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Mailbag: Why Ben Johnson is such a good OC for Lions, Jared Goff

We break down what makes Ben Johnson such a special offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

One of the biggest moves the Detroit Lions made this offseason was giving offensive coordinator Ben Johnson a significant raise in order to keep him around. Johnson was a hot commodity in the 2023 head coaching search and even looked like the most likely candidate to win the Carolina Panthers job. However, Johnson decided to stay in Detroit because—in his words—“this is as encouraged I’ve been in my four years with the direction of the Lions and where we’re headed.”

Johnson had a breakout season in his first year as offensive coordinator last year. He turned the 25th ranked offense (by points) in 2021, and turned it into a top-five unit in 2022.

Obviously, Johnson has a solid roster to produce results—Detroit had four Pro Bowlers on offense—but the Lions offensive coordinator did plenty on his own to put those players in the best situation to succeed.

So how did he do it? On our weekly call-in show with myself, Erik Schlitt, and Ryan Mathews, we discussed what makes Johnson so special for a good 15 minutes or so. Our main points can be summarized by three different points.

His ability to utilize different formations for the same play—and different plays out of the same formation

Erik: “He does run multiple plays out of the same formation, and that is for a variety of reasons. One, it disguises his intentions. Two, they don’t have a true, dominating wide receiver one. ... Ben’s concepts are rooted in, ‘I can show you one look and run a run play out of it, I can do a run play that’s a sweep right, I can do counters back left, I can audible into a play action and can run a layered concept.’”

Jeremy: “Having the ability to both run different plays out of the same formation and run different formations (for) the same play just makes things, I have to imagine, an absolute headache for opposing defensive coordinators”

Erik: “He can take this one design or look and run three different plays out of this one set and sometimes he’ll do that purposely in order to set the defense up for a bigger play down the stretch.”

His emphasis on play action

Ryan: “In 2021, the Lions were 26th in the NFL, according to Pro Football Reference, in play action passes with 108. In 2022, they were fifth in the NFL with 158.”

His working relationship with Jared Goff

Jeremy: “Just having the willingness and wherewithal to say (to Goff), ‘You’re not going to fit in my offense, I’m going to adapt to what you want to do and build and offense around that.’ It seems like a very novel concept and we hear a lot of coaches say they’re going to do that, but Ben has obviously clearly gone out of his way to actually do it and succeed at it.”

Also on this week’s show:

  • Are there any games on the schedule that could be sneaky difficult? (2:45)
  • Will the fanbase ever be fully happy with Jared Goff? What would it take in 2023 to win you over? (9:15)
  • Could Nate Sudfeld be better than we expected? Are you concerned with backup situation for 2023? (22:15)
  • Where will we see the most improvement from the upgraded secondary: in pass rush or in PBUs and INTs? (36:30)
  • How much of a chance do the Lions have against the Chiefs? (42:15)
  • Which EDGE defenders are in danger of missing the 53-man roster? (51:45)
  • Jack Campbell’s rookie season over/under: 5.0 sacks, 3 INTs (1:01:00)
  • Is Jack Campbell the starting MIKE linebacker for Week 1? (1:09:00)
  • Will Ross Pierschbacher make the 53-man roster? (1:14:30)
  • Will the Lions play any of their starters in the preseason? (1:24:30)

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