Detroit Lions’ 2022 fortunes rest with Jared Goff, who has had the table well set for him

Detroit Free Press

Shortly before the Detroit Lions took the field and kicked off their three-day minicamp Tuesday, coach Dan Campbell was asked, after all his intensive study and examination and film cut-ups, what jumped out at him about what the team needed to do better to improve in the red zone.

“Yeah, well,” Campbell began in his slight Texas drawl, “the first thing I looked at was we’ve got to score touchdowns.”

Eureka! Lions solved!

Yes, of course, it’s important to score touchdowns in football. With the exception of the Los Angeles Chargers and the Las Vegas Raiders, every team that finished among the top seven in touchdowns in its conference made the playoffs last season. The Lions’ 35 touchdowns ranked 25th out of 32 teams.

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So touchdowns, Campbell might inform you, are the most important metric in the offensive-oriented NFL — right after, you know, actually winning games.

But touchdowns really boil down to one thing. Or, rather, one person: the quarterback.

That means we can talk about draft picks and depth charts and switching to a 4-3 scheme and who’s calling plays on offense and the offensive line all we want. But if you want to talk about what really matters, if you want to talk about touchdowns and winning, the Lions are only going to go as far as Jared Goff can take them this season.

Last season, Goff looked like nothing more than a mediocre, serviceable quarterback. If you took the name off his jersey, you would have guessed he was a journeyman player, not a two-time Pro Bowler with Super Bowl experience. And frankly, no one but Goff’s LinkedIn profile should care about his past accolades.

To be fair, Goff went through a lot last year. He was unceremoniously traded by the team that drafted him No. 1 overall, didn’t connect  with offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, who was replaced midseason, didn’t have much of a team behind him in the first year of rebuild, then had to watch his replacement lead the Rams to the promised land.

So this year is a new year and a chance at a new start for Goff, who has impressed his coach this offseason.

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“Yeah, I have no red flags with him,” Campbell said. “He looks good out there.

“He’s got a good grasp of our offense and what we’re doing: his command in the huddle, he’s throwing the ball well. That’s something that if feel like he does well. That’s one of his strengths. He’s a pretty accurate passer. And so I would say up to this point he’s having a good spring.”

Did you catch that qualifier? “Up to this point.” Campbell is careful about anointing any player, and he’s wise to be prudent. You don’t want heads to swell so much that they don’t fit in helmets on the first day of minicamp.

But yes, Goff has looked good — playing in shorts without contact — in organized team activities and on Tuesday, when he continued to demonstrate his chemistry and timing with receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown and Rosh Reynolds. The receiver who stands out, though, is free-agent addition DJ Chark, whose speed, strength and precision is so much better than any of his teammates and helped him easily pull in a red-zone touchdown pass from Goff on Tuesday.

“I just think where we are with our offense,” Goff said, “and how far along we are in the spring as far as just getting stuff in being able to rep it and feeling comfortable with what we have so far is a lot further along than last year. It feels good.”

I asked Campbell what strides he has seen from Goff this offseason and I was surprised by the detail he gave while crediting the work the quarterback has done with coordinator Ben Johnson and position coach Mark Brunell.

“I just know physically, from this time last year, I feel like his feet and his procedure is quicker than it was,” Campbell said. “Ben and Bru are doing a good job really pushing him and pushing his fundamentals and just really homing in on that little stuff that sometimes you get so enamored, so worried about the scheme and where the ball’s supposed to go and some of those things that sometimes you forget about the little stuff.

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“And we felt like that was going to be modeled for him. Let’s home him back in on his fundamentals and get him to play a little bit quicker and finish through with his throws, get his head around and flip his hips. Just some of these things, working to his left. And I feel like those things have shown up and I do see an improvement there right now.”

Look, unlike some people, I hate peddling too much hope at this point in the offseason. Every team thinks it’s better before rosters are decided or the games start. No one can judge a team holistically at this time of the year.

We can judge players and where they stand, and right now Goff occupies a unique place. He is being given what he wants. He has a new coordinator, who has demonstrated the kind of trust and respect Goff might be feeling for the first time in his NFL career. That was either wholly absent in LA under Sean McVay or at least had evaporated in the final years of their working relationship. When I spent a week with the Rams in October, I remember McVay tacitly implying Goff didn’t take enough responsibility of the offense by lauding Matthew Stafford’s ability to do so.

“I think he has great ownership and autonomy of what we’re really trying to get done,” McVay said of Stafford.

But now, with the Lions, Goff is being given that chance through his relationship with Johnson and the work they’ve done together to mold the offense in one-on-one meetings this spring.

“The part that was most exciting for me,” Goff said, “was the influence he was allowing me to have and asking me and really curious about what I thought and what I liked, and genuinely curious because it’s now a part of what we’re doing. So I know it wasn’t fake.

“It’s exciting for me being in Year 7 now I feel like I’ve earned kind of having that voice a little bit and he’s given it to me, which has been fun.”

That’s a good start and potentially can lead to better things for Goff, the offense and, ultimately, the team. But let’s be real. Things usually take awhile to click with a rebuilding team coming off three wins. Johnson is new in his role, and we don’t even know if he’s going to be calling plays. Chark is new and could take some time to mesh with Goff. No. 12 overall pick Jameson Williams is a rookie who isn’t practicing yet. And we’re not even talking about the defense.

It’s hard to imagine touchdown totals spiking immediately. I asked Goff if it might take the offense a little time before it starts churning out the TDs, considering all the hurdles.

“You can’t,” he said. “The league’s too good. You’ve got to be ready to go Week 1. But that’s what this time is for is working those kinks out and getting ourself to the point come Week 1 where we feel good and feel ready to go.

“The mistakes are made during this period. We’re trying to pick up an offense and understand what we’re going. You want to limit those mistakes but over the last couple of weeks there’s some things that need to get ironed out. And that’s what we’ve done and it feels good.”

It’s spring, so I suppose everything is still supposed to feel good. Goff has little choice but to be optimistic at this point. But let’s be reasonable. It’s not going to click immediately for the offense. It will take some time, and probably longer than most hope. There’s nothing wrong with accepting that likelihood in the second year of a rebuild.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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