Campbell was fiery, direct, and didn’t shy away from the microphone. His demeanor had many willing to run through a brick wall for their fellow maniac. The first season hasn’t gone according to plan, and Campbell took over play-calling duties for the offense in the middle of November. The offensive blueprints have paled in comparison to the head coach’s personality.
The offense wasn’t great when Anthony Lynn was steering the ship. Nobody is arguing otherwise. But in defense of Lynn, who was then the play-caller and remains the offensive coordinator, the shelves weren’t exactly stocked with talent. And one thing Lynn did was take his shots.
In every single start that quarterback Jared Goff made with Lynn directing, he never threw fewer than 30 passes. Some might argue that the games dictated that pace, given that Detroit was often playing from behind. While that’s true in a couple of instances, but it’s also true that the Lions had five games that hung in the balance heading to the fourth quarter when Lynn was in charge of play-calling duties, and Goff was slinging it around everywhere. The passing game has been invisible with Campbell calling plays.
Goff has made two starts in the three games since Campbell took over and hasn’t eclipsed 25 pass attempts in either. Pass attempts aren’t the be-all, end-all, but it’s a prime example of Campbell’s oddly conservative strategy. It took Goff until overtime against the Pittsburgh Steelers only three games ago to eclipse 100 passing yards. Yes, he was dealing with an oblique injury, but every single throw was either a check-down or thrown short of the sticks. Goff put the weight on the wide receivers to create plenty of yards after the catch. It never happened.
Tim Boyle made one start two weeks ago with Goff too banged-up to play against the Cleveland Browns. Boyle wasn’t great, but a vanilla game script from Campbell didn’t help. Boyle finished 15/24 for 77 total yards passing.
It’s not the easiest of situations, and nobody is making that case. The problem with Campbell’s offensive scheme is that things have become so condensed it’s been easy for opposing defenses to zone in and feast.
What’s bizarre about Campbell’s approach is that he’s remained aggressive in other elements of the game, like choosing when to go for it or not. But to watch the passing attack you’d think you were tuning in to a game from 30 years ago.
Campbell isn’t naive to that perception. After Boyle had his hand held throughout the game against the Browns a couple of weeks ago, Campbell was asked about his play-calling choices.
“Look, I get it. I’m sure there’s a lot of people that question I was too conservative, and maybe I ought to throw it a lot more,” Campbell said. “But I’m just not ready to do that with where we were at here. … I just didn’t feel like it was right. I didn’t feel it was the right thing to do. Do I see myself trying to win games, you know, 14-13 or 16-13 (long term)? No. But we’ll do whatever it takes to win a game.”
Winning a game is the lone goal for the Lions at this moment. They remain the only team left in the NFL without a victory. The balance is making sure it doesn’t directly affect some of the young talent on offense, specifically in the passing game. How is Detroit to get a read on what they have in Amon-Ra St. Brown if they are having him run slants and crossing routes? Kalif Raymond was signed to a one-year gig with the Lions and has looked pretty good at times. How are they supposed to assess whether or not to keep him around and give him another deal when they aren’t opening up the playbook even a sliver?
The cost of trying to win a single game could have a lasting effect on any real evaluation Detroit gets on some of its young playmakers or guys working for another contract. And the method itself is the polar opposite of Campbell’s personality.
Campbell came in with the mentality of a bull in a china shop, promising to embrace the tough mentality of the city itself. But ever since he’s taken over the play-calling duties, one performance after another has seen him take as little risk as possible in the passing game while playing not to get blown out like they did against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Throwing it 50 times a game isn’t the answer, but neither is the plan that Campbell has implemented. Campbell needs to embrace his personality and find that happy medium as he calls plays through the rest of this season.