Five key questions for the Lions' offense in 2019
Allen Park — Here are five questions the Detroit Lions' offense must answer this season.
Q: What kind of workload can Kerryon Johnson handle?
After years of searching for a running back, the Lions appear to have found their man in Johnson. He was awesome as a rookie, averaging 5.4 yards per carry and snapping the team's troubling stretch of 70 games without a 100-yard rusher.
The problem was Johnson's durability, a known concern coming out of Auburn. Even with a limited workload, he lasted 10 games before a knee injury shelved him down the stretch. He finished his debut campaign having carried the ball just 118 times.
The Lions have made it clear they're committed to running the ball, and that starts with Johnson, but how much can he reasonably handle without breaking down? He worked hard this offseason to build up his body to withstand the NFL grind. If he can manage to average 20 carries plus receiving game targets, the Lions will be in great shape.
Q: Who emerges as the leading backfield complement?
Obviously, the ground game won't fall squarely on the shoulders of Johnson. Last year, the Lions banked on LeGarrette Blount to be the second half of the backfield equation, but the veteran free-agent's contributions fell well short of expectations when he averaged 2.7 yards per carry.
For clear reasons, the team chose not to re-up with Blount, opting to sign the resurgent C.J. Anderson instead. Closing the year with the Los Angeles Rams, the 225-pounder will look to keep his positive momentum going in Detroit.
But Anderson could be pushed for playing time by rookie Ty Johnson. A sixth-round pick out of Maryland, he teased game-breaking speed throughout training camp.
Q: Will Joe Dahl end up being an adequate starting solution?
The success of the offense always start up front and the offensive line will only be as good as its weakest link. The Lions return four above-average starters, but after moving on from T.J. Lang this offseason, Dahl has emerged as the most likely candidate to fill the hole.
Dahl's preseason performance had both positives and negatives. There were a pair of penalties and minimal movement in the ground game, offset by solid pass protection.
Dahl packed on a lot of weight this offseason, mostly muscle, but strength is only part of the equation. In the past, he's been unable to take advantage of his biggest opportunities to contribute, including while Lang was banged up last year. If the fourth-year lineman out of Washington State can give the Lions some stead performances, the unit has a chance to be pretty good.
Q: What kind of impact can T.J. Hockenson have in his rookie year?
Even though he was a top-10 pick, there's almost always a caveat attached to first-year tight ends. It's one of the league's most physically and mentally demanding positions and production is often depressed during the rookie season.
Still, there's still healthy optimism surrounding Hockenson's ability to contribute out the box, in large part because his blocking is more polished than the typical prospect. Based on what we've seen, he's primed to have his biggest impact is in the red zone, where he proved to be a force on the practice field throughout training camp.
With Jesse James and Logan Thomas also in the mix, Hockenson will likely have a tough time challenging Charlie Sanders' rookie record for receptions by a tight end (40), but five or six touchdowns isn't out of the question.
Q: Will the deep ball be an efficient weapon?
There was a lot to dislike about Matthew Stafford's 2018 season, but no statistic better showcases his dip in production than his yards per pass attempt. The 6.7-yard mark was among the worst in the league in 2018 and his personal lowest in seven years. A big part of that was the decline in his deep-ball effectiveness.
In 2017, only Alex Smith, then with Kansas City, tallied more yards than Stafford on deep passes. But last season, that production declined 37 percent. Some of that was due to a depleted arsenal down the stretch and some of it was accuracy issues, a trend that carried over from the offseason.
If Stafford's overall efficiency is going to rebound this year, a good place to start would be getting more out of his deep shots. With Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones as outside options, and Hockenson working the seam, it's a reasonable ask.