Two-game touchdown drought has not dimmed Ben Johnson’s outlook on Detroit Lions offense

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions have gone nearly a month without scoring a touchdown, since the fourth quarter of their Oct. 2 game against the Seattle Seahawks, but offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said he does not believe opponents have found a blueprint to stop his team’s once high-scoring unit.

“I don’t believe that defenses are being able to catch up to us,” Johnson said Thursday. “For us offensively it comes down to execution.”

The NFL’s highest-scoring offense the first four weeks of the season, the Lions have scored six total points in their past two games.

They were shutout in a Week 5 loss to the New England Patriots, when they set a modern NFL record for most fourth down attempts (six) without a conversion, and managed two field goals in a 24-6 loss to the Dallas Cowboys last week.

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The Lions had two late-game drives stall in the red zone against the Patriots, when they passed on makeable field goal attempts because of the score, and Jamaal Williams lost a fumble on the Cowboys’ 1-yard line last week, so they have not lacked for scoring opportunities.

But their offense has more turnovers (seven) than points (six) the past two games and has struggled to generate explosive plays while playing mostly without its three most dynamic offensive players, D’Andre Swift, Amon-Ra St. Brown and DJ Chark.

Swift is expected to return Sunday against the Miami Dolphins after missing three games with a separated shoulder. Chark likely is out until around Thanksgiving with an ankle injury. St. Brown was limited against the Patriots by a high ankle sprain and knocked out of the Cowboys game early when he was placed in concussion protocol.

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St. Brown practiced Thursday for the second straight day in a red no-contact jersey and is in line to play Sunday.

“They’re issues for defensive coordinators, so the quicker we can get both of those guys to full health, the better off we’re going to be,” Johnson said of Swift and St. Brown. “And we’ll get back to where we started this season for sure because both of those guys, you get the ball in their hands and they’re dynamite. So we’ll use all the guys that are available as we’ve been doing, and continue to highlight what they do best.”

The Lions (1-5) have taken a conservative approach on offense the past two weeks because of personnel issues and the defenses they’ve faced. Jared Goff attempted one pass that traveled more than 20 yards downfield against Dallas’ NFL-best pass rush, and the Lions had more rush attempts than passes in the first half of both games.

Johnson acknowledged the Lions’ gameplans have contributed to their low-scoring outputs, but at least against the Cowboys, that approach nearly led the Lions to an upset.

“I mean, selfishly I’d love to score 50 points every game but that’s not always the best way to win a football game,” he said. “And so a few weeks ago we talked about a head coach having the vision for how the game’s going to be played., and so we all play a part, all the coordinators, all the coaches, all the players, we all play a part of bringing that vision to life. And so, sure, last week might have been a little bit more run-oriented, and we were in it until the turnovers started happening.”

Curtailing Goff’s turnovers issues has been a focus this week, and both Johnson and Goff said that is key to the Lions righting their offensive ship.

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Goff said after the Patriots game he does not believe defenses have caught up with what the Lions are doing on offense, and that his play put the offense in a bad spot.

“(They played) man coverage and they just played it really well and rushed it really well and I made some dumb decisions,” Goff said. “It wasn’t anything revolutionary over there. They just did a good job planning and it’s always hard with those guys.”

Johnson said he has not identified any issues in his own self-scout to believe teams are locked into the Lions’ plans. He has mixed in tendency breakers and run plays from different formations, and said better ball security and improved execution on third downs and in the red zone will get the Lions offense back on track.

“I think every unit has tendencies they develop,” Johnson said. “We take a lot of pride in self-scouting ourselves and taking a look at what the defense is doing and potentially looking to exploit on us, and what they’re practicing. So we mix it up. I think it would be difficult to say that any defense we’ve faced so far has actually practiced a play that we’ve ran in the game. Certainly not identical to how we’ve ran it in the game. We have a lot of variety, we’re very multiple. That’s at our core and we want to continue doing that.”

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

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