Jets defense latest to bow at the feet of Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson

Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson watches warmups before the game vs. the Miami Dolphins at Ford Field in Detroit on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022.
Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson watches warmups before the game vs. the Miami Dolphins at Ford Field in Detroit on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022. /

The Detroit Lions’ game-winning touchdown on Sunday was surprising to everyone, up to and including the New York Jets’ defense.

NFL games are a chess game between the opposing coaching staffs, as they try to catch each other off-guard and put their players in positions to succeed. In Week 14 against the Minnesota Vikings, Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson dialed up a critical play that wound up in with a reception by right tackle Penei Sewell to ice a win.

On Sunday against the New York Jets, Johnson dug into his bag of tricks again. Tight end Brock Wright had a bad drop on the first play of the Lions drive after the Jets took a 17-13  lead with less than five minutes to go in the game. Five plays later, Wright got another target, on a play exquisitely dialed up by Johnson and perfectly executed by the players on the field.

As Jared Goff described it, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Wright “totally redeemed himself.”

The Jets’ defense was clearly expecting something way different, maybe a run on a 4th and inches play. Wright appeared to be blocking, before leaking out across the field and being a rarely seen image of wide open.

Jets defensive player confirms Lions, Ben Johnson won the situation

Jets’ linebacker C.J. Mosley was captured on the sideline openly frustrated after Wright’s touchdown. He’s No. 57 in the above clip–clearly biting on the play flow to the right as Wright moved past him.

After the game, Jets’ cornerback D.J. Reed talked about the Lions’ game-winning play (h/t to Pride of Detroit for the quotes).

"Credit to their OC, their head coach, whoever calls their plays. They gave the ball to their tight end, who normally doesn’t get the ball in those situations. We’re playing aggressive defense because it’s fourth-and-1. You have to play aggressive, and if we stop the run, we win the game.He literally blocked—he blocked whoever he blocked—for about one-to-two seconds, which if you see your man block, you’re going to naturally trigger for the run, and he kinda just squirted out to the opposite side of the field and was wide open. The receivers ran deeper developing routes on the other side of the field, so once he caught the ball, everybody else was on the other side of the field. So he, obviously, had a big lane to run through, and unfortunately he scored."

Reed was asked if the Lions had shown anything like that on tape.

"Not from our film study, unless you can show me that play. I know that No. 8 (Josh Reynolds) is their guy on fourth-and-1 where he gets the ball in those situations…..That’s his bread and butter. Fourth-and-1, they’ll act like he’s blocking but he’s the receiver. So I was anticipating a receiver doing that. I wasn’t anticipating a tight end doing that. I don’t think anybody was."

As much as everyone else was shocked by the pass to Wright, let alone his catch-and-run for 51 yards and the game-winning touchdown, the 11 Jets’ defenders on the field may have been the most shocked since they had not seen it on tape.

Lions’ coaches have usually been the ones being outfoxed, outstudied and outdone by their counterparts. But in back-to-back weeks, with a pass to an offensive lineman who was put in motion and a play a tight end had literally never done in that specific way in a game, offensive coordinator Ben Johnson won little preparation battles that ultimately played a huge role in two key wins for the Lions.

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