Four Downs: Working toward a rebrand, high praise for Jared Goff and some early draft talk

Detroit News

Allen Park — Here are four observations after having a night to ponder the Detroit Lions’ 20-16 victory over the Green Bay Packers.

First down

When a team has six decades filled with mostly futility, it’s far easier to assume they can’t than they could. That’s what birthed the Same Old Lions moniker that gets tossed out not only when something goes wrong, but often before it even has the chance. Conditioned to be disappointed, or worse, having reached full-blown apathy, those who shout S.O.L. every chance they get are rarely proven wrong.

And while that nickname won’t go quietly into the night, Lions coach Dan Campbell is doing everything in his power to erase that mentality from his roster and from the fan base. And while the 2022 season didn’t include a postseason berth, it was a step in the right direction, a clear besting of expectations, and a resiliency that will resonate in a market that values putting in the work to overcome the odds.

There’s been a push, on talk radio and social media, to label this new era “The Brand New Lions.” It’s a mindset adjustment Campbell is openly embracing, but also knows there has to be bigger accomplishments in the future to earn the new identity.

“I don’t want to hear that anymore, the Same Old Lions,” Campbell said. “That’s what this is all about. There’s so many things, and it all comes with winning, but look, yeah, I wanted to be part of building a brand-new brand. And so I like that and that’s the point. But I also know, you want to do that, man, you really got in the dance. You got to get in the tournament and then you got to make some waves in the tournament. So that’s the next step.”

The Lions aren’t the only franchise that has a well-known, negative nickname. The Cubs were forever known as the Loveable Losers, but that talk faded when the won the World Series in 2016. And who is calling the Cincinnati Bengals the Bungles these days? Certainly not anybody who watched Joe Burrow and company go to the Super Bowl last year and finish with eight straight wins this year.

Same Old Lions can be erased and replaced, too. It’s just going to take some more time and more success.

Second down

Quarterback Jared Goff capped his remarkable second half with his ninth consecutive game without an interception, extending his streak to 324 passes without a pick. That’s the fifth-longest in history and puts him within striking distance of the NFL record of 402, held by Aaron Rodgers.

During that nine-game stretch, Goff completed 67% of his throws for 2,397 yards, 15 touchdowns and a 105.1 passer rating. Even with a bit of a shakier start, Goff’s 99.3 passer rating was on par with his Pro Bowl seasons in 2017 and 2018 and ties Matthew Stafford’s 2017 campaign for the best in Lions history for a quarterback starting more than half a season.

Goff’s performance elicited some of the highest praise Campbell has ever given his quarterback, and hinted to a commitment that extends into the future while national pundits continue to weigh whether the Lions should draft a QB with one of the team’s two first-round picks.

“He’s played great,” Campbell said. “He’s just really a perfect fit for what we do and what we ask. I think the true sign of a pro is somebody that can take the coaching. He can look at himself in the mirror. He knows where he needs to improve, he listens to what recommendations you have for him to get better, and, I mean, he goes at it now. He doesn’t shy from it. He doesn’t get sensitive. He just wants to be good. And that’s our quarterback. That’s pretty good stuff.”

Third down

Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson gave teams a lasting thought when considering him for a coaching vacancy this offseason. Facing a second-and-17 in the closing minutes, while looking to kill as much clock as possible, Johnson dialed up a creative play that put three of Detroit’s best players in position to impact the game in a critical moment.

At the snap, Goff fired a quick pass to slot receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, a screen look the Lions have used dozens of times this season. But instead of taking the ball and immediately turning up field, where he likely would have been quickly dropped by the Packers, who were playing tight, pre-snap coverage, St. Brown flipped a lateral to running back D’Andre Swift, looping around behind him from his backfield alignment.

Swift is dangerous in space, which is the point of the design, but so is right tackle Penei Sewell, who was schemed to get out in front as a lead blocker, where he annihilated Packers safety Darnell Savage.

The play ultimately gained 14 yards, running the clock to the 2-minute warning. More importantly, without the chunk gain, the Lions wouldn’t have had the fourth-and-manageable decision they made to end the game.

The lateral call showcased Johnson’s creativity, his play-call timing and a continued understanding of how to maximize talent. That doesn’t mean a team should rush to hire him as their head coach, but it’s the kind of stuff that gets you an interview to make your case.

Given the resume, it’s fair to suggest Johnson’s candidacy for a head job remains closer to a longshot, but the league is always on the search for bright, young offensive minds, so it will get more and more difficult to retain him going forward if this season is any indication of his future as a play-caller and coordinator.

Fourth down

If not quarterback, the Lions should have some enticing options with the No. 6 and No. 18 picks in the upcoming draft.

Detroit could always add another young defensive lineman like Clemson’s Myles Murphy or Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson. There also likely will be an opportunity to add a top corner into the mix, such as Georgia’s Kelee Ringo or Penn State’s Joey Porter. Or the team could go a surprising direction and look to further bolster an already solid offensive line with someone like Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski, a dominant college tackle who could be equally dominant if moved inside, a la Brandon Scherff or Zack Martin.

It’s a rare year where the future is seemingly already bright AND the team holds a top-10 pick. That should make for a pretty exciting offseason.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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