DETROIT (AP)Jared Goff is finally having fun as a member of the Detroit Lions.
His first season in Detroit was about as bad as it could have been. The Lions went 3-13-1 while the quarterback he had been traded for, Matthew Stafford, won the Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Rams.
This year wasn’t much better. At times, Goff had the Lions offense playing as well as anyone in the NFL, but inconsistency, turnovers and a terrible defense left Detroit at 1-6 and looking at yet another lost season.
Now that’s changed. The Lions are 5-1 since the start of November, with the only loss coming on a last-second field goal by the Buffalo Bills on Thanksgiving. After beating the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, Detroit is 6-7 and in playoff contention.
”We’re playing well as a team, certainly, but I think offensively, we’re settling into our identity really firmly in these last five or six weeks,” Goff said Sunday after the win. ”When you know what you are and come into a game really knowing the plan, and really knowing how you want to attack them as a whole 11 on offense, not just the coaches, it can change things tremendously.”
Last season, the Lions didn’t know how to use Goff. The quarterback who led the NFL with an average of 12.9 yards per completion in 2017 and matched that total in 2018, was reduced to 3- or 4-yard throws to running backs and tight ends. If the play call was for something downfield, the offensive line didn’t give him time – he was sacked a career-high 35 times and averaged less than 10 yards per completion.
Things got better in the second half of the season after Dan Campbell took over play-calling duties from fired offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, but he still didn’t look like the quarterback who had taken the Rams to a Super Bowl.
This year, with new offensive coordinator Ben Johnson calling the plays and Amon-Ra St. Brown turning into one of the league’s most versatile receivers, Goff has returned to his Los Angeles form. He’s averaging 11.6 yards per completion and has already thrown for more yards (3,352) and touchdowns (22) than he did last year.
His one failing was turnovers. In Detroit’s 1-6 start, he turned the ball over nine times, with two returned for touchdowns.
On Nov. 6, with the Lions leading the Packers 8-0 early in the third quarter, Goff threw another interception, giving Green Bay the ball at the Detroit 23.
For once, his defense bailed him out, picking off Aaron Rodgers two plays later, and the Lions went on to a 15-9 win.
He has been immaculate with the ball since. In the last five games, with Detroit going 4-1, Goff has completed 69.2% of his passes at an average of 11.2 yards per completion, eight touchdowns and no interceptions.
”I have complete faith in the guy,” Campbell said Monday. ”There have been times when he’s had his back against the wall, and he’s played the best football of his career. He’s in a great place right now and he deserves it.”
The Lions have put up 74 points and 902 yards in the last two games while allowing 37 points and 682 yards. For the first time since Jim Caldwell was coaching the team, the offense and defense are playing well at the same time.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The defense still needs a consistent pair of cornerbacks. After an outstanding 2021, Amani Oruwariye lost his job in 2022 and Jeff Okudah can’t do it alone. With Okudah limited by an illness Sunday, Kirk Cousins threw for 425 yards, including 223 to Justin Jefferson.
The Lions have been looking for a big-play receiver all season, and two stepped up Sunday. Jameson Williams was drafted to be that player, even after sustaining a torn ACL in last year’s College Football Playoff championship game, and his first NFL catch went for a 41-yard touchdown. Later, D.J. Chark caught a 48-yard touchdown – exactly why the Lions signed him as a free agent in March.
If the Lions are going to make an improbable playoff run, they have to find a way to stop the pass. Opposing quarterbacks are averaging more than 300 yards of offense against Detroit – even with sacks taken into account – and the problem starts up front. Rookie Aidan Hutchinson has seven sacks, but linebacker James Houston (four) is the only other player with more than two.
Houston is a great story – he was elevated from the practice squad for the Thanksgiving game and has picked up his sacks in 38 defensive snaps – but someone else needs to step up.
The Lions are as healthy as possible in mid-December and got Romeo Okwara on the field Sunday for the first time this season. Okwara had 10 sacks in 2020, but tore his Achilles’ tendon in the fourth game last year and had been out since.
9 – The number of wins it took to get the NFC’s final wild-card spot last season. The Lions are currently fifth in the wild-card standings and are battling the Commanders (7-5-1), Giants (7-5-1) and Seahawks (7-6) for the last two spots behind the Cowboys. Detroit has beaten Washington and New York, although their tie makes that less likely to become a factor, but lost 48-45 to Seattle in Week 4.
The Lions need to come up with a plan to stop Garrett Wilson and whichever Jets quarterback is healthy enough – likely Mike White – to throw him the ball.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP-NFL