Despite growing confidence, Lions' Dan Campbell uncertain about play-calling future

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — While the sample size is small, it's fair to say coach Dan Campbell's decision to take over the Detroit Lions' offensive play-calling after the bye week has been successful. 

Despite no prior experience in the role, and a slew of challenging circumstances, the Lions have been a statistically more productive offense during the second half of the season, posting 2.5 points more per game, behind a running game that's averaged 4.8 yards per carry the past eight games, compared to 4.1 the first eight. 

Lions quarterback Jared Goff and head coach Dan Campbell exchanged a few words and a hug in the final minute of the victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

But with one game remaining, Campbell hasn't decided whether he wants to continue calling plays beyond this season. 

“Honestly, I haven’t," he said. "I know that I’m getting a lot more comfortable and I feel like this is something that I do believe I can do and be good at."

Having never previously called plays — particularly while trying to manage the other responsibilities of leading a franchise — initially proved difficult for Campbell after taking over from offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn midstream. 

"It took a minute to try to get it all in because unfortunately when you take that on," Campbell said. "Fortunately and unfortunately, something is going to suffer somewhere until you figure out. I think I told you guys this, (former coach Bill) Parcells used to always say, ‘Look man, running a team is like having a garden. The minute you neglect one area, it will wither and die if you’re not giving it attention or you’re not pulling weeds, you’re not watering.’

"Unfortunately, you start figuring that out the hard way," Campbell said. "So yeah, it’s been a process. But I can tell you this: I’m miles ahead of where I was three or four weeks ago. I feel that way. I’m so much more comfortable now, I do. I’m starting to figure it out. It doesn’t mean I’m perfect by any means, but I do feel l a lot more comfortable."

And since taking over play-calling, Campbell has had to navigate flu and COVID outbreaks, three outdoor games in inclement conditions and a number of injuries to key players. That's included quarterback Jared Goff, who has missed three starts, while Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson and dynamic dual-threat running back D'Andre Swift have each been sidelined four second-half contests. 

Yet even through those problems, the Lions have scored more points, managed to win two games and tie another after going winless the first eight weeks. 

Going forward, the alternative options for Campbell start with ceding duties back to Lynn. That seems less likely than the offensive coordinator leaving his post to pursue other opportunities after expressing disappointment with the changes

A second in-house option would be handing the reins to tight ends coach Ben Johnson, who has assumed a greater role in the passing game the second half of this season.

Lastly, the team could explore bringing in an outside option, at the risk of mitigating the positive progress with both the run game and Goff, who is coming off a four-game stretch where he completed 69.5% of his passes and posted a quarterback rating of 105.1. 

"I’m not ready to commit to what I’m doing next year yet," Campbell said. "I’ve got to sit down and process all of this at the right time."

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers