Detroit Lions, Jared Goff to unveil new-look offense Friday vs. Atlanta Falcons

Detroit Free Press

He smirked when he said it, both as if he was jokingly trying to keep his team’s new-look offense under wraps and as if he was sending a message to critics who have besmirched that part of his game.

“No, we don’t do that here,” Goff said Tuesday when asked about the Detroit Lions’ downfield passing attack. “We don’t throw it down the field at all.”

Goff did not throw the ball downfield much in his first season with the Lions, or so it seemed at times.

He averaged fewer air yards per attempt (6.6) than any quarterback with at least 150 pass attempts in the NFL, and his yards per completion (9.8) were the second lowest of his career, behind only his rookie season (9.7) in 2016.

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But under the direction of new offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and buffered by the addition of speedy receiver DJ Chark, Goff has shown more willingness to let the ball fly in training camp.

He and Chark have connected on several big plays in recent practices, including a 35-yard touchdown in last week’s public practice at Ford Field. And his and the Lions’ new offensive approach will be on display, even if only for a series or two, in Friday’s preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons.

“It’s been good,” Goff said. “We got guys that can run, we got guys that can catch. We’re protecting well and they’re running good routes.”

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Goff and most of the rest of the Lions’ starters are expected to play about a quarter Friday, and that could be their only action this preseason.

Last year, Goff played two series in the Lions’ preseason-opening loss to the Buffalo Bills, when, in a sign of things to come, he completed 7 of 9 passes for 56 yards (a meager 6.2 ypa), then sat out the rest of the exhibition slate.

The Lions have road games left this preseason against the Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers, and will take part in two days of joint practices in Indianapolis next week.

Goff said he is more worried about “procedures, operations and just feeling good about that,” than he is whatever stat line he puts up. Still, a good performance Friday would go a long way towards justifying some of the optimism coming out of Lions camp.

“I tell the QBs, whether it’s eight reps or it’s three quarters, however long you’re out there, you have to move the team and score points,” Lions quarterbacks coach Mark Brunell said. “And that’s important. Every play is critical. Making good decisions with the ball, getting (it) in the hands of the other guys, so however the playing time works with Jared and Tim (Boyle) and David (Blough), that’s up to the head coach, of course, but their job is to move the team, to be efficient, take care of that ball. If the opportunity presents itself, get that ball downfield and be accurate, that’s most important. And the guys are doing that. They’re looking forward to getting out there. It’ll be fun.”

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Brunell said he is pleased with the growth Goff has shown so far this summer.

Among other areas, the Lions challenged Goff to get better this offseason with his timing and footwork, and Brunell said “he embraced all of that” while helping determine which new concepts Johnson would add to the offense.

“He has always had a very good attitude,” Brunell said. “He’s a hard worker, he has a lot of experience. He’s had a lot of success, and what I’ve appreciated about Jared the most, at least this offseason and even now, he understands that there’s work to do, there’s areas that he needed to improve and he’s really focused on that. He’s very coachable and understands that for us to become a better team, he has to become a better quarterback. And he’s done that and there’s still a ways to go. Progress needs to be made, but I’m really proud of how he’s approached this and I think you’re seeing it right now.”

Along with Goff, Boyle and Blough will be in the spotlight Friday as their battle for the backup quarterback job remains one of the most intriguing in camp.

Boyle and Blough have alternated working with the second- and third-team offense since spring, and Brunell said their competition is heating up at the midway point of camp.

Both players should see time Friday, and if Goff sits out the final two preseason games, both could make a start.

“Somebody has to emerge as the No. 2 and as of right now they’re competing,” Brunell said. “I would say it’s close, if I could. That’s a decision that the head coach and the offensive coordinator will make, and for them, these games make all the difference in the world. You can go out and have a good practice and scrimmage all you want, but I think these games will show who deserves to be in that two spot. And we’ll see. We’ve got three of them and they know this, those games are critical.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

Exhibit A: Falcons

Matchup: Lions (3-13-1 in 2021) vs. Atlanta (7-10 in 2021), exhibition opener.

Kickoff: 6 p.m. Friday; Ford Field, Detroit.

TV/radio: Fox; WXYT-FM (97.1).

For openers: Lions vs. Eagles, regular-season opener; 1 p.m. Sept. 11, Ford Field, Detroit; Fox.

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