Payne: How different brands are navigating to an EV-mandated future

Over last four games, Jared Goff making case as long-term fit as Lions QB

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park —  As the Detroit Lions look to accelerate the franchise's rebuild this upcoming offseason and next, the team's plan at quarterback will continue to command the spotlight. 

From the moment he arrived in town, it's been unclear how Jared Goff fit into the team's long-term vision. While coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes — who played a key role in the scouting and selection of Goff No. 1 overall in Los Angeles several years earlier — did what you'd expect in the scenario, gushing about Goff's Pro Bowl resume, his toughness and his history of proving doubters wrong. 

Lions quarterback Jared Goff.

Still, those words couldn't drown out the fact the Rams had paid a steep price to get rid of Goff in favor of Matthew Stafford, a much older quarterback with growing durably concerns. 

The warts from Goff's scouting report initially persisted in Detroit as he rarely threw downfield and he put too many balls in harm's way with poor decision-making. By the midpoint of this season, he had the lowest average depth of target in the NFL, yet had still managed to be intercepted six times through eight games as the Lions struggled to find their first win. 

For subscribers: Lions film review: Reassessing red-zone struggles and the play of Jalen Reeves-Maybin

For outside observers who never believed he could be the guy, Goff wasn't doing anything to prove them wrong. But in recent weeks, the narrative has been slowly shifting. 

In his past four games, essentially a quarter of a season, Goff has looked closer to a Pro Bowler than the next Andy Dalton, a longtime starting quarterback on the cusp of journeyman status as he annually seeks a new opportunity.

During this four-game stretch, Goff has completed 69.5% of his passes for 898 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. His passer rating of 105.1 during the stretch is fourth behind recent MVPs Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes and 2020 No. 1 pick Joe Burrow, buoyed by his 525-yard, four-touchdown performance last week. 

Most importantly, the Lions have found a way to get a pair of wins, including a dismantling of the Arizona Cardinals, who came to Detroit with the best record in the NFL. Goff completed 21-of-26 in that game with three touchdowns, his best performance of the season. 

On Tuesday, Campbell was asked during an interview with 97.1-FM if Goff's recent performance is clear indicator he can be Detroit's long-term answer at quarterback. 

"Yeah, I mean I don't see why not," Campbell said. "Look, he's playing pretty good ball now. ...Yeah, there's no reason why (not). I feel like we're starting to find our rhythm here and all starting to mesh, collectively, from a coaching staff to the players as well, just maximizing everything we have over here. I just feel like we're really improving. There again, I feel like we're finding an identity.

"Look, he puts in the work and all you can ask is improvement from him, too. So I like where he's going right now."

Last week, before the trip to Atlanta and while Goff was sidelined by COVID, Campbell was asked something similar during one of his daily media sessions. While echoing many of the same points from his radio interview, the coach also noted it had been difficult to evaluate Goff early in the season. 

"I always felt like it’s hard to evaluate him until I feel like everything is right to an extent, and you can do a fair evaluation of where you think he is," Campbell said. "And so, I feel like that’s come about over the last, really, call it probably four weeks, three or four weeks. And so now, it’s starting to come a little bit more into focus. I feel like there is a much clearer picture and for different circumstances, for different reasons, a number of different reasons. And so, I like where he’s trending right now."

It's likely not a coincidence that Goff's emergence has coincided with vast improvements from his receiving corps. Anyone who watched this team through its offseason program could see Detroit hadn't adequately surrounded the quarterback with sufficient weapons in the pass game. And it wasn't until rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown fully adjusted to this level and developed some chemistry with his quarterback, and former teammate Josh Reynolds was added off waivers, that things started to click. 

Maybe one of the most assuring signs for Goff has been the increased aggressiveness downfield. No one is going to confuse him for Rodgers, but Detroit's quarterback has seen his average depth of target increase by more than 20% during this four-game stretch, with long touchdown tosses to St. Brown, Reynolds and even rookie tight end Brock Wright. 

Obviously, nothing should prohibit the Lions from looking for an upgrade at quarterback, like any other position, but with the upcoming class of quarterback prospects looking shaky, it's a welcome sign Goff is earning an extended audition in 2022, as opposed to getting it by default because of his contract. 

"I think there are a number of reasons why that player possibly wasn’t there early in the year," Campbell said last week. "It’s not just him. I think there are a number of reasons that are all-encompassing, including us as a staff. So, that’s why I’m saying I like where he’s trending right now and I think we’re starting to figure things out pretty good."

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers