Lions notes: Goff doubtful as Detroit expects to roll with Boyle at QB in Seattle
Allen Park — Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell isn't expecting to have starting quarterback Jared Goff when the team travels to Seattle to play the Seahawks on Sunday. That sets the table for backup Tim Boyle to make his second consecutive start and third of the season.
"We'll get a look, see how (Goff) feels today," Campbell said ahead of Friday's morning practice. "We'll see. It's probably doubtful that he plays."
Goff, who missed the previous game while on the COVID/reserve list, is still dealing with a lingering knee injury, suffered in the closing minutes of the first half of the team's 30-12 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Dec. 19. Confirming Campbell's pre-practice prognosis, Goff was listed as doubtful on the team's official injury report in the afternoon.
The starting quarterback wasn't able to practice all week, as Boyle led the team through the sessions. He's looking to build on his improvements between his first start in November and last week's effort in a 20-16 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
"Yeah, he's had a good week and he did exactly what we thought he would," Campbell said. "He doesn't look like somebody who is frazzled or frustrated or has lost confidence. He looks better. He looks like he's learned from it, accepted it and he's ready to go to the next challenge."
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Boyle completed 24 of his 34 passes against the Falcons for 187 yards and a touchdown. He also threw a critical interception at the goal line in the final minute, sealing the defeat.
For Goff, it will be the third game the historically durable quarterback has missed this season. In addition to last week's battle with COVID, he missed the November matchup with the Cleveland Browns with a strained oblique muscle.
While quarantining last week, Goff wasn't able to get the same rehab experience for his knee had he been in the building, but Campbell isn't convinced it would have made a difference with the quarterback's availability this week.
Not that there's ever a good time for an injury, but the timing is particularly unfortunate for Goff, who had been playing his best football since joining the Lions, coming off an impressive performance in the upset win over the Cardinals.
"He's frustrated," Campbell said. "He wants to go, you know? He'll also know when he's ready, we'll know when he's ready. Yeah, he was trending the right way and when these things pop up, shoot man, you want to get back out there. So he is frustrated."
On the opposite end of the equation, the team has budding confidence in Boyle's abilities as a backup. Unlike with his debut, when the Lions reeled in the play book and game plan to account for his inexperience, the weather and a lengthy stint on injured reserve with a thumb injury, Campbell said his play calls against Atlanta were unaltered by Boyle playing instead of Goff.
The coach expects that to be the case this week, as well, although a cold, rainy forecast, and some injuries at tight end and wide receivers, could alter the equation.
"I'm going to call this normal," Campbell said. "I think it will be more an issue of the weather and depending on who we have and how we're doing with those packages is how I'll call it."
The Lions are expecting to get one piece to the offensive puzzle back ahead of Sunday's game. Wide receiver Josh Reynolds, who went on the COVID/reserve list on Monday, is expected to clear the league's new five-day, return-to-play window for vaccinated players.
A midseason waiver claim, the longtime Rams receiver has provided a significant boost to Detroit's receiving corps following his acclimation into the offense. The past five games, he's tallied 18 catches for 295 yards and two touchdowns.
Reynolds has struggled a bit more with Boyle under center, going without a catch on three targets in what was both his Lions debut and Boyle's first career start. And last week, Reynolds two catches for 36 yards was his lowest production since that first game.
The Lions have had more than 20 positive COVID cases in December, including Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, Michael Brockers and Halapoulivaati Vaitai this week. And while that's been a common trend around the league, it doesn't make it any less of an exhausting challenge to navigate for the team's coaching staff.
"I say this every week, the hardest part is not that you lost a guy, the hardest part is not knowing who you're about to lose," Campbell said. "We have no idea. I was crossing my fingers this morning, but even tomorrow morning, I'm crossing my fingers because you don't know who you're going to have. That's the thing. Your game plan, let's get the next guy ready, no problem. But now, the next guy may be the one who is out, and the fact you get pressed against time to prepare those players."
All gas, no brakes
The Lions will also be getting back running back D'Andre Swift, who missed the past four games with a shoulder injury. And don't expect the team to be conservative with the dynamic dual threat's touches in his return to the lineup.
"I guess I'm not that type of coach, I'm going full steam ahead," running backs coach Duce Staley said. "If there's anything he needs to tell me, I'm pretty sure he will. Other than that, he's 100%, he's rolling. I'm not the one to try to put a governor on this or on that, to try to (ease) up a little it. Nah, that's not me. If he's out there, he's going to give us 100 percent and he knows that."
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Earlier in the week, Campbell called the final two games an excellent opportunity for Swift to continue to learn and develop. Asked specifically what he'd like to see the running back working on during the stretch run, Staley said the biggest area for improvement can be as a pass-catcher.
"You got to get better as a pass receiver," Staley said. "So, what does that mean? You gotta learn coverages. Coverages are No. 1. You got to understand what they're trying to do to you, no matter if you're coming out of the backfield or you're spread out in empty. That's one of the things I can be better at teaching him. He's been learning. I've been teaching him and he's been getting it. He understands. I just got to find more ways to continue to hammer the point home."
Not every team carries and fullback and no one has the luxury of rostering two, so the Lions will have to get creative if they want to continue to replicate that role with Jason Cabinda ruled out for Sunday's game with a knee injury.
Staley said two of his running backs have stepped up offering to do more blocking, starter Jamaal Williams and Craig Reynolds.
"That's where Craig and Jamaal will come in, you know we got guys that are raising their hand to play that position," Staley said. "And that's Craig and Jamaal, and that says a lot about the room. Those guys, it's all about the team and they'll tell you that."
Both Reynolds and Cabinda are about 15 pounds lighter than Cabinda, but should be able to draw some experience from playing on special teams, blocking on kickoffs.