, FOX – TICKETS | SUITES).
The Lions had their share of challenges last season, winning back-to-back games just once (Weeks 6 and 7) while producing back-to-back losses three times through their first 12 games (Weeks 1 and 2, 8 and 9, 11 and 12).
Detroit kept its slim playoff hopes afloat with a Week 13 win over the Chicago Bears, only to close out the remainder of the season with four-straight losses to finish 5-11.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford helped the Lions own the NFL's No. 10 passing offense, but that couldn't make up for a run game, a run defense and a pass defense that all ranked in the bottom five of the league in their respective category by the end of the regular season.
Some of those struggles could be attributed to injuries. The Lions improved to 3-3 after Stafford led a game-winning comeback over the Falcons in Week 7, but the following week, top Stafford target and wide receiver Kenny Golladay sustained a hip flexor that ultimately sidelined him the remainder of the season.
Adjustments began being made in-season, as the Lions parted ways with head coach Matt Patricia (13-29-1 record in three years) in late November and replaced him with former Saints assistant head coach and tight ends coach Dan Campbell. Campbell's staff is heavily comprised of former players.
Their front office was also reshuffled, with former Rams Director of College Scouting Brad Holmes getting hired their next general manager. Holmes replaced Bob Quinn, whom the team parted ways with at the same time as Patricia. The Lions also hired former Rams Director of Pro Scouting Ray Agnew as their next assistant general manager.
The Lions also traded Stafford to the Rams for quarterback Jared Goff and future draft picks, and later acquired defensive lineman Michael Brockers from the Rams in exchange for a 2023 seventh-round pick.
In free agency, Detroit let two of their top three receivers from last season walk in wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. (signed with the Jaguars) and Danny Amendola. Golladay, who was limited to five games last year due to injury, also departed and signed with the New York Giants.
In the draft, the Lions selected Oregon's Penei Sewell – widely regarded as the top offensive tackle prospect in this year's class – with the seventh overall pick, then used four of their remaining six picks to shore up their defense.
Campbell is in his first season as head coach of the Lions. Prior to his arrival in Detroit this year, he spent the last five years serving as assistant head coach and tight ends coach for the New Orleans Saints.
What to watch for
Familiar faces, new places
Goff and Brockers return to Los Angeles, while Stafford will be facing his former team when both clubs meet at SoFi Stadium in Week 7.
Will that familiarity mean much in terms of game-planning and strategy? Probably not.
Patricia was the head coach of the Lions when the Lions last took on the Rams, a Week 13 game in Detroit during the 2018 season. The Lions' roster, especially after their most recent transaction, looks much different on both sides of the ball from both a staff and personnel standpoint.
The same can mostly be said of the Rams. Stafford is collaborating with McVay on what Los Angeles' offense will look like. L.A.'s defense has added multiple new faces since the last matchup like cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who was acquired in a mid-season trade in 2019, as well as a new defensive coordinator in Raheem Morris.
However, given those connections to former teammates on both sides, as well as the important roles Goff and Brockers played in the success Los Angeles has enjoyed so far in the McVay era, it's still a feel-good storyline. Both of them should receive a warm welcome back from the crowd on hand.