Detroit Lions’ offseason plan on offense is a tug-of-war. That’s a good thing.

Detroit Free Press

There’s a temptation in sports to tinker, often out of fear, because the status quo is an enemy of improvement. This is especially true in football, where 95% of the work done during the season comes via practice, meetings and the film room every week.

For coaches then, the offseason is damn near nirvana: A blank canvas on which offensive coordinators, say, get to redraw their dreams. Unless you’re coordinating an offense that was one of the best in the league the season before.

Then what do you do?

That’s a question Ben Johnson is navigating as the maestro of the Detroit Lions‘ offense: Do you double down on the playbook that led to the NFL’s No. 4 offense? Tighten up the execution? Plug in your new toys — aka rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs and rookie tight end Sam LaPorta — and see what they can do in the same space?

THE BIG PICTURE: 5 Detroit Lions players that matter most in 2023 season

ON DEFENSE: Derrick Barnes taking first-team reps in Lions’ suddenly crowded LB competition

Or do you tweak the design? Or even overhaul a section of it?

Here’s how Johnson’s boss, head coach Dan Campbell, described the conundrum:

“What happens is you do some good things, and then the next year it is: ‘All right, how much do you just really get good at this versus — here is a couple new ideas. And you are always going to want a few new ideas. But, how much of it, versus just, ‘Let’s go back to the basics of what we did last year and let’s do them better. Let’s just fundamentally get a little bit better, a little bit sharper with it.’ That is the tug-of-war we play right now.”

It’s not easy messing with success. Sometimes it’s harder not to, though if you listen to Johnson, he’s eying ways to get better with what’s already in place, with the system he fully installed, rather than trying anything too radical.


“When we look back at what we did in self-scout, all of our plays from last year — I came away … that even if we didn’t run one new play this year, if we ran all the same plays that we ran last year, that we would be a better offense because we have to execute better than what we did,” Johnson said.

Great. Makes sense.

But then Johnson kept talking:

“We did a lot of nice things a year ago, and it really means nothing going forward to this year.”

Harsh? Seeking perfection can sound that way, no?

Here is Johnson again:

“We have to be a lot better in terms of the execution, and we should be because we should know what the problems are for the plays that we are running now — run plays, protections, pass concepts. And so, I personally expect a huge step forward in terms of the growth, the knowledge base of our players, the experience they have under their belts now. And so that’s why the emphasis has been on the basics. Let’s get really good at the fundamentals, because that is what helped us win games at the end last year.”

Got it. Fundamentals. That makes sense, too.

Go back and watch the Lions’ 2022 performances and you can spot why Johnson thinks there’s a lot more yardage to be had running it back. Maybe a running back cut left instead of right, or a receiver stopped a foot too soon — or too late — out of a break.

Or a lineman couldn’t quite get his hands in the right spot to slow the rush, and that split second sped up the quarterback’s release.

You don’t have to be a genius — or Johnson — to see where the same sets (forgive the basketball jargon) and design might lead to more production. Consider the new running backs.

David Montgomery, the likely workhorse, is faster and a bit shiftier than Jamaal Williams was in the same role last fall. And Gibbs?

He’s swifter than D’Andre Swift — pun intended, obviously.

So, assuming the offensive line blocks as it did a season ago — and that’s a safe assumption if it’s relatively healthy — the running game might be even better, or more efficient, at least, which should help the passing game, the red zone game, the scoring game.

Johnson was clear last week that he and his staff — he has a couple new faces — will keep tinkering, that they will, as he noted, “still push the envelope.”

Here he is:

“We’ll still be innovative and creative on offense, don’t get me wrong. But I just came away saying, ‘Shoot, man, we left a lot of meat on the bone in a lot of ways.’ Because I think I talked about it, some of the runs? We could have had explosives. We could’ve had 8, 9 yards when we were still at 3 or 4, so just a few things when we looked back at last year.”

Yeah, yeah, coaches like to live in could’ve, should’ves sometimes — the pursuit of perfection and all that. But Johnson was callling plays for an offense with as good a run-blocking line as there was in the NFL.

And he’s right, there were more explosives to be had. And while the additions in the run game should help, repping it out all spring and summer should, too.

So tinker, sure. Doubling-down, though, seems like the plan this offseason in Allen Park. Yes, they’ll add a wrinkle or more. This is still a Campbell-coached team.

And as he said last week:

“We want more, I mean that is what this game is.”

The trick is figuring out where to find it.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

Articles You May Like

Lions ride roller coaster into visit from Falcons
Amon-Ra St. Brown player props odds, tips and betting trends for Week 3 | Lions vs. Falcons
Several Lions alumni among the 2024 nominees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame
Detroit Lions Get Brutal Injury Update On Defensive Star
Lions safety Tracy Walker ready to ‘fly around’ on near-anniversary of Achilles tear

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *