Through two weeks of the regular season, the Detroit Lions offense is living up to expectations and beyond. Detroit is averaging 405.5 yards per game (fourth), 186.0 rushing yards per game (third), 6.4 yards per play (sixth), and, most importantly, 35.5 points per game—tied with the explosive Kansas City Chiefs for the second-most in the entire NFL.
Understandably so, that has earned offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, in his first year on the job, some widespread praise. First came coach Dan Campbell, who had to interrupt his own answer on an unrelated question to give praise to his play-caller.
“I thought Ben called a hell of a game,” Campbell said. “I thought he called a hell of a game and gave us the best opportunity, offensively, to move the football, be efficient, and find a way to score points.”
On Sunday against the Commanders, the Lions were noticeably aggressive, despite leading the entire game. Even with two or three-score leads, the Lions were calling gadget plays, pushing the ball downfield, and even using timeouts in the first half—up 22—to try and preserve one more possession.
So when the Commanders’ eventually stormed back and made it a one-score game, the Lions offense was more than ready to counter with two second-half touchdowns to put the game out of reach permanently.
“Ben did a good job of just getting us reset and getting us back on track,” Campbell continues. “But really, that point, it wasn’t about, we’re not in some four-minute mode, I mean we are still playing football now. So, we knew we needed to move the football, we need to get first downs, and we get down there we need to score and try to put this game away, so we did that.”
But being an offensive coordinator isn’t just about calling plays on gameday. The week of preparation beforehand is absolutely essential, getting to know your opponent’s tendencies and weaknesses to exploit. And according to Commanders safety Darrick Forest, the Lions did exactly that, seemingly knowing what Washington’s defense was doing at all times, especially in the first two quarters.
S Darrick Forest said the first half issues: "It was scheme. I felt like they knew exactly what we were in. It was great offensive play-calling."— John Keim (@john_keim) September 18, 2022
Perhaps most impressive of Johnson’s day was his use of star receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. On nearly all of St. Brown’s first half snaps, Detroit put him in motion, keeping the Washington defense on its toes. And when the time finally came in the third quarter, they gave the ball to St. Brown on a jet sweep that went for 58 yards on key play that kept Detroit ahead.
“No one even knew I had the ball,” St. Brown said after the game. “I don’t even think the safety that was looking at me knew I had the ball, and all I hear from the defense is ‘Oh shit.’ from everyone, and I knew at that point it was going to be a big play.”
Johnson is also starting to turn heads nationally. Former NFL offensive lineman Brian Baldinger broke down a video of the Lions’ defense, calling Johnson “brilliant” in the process:
.@Lions OC, Ben Johnson, is brilliant with what he is creating. Highly explosive plays out of the RUN GAME. They are averaging 7+ / rush…Doesn’t matter who is in the lineup. It’s a coaching clinic in Motown #OnePride #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/saCNbLrsKJ— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) September 19, 2022
“It’s a coaching clinic in Motown,” Baldinger added
NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport had to give it up for Johnson, too, quote tweeting Baldinger’s video, adding the following.
“The promotion of now-OC Ben Johnson, basically anonymous in NFL circles, has led to this explosive offense,” Rapoport said. “#Lions knew what they had.”
(Note: that backhanded insult about Johnson being “basically anonymous in NFL circles” is flat out not true, as you may remember that Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said during Super Bowl week that he’s long wanted to bring Johnson onto his staff.)
Of course, it all goes back to making the players in house happy and efficient, and by all accounts Johnson is doing both.
From St. Brown:
“I tell everyone he’s one of the best coaches I’ve been around. He has that young mind, he’s open to new ideas, he puts all of us in the right position to make plays, he knows our strengths, he knows our weaknesses, he knows what the quarterback likes, he knows everything. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve been around.”
From quarterback Jared Goff:
“Just some of those stuff that he’d been waiting to call for the right moment, I thought he did a great job.”
From receiver Josh Reynolds:
“The schemes that Ben’s been putting together, you can see it from Day 1 of OTAs and stuff, we had something special.”
It’s important to keep in mind that Johnson has only been the offensive coordinator for two games, and teams will eventually try to identify and exploit his own tendencies. Still, given how the offensive responded to his midseason promotion to passing game coordinator last year and how that improvement has carried over into 2022, it’s been an extremely promising start for the young coach.