There was a critical moment during Sunday’s press conference after the Detroit Lions were wiped clean by the Cincinnati Bengals. Head coach Dan Campbell faced, by my count, his sixth question on the performance of Jared Goff. This one was about whether he could accurately judge Goff’s play given the mental errors of his supporting cast. His initial answer was no, he couldn’t with how the receivers and offensive line was playing. But then he took a big pause—literally about six seconds long—and considered his next words very carefully.
“I feel like he needs to step up more than he has. And I think he needs to help us just like everybody else. I think he’s going to need to put a little bit of weight on his shoulders here and it’s time to step up, make some throws and do some things.”
Anyone who has watched the Lions and Goff through six games would call that a fair criticism. Goff hasn’t played well. He hasn’t carried the team on his shoulders, and given that the team is 0-6, yeah, it’s time for him to step up.
Of course, given that the national media doesn’t do their homework, this snippet out of a 10-minute press conference was the one that caught wind. Specifically, NFL Network show “Good Morning Football” devoted a segment to just that clip. Former NFL receiver Cris Carter—filling in for the more thoughtful Nate Burleson—levied the heaviest criticism against Campbell, calling him an “amateur coach.” I’ve transcribed his lengthy, nonsensical rant so that you don’t have to watch or see it.
“You just can’t go to a press conference and just speak off the cuff. No, that is not a professional head coach. Now you’ve got me confused as a player. Make up your mind. Last week, you’re crying and this week you’re criticizing the most valuable player in the franchise.
Let me tell you what Jared Goff needs right now, and a lot of people around the NFL, they might not admit this, but he needs a hug. He needs someone he can trust, because if I go from the LA Rams to the Detroit—I do the reverse Eddie Murphy thing, ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ he goes from Detroit to Hollywood, that’s cool! Now he goes from LA to Detroit without the jacket, and now I don’t have the support of the organization, because the head coach is inexperienced and he gets off script. When was the last coach we’ve seen sit at that podium and criticize a player? It’s been a long time, because the coach of all 32 teams is telling them, ‘Hey, Kay, I’ll never talk about you to the media. I’ll never say anything that I didn’t go over with you.’
“And then now, I’m driving home and my wife or something—Twitter and everyone on my phone is saying, ‘Did you hear what the coach said?’
“So that right there, that’s an amateur coach not supporting his quarterback and not supporting his team, because he did something that you’re never supposed to do.”
There is so much wrong to unpack here. First off all, coaches criticize their players all of the time. Literally all of the time. Hell, Bruce Arians did it to the almighty Tom Brady last year.
Secondly, claims that Jared Goff doesn’t have the support of the organization are completely unfounded and false. What Campbell said in that short clip that Carter broke down hardly even counts as criticism. And if you were to go back and watch the entire presser, you’d also hear a point in the press conference in which Campbell got very defensive of Goff, cutting off a reporter to make sure he got it right. Here’s that exchange:
Reporter: Coach, you look at the last four games, you guys haven’t scored a touchdown in the first half. You get off to these slow start, can you speak on that a little bit? What is your confidence in Jared Goff moving forward. Fifty-one...
Campbell: It has nothing to do with Jared. That’s not true, E. That’s not true. But what I’m saying is I don’t put this all on Jared Goff. This is a collective. This is collective offensively.”
Or later in the press conference, when asked if he was considering a quarterback change right now.
“No. No. Now that doesn’t mean that something won’t ever come up. I’m going to look at everything. But—to me, this was not—this was a collective effort offensively. This was not—you can’t blame one person there.”
Or when a reporter suggested that Goff was missing wide-open receivers:
“There’s some guys that (missed their assignments) too and he’s trying to make a throw with guys that are MA-ing, and so he can’t even trust where the hell they’re supposed to be at. So I’m with you. I don’t mean to get upset. Look, he’s got to make some throws and then our receivers have to be where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there. We can’t mess around.”
The truth of the matter is that this organization has been over the top with their praise for Goff ever since he stepped in the building. After what had to be a humiliating end to his Rams career, the Lions welcomed him with open arms despite all of the insinuations that Goff was just a bridge quarterback during a Lions rebuild. In fact, that was one of the reasons Goff said he felt like Detroit was home.
“It was immediate, ‘Okay, this is where I’m supposed to be. This is how it’s supposed to go down,’” Goff said after his initial conversation with Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes.
And despite a shaky training camp and preseason, Campbell was effusive in his praise of Goff on a daily basis, often pointing out when he had his best practices or marveling at the progress he was making in a new offense.
But in a 10-second clip where he simply says he needs Goff—and the entire offense—to step up, suddenly he’s throwing his quarterback under the bus? Give me a break.
On Tuesday, Campbell jumped on 97.1 The Ticket and addressed the backlash when host Michael Stone presented it to him.
“No, I didn’t realize there was a negative perception until you just said that,” Campbell said. “I don’t feel like I’m saying anything negative. I’m saying it like it is. He, along with a lot of others offensively, need to play better. Guys that we depend on.”
The message was clear to anybody who bothered to actually listen. Jared Goff, just like everyone on that offense, needs to play better. That’s not a secret. That’s not telling tales to the media that need to stay inside the locker. That is blatant, obvious fact.
But, hey, when your team is 0-6 and you’ve got a coach who wears his emotions on his sleeve, you’re going to catch national attention, and that national attention tends to be ill-informed.