Campbell keeping grip on play-calling duties despite offensive struggles
Allen Park — When it comes to Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell, the rose-colored glasses have nearly lost their tint. While most understood the franchise was entering a rebuild, it's been tougher to stomach when fans are still waiting for a new regime's first victory 11 games into the process.
Campbell's decision to take over the offensive play-calling midseason, despite never handling the role previously in his career, has only accelerated outside frustrations. That's something the coach understands, but the he's sticking to his most fundamental principal when explaining the decision.
"I’m doing what I feel is best for our team right now," Campbell said. "This is not about me. This is not about my ego. I’m doing what I believe I need to do right now and what I feel is best for us.”
During Campbell's three-game run calling plays, the Lions have averaged a little more than 13 points. On the flip side, they tied the first game and lost the next two by a combined five points.
Additionally, the coach has dealt with some trying circumstances during the stretch, including an oblique injury to quarterback Jared Goff, backup Tim Boyle making his first career start after spending the first two months of this season on injured reserve and, most recently, a shoulder injury to the team's top offensive weapon, running back D'Andre Swift. That shoulder issue knocked him out of the second half of last week's matchup against Chicago and will likely keep him sidelined at least one more week, if not more.
Having the voice in his headset change midstream has been a unique experience for Goff, as well. It's something the veteran quarterback hasn't previously experienced, but he was quick to offer a vote of confidence for his head coach.
"It’s been pretty smooth, so far," Goff said. "He’s done a great job. I’ve only had two games with him now, and obviously Pittsburgh was altered (by the oblique injury), so last week was kind of our first real full game plan where we were able to do some things offensively. I thought he did great. I thought he did really well and I think, like I’ve said, he’s more critical on himself than anybody. But from my standpoint, everyone is feeling comfortable with him and he’s done a great job."
Goff said Campbell's calm, in-game demeanor is helpful and he can sense Campbell's growing comfort level as he gains more experience.
Campbell, as the quarterback noted, is his own harshest critic. When asked to assess the job he's done, Campbell started his answer with a criticism, saying there are areas where he can be better, acknowledging he's still learning to balance all his responsibilities and specifically regretting a handful of calls.
One call where he'd like a do-over was the decision to run the ball when the Lions faced third-and-32 near midfield against Chicago.
"It’s one thing to run it, but I hated the run that I called," Campbell said. "That's one. Two is, hindsight, I wish I would have thrown. We would’ve had something a little deeper and it if it’s there, great. If not, check it down, see what you can get and now you’ve got a decision to make. Do you still punt it or do you go for a field goal? I wish I had that one back."
The outside argument with attempting a deep shot in that situation is there's the potential of drawing a pass interference penalty, even if the throw falls incomplete. And even if the ball is intercepted, assuming the defender is tackled quickly, it isn't all that different from punting the ball.
"I’m not going to lie, there are things about it between learning to be a head coach and a play caller that are all — it’s stuff that I’m working through right now that I can get better at," Campbell said. "I look at all of it and I think about how do I prepare myself as best as I can and how do I improve on what I’ve done to help these guys."
To manage some of the load, Campbell has been delegating more during the week to tight ends coach Ben Johnson, an assistant who also has experience working with quarterbacks and wide receivers from his time with Campbell on Miami's coaching staff.
"Ben Johnson is helping a lot with the pass game right now, so I’ve kind of moved him a little bit from," Campbell said. "He still works with the tight ends, but I’ve got him working more with pass game now. ... And then of course, (offensive coordinator) Anthony Lynn is dealing with run game and protections, things of that nature."
Campbell will look to get Detroit's offense on track this Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, who rank 30th in yards allowed is also bottom-10 in scoring defense, surrendering 25.1 points per game.