Allen Park — Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell has made quick and clear progress as an offensive play-caller since taking over duties last month, but he’ll be the first to tell you he’s still learning on the job.
After the Lions exploded for 30 points against the Arizona Cardinals a week ago, the team barely managed half that total in a 20-16 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, largely due to an inability to capitalize on scoring opportunities.
The Lions gained more yards than the Falcons, dominated the time of possession, but came away with just three field goals and no touchdowns on four trips to the red zone, which proved to be the difference.
On Monday, Campbell was asked what he learned after evaluating his play-calling, specifically in regards to the team’s red-zone struggles.
First, he reiterated a point he made immediately after the game, noting he had relayed an overly complex call via the headset too late in the play clock, leading to one of Detroit’s six false-start infractions.
“I got the play in late and it kinda started this whole thing,” Campbell said. “We had a kill (call) on it, then you’re trying to hard count. It’s just a lot of thinking and I feel like I put a lot of that on me. Get the play in on time, I try to be mindful of that, but I didn’t do it there when it needs to come in faster. That’s one thing you learn.”
Expanding on the unusually high number of false starts, Campbell shouldered some of the blame, saying he should have dialed back quarterback Tim Boyle’s usage of hard counts. While the backup signal-caller has shown a knack for drawing defenders offside with his cadence — doing it four times in two starts — Campbell acknowledged it was clearly causing problems with his own teammates, who might be more accustomed to starter Jared Goff’s voice and delivery.
“That’s not an excuse,” Campbell said. “We’ve got to be able to handle it, and until we can, we’ve got to back off some of that stuff.”
Finally, on Detroit’s final offense play, Boyle was intercepted at the goal line while trying to put the Lions ahead in the game’s closing seconds. After the contest, the quarterback went into detail about how he failed to properly read whether the Falcons were in zone or man coverage prior to rifling the ball receiver Kalif Raymond across the middle.
Given how quickly things move closer to the goal line, the pressure of the situation and Boyle’s relative inexperience, Campbell said he could have done a better job helping his quarterback get a pre-snap read of Atlanta’s defense by adding some simple pre-snap motion.
“I should have helped him better with a good, solid man/zone read,” Campbell said. “Maybe start the (running) back outside and bring him back in. I kick myself for that in hindsight, looking at it. It’s just something to help him see it quicker and sooner.”