Midway through the 2021 season, the Detroit Lions offense was in shambles. Through eight games, they had scored 20 or more points just once, and they were coming off an embarrassing 44-6 loss to the Eagles.
At that point, coach Dan Campbell made a decision that would alter the future of this franchise. He chose to assume play-calling duties from offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn and give tight ends coach Ben Johnson an unofficial promotion to passing game coordinator.
A year-and-a-half later, the Lions offense is considered one of the best in the league after scoring the fifth most points in the league in 2022. The roster is in a much better space and Johnson has now become the star offensive coordinator.
Most of that credit has been given to Johnson, who nearly scored himself a head coaching job this offseason before opting to come back to Detroit for another year. The praise is well-earned, as Johnson proved to be an excellent play-caller and meshed extremely well with quarterback Jared Goff.
But is Campbell being overlooked? After all, when he took over play-calling in 2021, the offense clearly improved. In the last six games of that season, the Lions averaged 25.2 points per game, despite starting a backup quarterback in two of those games. But was it Johnson’s elevated role that made the biggest difference? And how much influence does Campbell have now?
Myself and Erik Schlitt discussed this very topic on this week’s Midweek Mailbag show. Here are some snippets of that conversation.
Erik: “The main reason that Ben gets all the credit is because he is the one at the forefront of the playcalling. He’s the one that’s doing it on gameday. And, yes, there’s prep, there’s breaking down players, there’s adding players—you could include Brad Holmes in this as well—but the way I kind of envision it is the offense is like an orchestra. You’ve got your offensive line in one area, you’ve got your skill players separated into their different instrument, and then Ben Johnson is the conductor. Dan Campbell is the producer. Dan Campbell is the guy who’s behind the scenes getting guys to tryouts, coming up with funding for it, he’s giving directions on what he wants to do, but Ben Johnson is the composer.”
Jeremy: “What Ben Johnson does is way more than playcalling, too. That amazing Athletic piece was about building a scheme (with Goff). Dan has the overall philosophy he wants to do, but he’s also a very good delegator in that, ‘Schematically, do whatever you want, Ben. This is your offense.’ So I think everyone kind of gets the right amount of credit in this case, because Dan is a delegator, because Dan is relatively hands-off. That’s not to say he doesn’t know his Xs and Os, and I think the fact that he took over play calling and the offense got better in 2021 is proof of that.”
That entire conversation begins around the 16:45 mark of the podcast below.
Other topics this week:
- Which player on a one-year deal is most likely to stick around Detroit as a long-term piece? (1:50)
- Who is more likely to come back: C.J. Gardner-Johnson or Emmanuel Moseley? (4:50)
- Can the Lions change their alternate uniforms this year before changing their home/away uniforms next year? (9:15)
- What will the Lions do if Jahmyr Gibbs goes down: Try to replace him with one player or adjust the scheme/gameplans? (24:30)
- How bad does the team have to start before hitting the panic button? (28:00)
- Which second or third-year player is poised for the biggest jump in 2023? (34:00)
- How close is the RB3 battle right now? (39:30)