One name that came up a lot the second half of the season when talking with Detroit Lions coaches and players about the difference in the offensive performance from the first half of the season to the second half, particularly when it came to the passing attack, was first-year tight ends coach Ben Johnson.
After head coach Dan Campbell took over play calling coming out of the Week 9 bye, he also gave Johnson a bigger say in how the Lions operated their passing attack as the pass-game coordinator. The numbers show the impact the change had on quarterback Jared Goff and the entire passing offense.
Before Campbell took over play calling and Johnson had a bigger role in coordinating the passing attack, Goff had a touchdown-to-interception ratio of eight to six and a rating just over 85.0 in his first eight starts. The Lions were also winless.
Over his last six starts after the change, Goff's ratio improved to 11 to two with a rating north of 100.0. Detroit was 3-2-1 in those contests.
"Yeah, Ben really stepped in there about halfway through the year and became, you know, very involved and had a lot of ideas installing things and having his hand on a lot of the stuff the quarterback position was doing, really every position," Goff said after the end of the season.
"Really just heightening everybody. So his ceiling is – sky's the limit for him. Excited to hopefully have him back, and we'll see where that goes."
Tight end T.J. Hockenson worked closer with Johnson than anyone the first half of the season. Hockenson got off to a terrific start this year catching eight passes with a touchdown in each of Detroit's first two games. He was well on his way to breaking his Pro Bowl season marks from 2020 for receptions, yards and touchdowns, but a thumb injury not cost him the final five games of the season.
"Coach Johnson, he's probably one of the top – I always talk about (Iowa offensive coordinator) Brian Ferentz as one of my better coaches in my career – Ben is definitely at the top," Hockenson said.
"He's a very good teacher. One of those guys that helped me a ton in my pass game. Just marrying things up. One of the things I love about Ben is he's always wanting to learn, and then he's wanting to express it to us. He would always ask me like, 'Why'd you do that? What was this? What was this about?' And then he was like, 'Alright, this is why I would do it different.' or "This is what it would be.'"
The Lions parted ways with offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, opening up the coordinator position in Detroit. The Lions will be coaching one of the teams at the Senior Bowl in a few weeks and assistant coaches are expected to take on more prominent roles there.
It will be interesting to see if Johnson gets a chance to run the offense down in Mobile. If he does, it could give us a peek into a potentially bigger role for him in Detroit next season.
"I think Ben Johnson did a hell of a job for us," Campbell said of Johnson's work during last season. "I will say that and kind of leave it at that if you will."
Hockenson said Johnson's coaching style resonates with the players because it's an all-inclusive style. The players feel like they get to have some ownership and some say in how it ultimately looks.
"He always said, 'you're the painter and you've got the canvas to paint on.' He would give you his tidbits, but he would never kind of tell you how to do it," Hockenson said.
"Build it as well as you want. You just have to get from Point A to Point B, but how you get there is how you want to do it. It's really nice to have a guy like that just because you get to be creative. I get to sit at home and think about all the ways I can get from Point A to Point B and how that would work based on their leverage, based on their technique. Yeah, that's helped me a ton."