After Anthony Lynn failed to do so in less than a full season calling plays , Ben Johnson became the Detroit Lions offensive coordinator and went with a novel concept--a focus on highlighting what quarterback Jared Goff does well. Both guys have talked about the strength of their relationship, as Goff has been entrusted with ownership of the Lions' offense.
Goff operated at a peak level late last season, and it correlated directly to the Lions winning games (8-2 in their last 10. Any chance to beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2023 season opener Thursday night was going to be driven by his ability to play well, and it wouldn't necessarily be shown by gaudy stats in another throw-for-throw duel with Patrick Mahomes.
The Chiefs were without star defensive tackle Chris Jones, pushed the Lions toward a focus on the run game. Take away Goff's three kneel-downs to end the game and Jalen Reeves-Maybin's fake punt run, and Lions running backs David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs combined for 116 yards on 28 carries (4.1 yards per carry). It was not about explosive runs as much as it was volume, and imposing will.
Which left Goff to be efficient (22-for-35, 253 yards, one touchdown, 94.1 passer rating), as he extended his streak of pass attempts without an interception to 359 (the third-longest streak in NFL history). Take away a bad snap and a Marvin Jones fumble, and a clean game from the Lions' offense is also a credit to Goff.
Win over the Chiefs was a full exhibition of what Jared Goff does well
According to Next Gen Stats, Goff was 13-for-16 for 168 yards and the touchdown to Amon-Ra St. Brown on in-breaking routes against the Chiefs. Going a little deeper, via Next Gen Stats, only four of Goff's pass attempts were outside the numbers.
Last year, as we knew and per Next Gen Stats, Goff was excellent as a play action passer last season. Against the Chiefs, he averaged 12.6 yards per attempt on play-action pass attempts and 5.4 yards per attempt on non-play-action attempts.
Almost half of Goff's pass attempts against Kansas City were on in-breaking routes, where he was proficient last year. Success on those kind of routes is easily part of success on play-action, since voids in coverage created by play-action fakes are often in the middle of the field. So one thing Goff excels at (play-action) leads easily to the other (proficiency on in-breaking routes).
Goff's performance against the Chiefs was ideal without big numbers, which the game script did not require from him. It was a conservative game plan from Johnson, and the Lions were never forced out of it. But Thursday night stands as a shining poster for what the Lions' quarterback does best as a passer.