NEW YORK – Offensive mastermind Ben Johnson is the secret weapon behind the late-season playoff push by the 6-7 Detroit Lions, who have won five out of their last six games to put themselves back in the hunt for the seventh and final wildcard spot.
Johnson, 36, was elevated to offensive coordinator ahead of the 2022 season. He joined the Lions in 2019 as the tight ends coach before taking over play-calling duties back in February.
Through the team’s first four games, the Lions averaged 35 points per game, but injuries and poor defensive schemes landed the team with a 1-6 record.
The Lions faithful lost hope, but head coach Dan Campbell kept the faith in his newly appointed OC, whom he is familiar with. He and Johnson were on the same coaching staff with the Miami Dolphins in the early to mid 2010s.
Another coach on the Dolphins staff during that time was the reigning, defending AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor.
“That’s probably why he (Campbell) promoted him because he knows he’s got one of the best young coaches in the league right there on his staff,” said Taylor. “Why not promote him and help call this offense? So, (I’m) really happy for Ben. I think that’s a great move by Dan. He’s going to continue to grow with the experience as it comes along like we all have, but again I can’t say enough positive things about Ben Johnson and the role he’s going to have there in Detroit.”
That’s high praise for a coach with a scrappy bunch of players who take after the City of Detroit. They’re blue-collar and are not afraid to make decisions like running a goal-line play with offensive tackle Penei Sewell with the game on the line.
Campbell joked that he was distracted by the fans when the play was called while on the Pat McAfee show.
“These things happen during the game,” said Campbell. “We’re in that situation, and the fans are doing the wave around the stadium, and so, I’m just watching, and I hear (offensive coordinator) Ben Johnson, like, ‘Hey coach, do you want to (inaudible)?’ I’m just so focused on the wave, and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s fine.’ Then I look up, and we’re throwing it to Penei, and I’m going, ‘What the f--- are we doing?’ He’s, like, ‘Coach, you said it was fine.’ But it worked out great.”
They’re also the same team that will run a fake punt from their own 20 yard line, which gained 42 yards and eventually set up a touchdown.
The Lions are the most fun team in the NFL, and it starts with Campbell and his hiring/promoting of Johnson. He is becoming a hot commodity in the league after the huge turnaround from starting 1-6 to now being winners of five of six.
With a win Sunday, the Lions will move to 7-7 on the season and tie the Seattle Seahawks, who fell to the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday Night Football.
Although it sounds like hyperbole, the Lions can do the unthinkable as it has been done before. If they somehow make the final playoff spot in the NFC, they’ll join the 1970 Bengals as the only teams to start 1-6 and make the playoffs.
Next up will be a trip to MetLife Stadium to face the 7-6 New York Jets, who have just lost quarterback Mike White to a rib injury. Can Detroit keep the good times rolling, or are they in a rude awakening?