New year, new Lions?
The Detroit Lions stumbled for most of 2021, and their offense was a key culprit. After putting up 33 points in their opening week loss, the Lions wouldn’t reach 20 points until a Week 13 win over the Minnesota Vikings. From Week 13 onward, the offense actually looked like a competent offense. With plenty of changes having been made this offseason, the Lions are not only hoping to rekindle that late-season success but build upon it as well.
The most significant move made by the Lions might not be a signing, but a promotion. Ben Johnson takes over as offensive coordinator from Anthony Lynn, and there is plenty of optimism with that change. For the first half of the season, the offense was orchestrated by Lynn, and it produced mediocre results—although mediocre might be a compliment. When head coach Dan Campbell took over the playcalling duties, it was Johnson that saw an uptick in his role. Heaps of praise were given towards Johnson and the positive impact he had on the offense. With Johnson at the helm, perhaps the Lions will continue where they left off last season. At the very least, the receivers are excited about the new offense.
The acquisitions shouldn’t be discounted either. Much of last year’s struggles were due to a barebones receiving corps. Prior to Amon-Ra St. Brown’s breakout, very little was clicking for the Lions on offense. Entering 2022, the Lions have made a complete 180. DJ Chark and Jameson Williams are miles better than what Detroit had last season and barring injury setbacks, the trio of Chark, St. Brown, and Williams could be outstanding.
The offensive line and running back room both remain fairly unchanged and for good reason. Neither D’Andre Swift nor Jamaal Williams posted wild rushing numbers in 2021, but given that Detroit was frequently playing catch-up, the run game never had a chance to take off. The Lions would like to get an injury-free season from the pair to complement the bolstered passing game.
As for the offensive line, the exact five starters return from last year. A healthy Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow for the entire season would undoubtedly help the offense. Adding in the progress made by Penei Sewell and Jonah Jackson, as well as the rebound from Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and the Lions don’t have many concerns along the offensive line. Even their top backup interior lineman of Evan Brown returns on a very team-friendly deal.
Of course, the bulk of the offense’s success or failure falls on the shoulders of the quarterback. The Lions have made zero changes at quarterback this offseason—not even an undrafted free agent has been added. The starting role belongs to Jared Goff, and the Lions are hoping they get late 2021 Goff and not early 2021 Goff. It could very much be a do-or-die year for Goff. Backups Tim Boyle and David Blough return as well, although that might not be viewed positively by some fans and analysts.
Barring some drastic moves in training camp or preseason, this is likely the Lions’ offense we will be getting for 2022. Given how poorly last season started, what do you want to be different about this team going forward?
Today’s Question of the Day is:
What changes are you hoping to see from the Lions’ offense?
My answer: I want to see a deeper passing attack.
I won’t put all the blame on Goff, but he does deserve a sizable part of it. Of the 35 quarterbacks that reached the 200 snap threshold in 2021, Goff’s average depth of target of 6.8 yards was the lowest in the league; the next closest quarterback was Ben Roethlisberger at 7.1 yards. A low depth of target isn’t necessarily bad—Patrick Mahomes’ average depth of target was 7.4 yards in 2021—but the number doesn’t tell the whole story.
For the early half of the 2021 season, Goff relied on check-downs for most of his passes, and defenses keyed in on it. Through the first seven games of the season, Swift was the Lions’ leader in receiving yards and catches. While this speaks to Swift’s ability as a receiver, it more so reflects the inability of the Lions to push the ball downfield. The Lions lacked explosive plays. Their two longest plays on the year came from a trick play in Week 18 and a screen in Week 7, neither of which Goff played a significant role in.
Now that the Lions have Chark and Williams, and St. Brown has proven himself to be a reliable target for Goff, there are no excuses not to improve their passing attack. The Lions don’t need to be hitting bombs of 50 yards or more every game, but they need to reduce how often they check the ball down. Not only would this make the Lions passing attack less predictable, but it would also help the running game by forcing defenders to play deeper.
After all the changes the Lions have made this offseason, they have the capacity to be a downfield threat. The question now is whether they can pull it off when it matters most.