Allen Park — By league standards, the Detroit Lions’ offense has been feasting.
But internally, the message in Allen Park doesn’t necessarily reflect that: “I feel like we could have done better, honestly,” receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown said.
“We left a lot of meat on the bone, I feel like, in both of those games.”
It’s a notable change in standards for a team that failed to score 35 points in a single game last season until facing the starter-barren Green Bay Packers in Week 18, a change in standard that clearly comes from the top down.
“Not really, no,” offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said in response to a question about whether the offensive output has exceeded his expectations.
“If anything, the first two weeks have shown us how far we have left to go. But we’re not — I don’t think anybody right now in that room is necessarily happy or pleased with what we’ve put on tape so far. There’s certainly been some encouraging things, but these are — we’re not hitting our stride, we’re not clicking on all cylinders, whatever cliche you want to use.”
Two weeks into the season, the Lions are first in the NFL in rushing average (7.2), tied for first in touchdowns scored (nine) and plays of 20-plus yards (11), and tied for second in points scored (71).
Imagine your boss telling you that’s not good enough — and then agreeing with him. This is the cultural evolution of the Detroit Lions on display. It helps that the misfires and areas for improvement — like two deep balls to DJ Chark this past Sunday that could have been touchdowns — have been so glaringly obvious.
Aside from a few plays that derailed scoring chances, the Lions have also gone ice-cold for periods of time. In Weeks 1 and 2, the Lions’ offense had a stretch with three consecutive three-and-outs. But, all in all, the hyper-criticism of impressive performances actually feels like a symptom of most things going right.
“We scored 35 last week, scored 36 this week, and you still feel like, ‘Ah, but that — but that one,’” quarterback Jared Goff said.
“I (can) think of a few ones off the top of my head, but that one would have really blown the game wide open, and that’s our next step, right? That’s our next step of going — becoming that … more mature, understanding-the-moment team, being able to take those — take advantage of those opportunities, and it starts with me. I’ve got to hit some of those throws and really get on the same page with those guys.”
Whereas most people will look at the Lions’ offense through the first two weeks as a finished product, all shined up and fresh out of the box after being delivered straight from training camp, it’s very clear that those inside the Lions’ facility see otherwise. In their minds, it’s a ball of clay that’s slowly begun to take its final shape — but is still nowhere close to being ready for final display.
Wide receiver Josh Reynolds, who caught three passes for 38 yards and a touchdown against Washington, said that when the Lions’ offense does reach its final form, it can be “one of the best” in the NFL (as if it hasn’t been to this point) and that they “should have had about 50,” if the “little things” were cleaned up.
“It just shows you, to be able to score 36 points and leave a lot of points out there, it just shows you how explosive this offense is and how explosive it could be, as long as we execute every play like it could be the play of the game, and it could be,” Reynolds said.
Of course, there’s likely an element to the offensive urgency that’s brought on by a lack of support on the other side of the ball. While the Lions rank second in points per game, its defense ranks second-to-last in the same category.
The Lions aren’t satisfied with back-to-back 35-point performances because they can’t afford to. Even with a 22-0 halftime lead on Sunday, the Lions couldn’t afford to let off the gas, which doesn’t mark a wide departure from what was required to win last season. The difference, though, is that so far this year, they have enough gas in the tank to finish the job.
“They were going to be able to do a little bit of something. That’s just the nature of this game, man, the ebbs and flows of it,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “… And we were able to answer back offensively. And so, we kept that lead and we hung in there, and we didn’t let it — we didn’t crumble, and we didn’t let the stress and pressure break us.”