The Detroit Lions shocked many when they finished the 2022 NFL season in the top five offensively in several major categories, including total yards, points scored and fewest turnovers. In the process, Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson went from virtually unknown first-year play caller to a man who received multiple head-coaching interviews this offseason.
Now Johnson is back in Detroit, hoping to build off last year -- and he believes the Lions could actually be better offensively this coming season.
"When we look back at what we did in self-scout, all of our plays from last year," Johnson said Thursday, via mlive.com. "I came away with it personally that 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."
Johnson believes continuity and experience will help the Lions make gains, despite last year's lofty rankings. Nailing the execution and fundamentals, Johnson believes, could end up being the difference.
"We have to execute better than what we did," he said. "And we did a lot of nice things a year ago, and it really means nothing going forward to this year. We have to be a lot better in terms of the execution, and we should be because we should know what the problems (are) for the plays that we are running now -- run plays, protections, pass concepts.
"And so I personally expect a huge step forward in terms of the growth, the knowledge base of our players, the experience they have under their belts now. And so that's why the emphasis has been on the basics."
Johnson didn't just self-scout his offensive players. He looked inward at his own coaching effort and sees room for improvement there, too.
"If there's one thing I'd say for me a year ago, I micromanaged maybe a little too much, just for the sake of making sure we were all on the same page of what the vision was," Johnson said. "Now that we've been together for a year -- and we do have a couple new coaches -- I have a lot more trust."
Although much of the offensive core remains intact from a year ago, one position will feature some stark changes. The Lions moved on from free agent Jamaal Williams and traded D’Andre Swift over draft weekend. Taking their place are David Montgomery, who was signed from the Bears, and Jahmyr Gibbs, who was Detroit's surprise selection with the 12th overall pick.
There might be some overlap, skill-wise, in this year's group. But Johnson thinks the Lions are capable of running for more explosive plays this season.
"Some of the runs, we could have had explosives," Johnson said. "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."
If Johnson is right and the Lions somehow are better offensively in a season where they have some of their biggest expectations in years, the good news is that the team might be in line for its first playoff appearance in seven years. The bad news for Detroit? Another team might want to poach Johnson to run their entire football team after this season.