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Expectations bottomed out for Detroit in 2021. After trading Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff and going into the season with a wide receiver corps of Kalif Raymond, Quintez Cephus, and rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown, they were clearly in rebuilding mode. Unsurprisingly, they tried to lean on the ground game and the short area passing game featuring running backs and tight ends to capitalize on their offensive strengths, which theoretically involved an excellent offensive line.
But the offensive line did not stay healthy. Taylor Decker missed almost half the season. Ragnow missed over half the season. Penei Sewell experienced some rookie growing pains without the consistency of having his best teammates available. And on top of that, some of their most important skill players (Goff, Hockenson, Swift) also missed games. It would have been easy for the team to give up, but Dan Campbell insisted they play hard until the last snap of every game.
This attitude pervaded the entire season. If there was any doubt about Campbell's uncompromising approach to winning meaningless games, that doubt was erased in Week 18 when they came back from a deficit late in the fourth quarter against Green Bay. All they had to do was let Green Bay win and they would have locked up the #1 pick in this year’s draft. Campbell preferred to win. In the long run, I think this type of culture-building move can have lasting positive ramifications, especially because the difference between the #1 and #2 picks this season does not appear significant.
With so much flux on offense there were no noticeable trends about the Lions’ offensive performance per game. But with a strong offensive line and an accurate quarterback when comfortable, they excelled against soft coverage in garbage time when Goff typically had a clean pocket. Every big spread was in danger to the backdoor with this combination of performing well against soft coverage and Dan Campell’s unyielding aggressiveness late in games.
If they head into 2022 healthy, I believe this offense can take a step forward. Rookie wide receiver St. Brown showed flashes of brilliance late, ignored by most outside of the fantasy football community. They run the ball well, particularly when Swift is healthy, and project to have a strong offensive line to keep the quarterback upright. It’s easy to get excited about this offense and its prospects for improving. They should be able to stay competitive to a greater degree than they did in 2021.
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