As the architect behind Detroit Lions’ offense, Ben Johnson has emerged as a prominent figure in the NFL’s coaching fraternity.
His journey from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator has been an inspiring ascent. As a first-year play caller, Johnson infused new vigor into the Lions’ game plan and propelled them to rank among the top five teams in total yards, points scored, and fewest turnovers during the 2022 season. His analytical mindset and progressive tactics that led to the Lions’ transformation, have made him a focal point of discussions surrounding NFL’s 2023 season.
These tactics also saw him transition from an under-the-radar coach to a sought-after figure attracting multiple head coaching positions in the offseason.
Year Two: A Strategic Leap Forward
“When I look back at it, I feel like we really did a nice job installing the offense to our guys and they digested the information really well,” Johnson said. He credits the offense’s success to the players’ ability to grasp and implement his systems. The OC, hopeful for an even more potent offensive strategy this year, attributes his optimism to the continuity and experience within his squad.
— Woodward Sports Network (@woodwardsports) June 1, 2023
The renewed emphasis on fundamentals resonates in Johnson’s reflections on the Lions’ offensive approach in the previous year. “Even if we didn’t run one new play this year, if we ran all the same plays that we ran last year, that we would be a better offense because we have to execute better than what we did,” he observed. “We should know what the problems are for the plays that we are running now.”
A key part of Johnson’s strategy moving forward is optimizing execution and refining the existing playbook rather than expanding it. In his eyes, an enhanced understanding of their existing play schemes should be the bedrock of their development.
“It’s about playing to our players’ strengths”
Despite the stability in the offensive core, the Lions have made significant changes. Out are Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift, while in come David Montgomery from the Bears and Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit’s surprise 12th overall pick. Ben Johnson sees this as an opportunity for more explosive plays, saying, “Some of the runs, we could have had explosives. We could’ve had 8-9 yards when we were still at 3-4, so just a few things just when we looked back at last year.”
Rather than viewing these shifts as disruptions, Ben Johnson approaches them as opportunities to diversify the team’s play and introduce potential for more explosive strategies. “It’s about playing to our players’ strengths,” he stressed, indicating his commitment to a player-centric philosophy.
Balancing Innovation and Fundamentals
Johnson’s focus on the basics doesn’t signify a lack of innovation. Instead, he views fundamental mastery as a necessary stepping stone to creative expansion. He explained, “We will still push the envelope. We’ll still be innovative and creative on offense… But I just came away saying, ‘Shoot man, we left a lot of meat on the bone in a lot of ways.'”
Johnson’s playbook adaptations are only part of his broader strategy. His holistic approach to team development extends to maintaining a harmonious, player-focused environment. He expressed high confidence in his players, citing the professional dedication of running back David Montgomery and the consistent performances of Craig Reynolds and Jermar Jefferson.
— Woodward Sports Network (@woodwardsports) June 1, 2023
Beyond just strategies and play calling, Johnson’s approach to his role as a coach has also evolved. His initial strategy as a first-year play caller was defined by his enthusiasm, which occasionally translated to over-management. However, in reflecting on his performance, Johnson demonstrated an understanding that trust in his players and coaching staff is vital for effective team leadership. “I think I’ve learned you have to trust your players, trust your coaching staff around you to do their job, and I’ve got to do a better job of that next year,” he admitted, showcasing his commitment to growth and adaptation.
A Collaborative Approach to Play-Calling
Reflecting on his inaugural season of play-calling, Johnson confessed, “I think I grew throughout the season, even from a weekly basis.” He’s determined to continue learning and refining his strategies, striving to keep the Lions in positive situations and provide them the best opportunities to execute on the field.
Johnson values the collaborative atmosphere fostered among the offensive coaching staff. “We have so many opinions and I love it when they bring things up because it just hits me from a different light and I’m growing. I’m getting better because we have these new voices in the room,” he admitted. This open dialogue and exchange of ideas reflect Johnson’s humble approach to his role and his determination to lead the Lions to greater heights.
A Visionary Path Forward
Under the thoughtful and strategic guidance of Ben Johnson, the Detroit Lions offense on a path of unprecedented growth. The 2022 season marked the birth of a more potent, coordinated, and effective offensive approach, with Johnson’s player-centric philosophy at the heart of this transformation. As we approach the 2023 season, the team, poised for a potential playoff appearance, faces new challenges and opportunities. With Johnson at the helm, however, the Lions are primed to turn these challenges into stepping stones towards continued, sustained success. His drive for constant growth, his forward-thinking mindset, and his analytical approach signify not only a personal commitment to excellence but also a promising future for the Detroit Lions in the competitive landscape of the NFL.
— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) June 2, 2023
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Original Photo Credit: © Detroit Free Press