Thought this was interesting:
First-year coordinator Ben Johnson, 36, began opening eyes at the start of the season, deploying a multiple and unique rushing attack that has helped the Lions be far more viable on offense than most would have predicted. Thanksgiving’s stout performance against an elite Buffalo defense was in many ways his national coming-out party.
Perhaps you heard Tony Romo gushing about Johnson’s gutsy play calls and intrinsic feel for putting his players in position to succeed. The CBS analyst was merely saying out loud what NFL decision-makers have been whispering since the summer. The more people study Johnson’s approach and schematics — and the more they hear how his players talk about him — the more buzz grows that he has the makings of a head coach himself, quite possibly in 2023.
“It looks like what Mike McDaniel is doing in Miami,” longtime NFL broadcaster and analyst Brian Baldinger told me. “All the shifts and motions. I really like when he’s doing with that offense.”
Johnson has found a way to roll up points with far more regularity than anticipated. He is getting the very best out of Jared Goff, a system quarterback who was basically a salary dump in the Matt Stafford trade with the Los Angeles Rams. He has helped use shifts and motion to boost an unheralded receiver group and has kept reinventing a gap rushing scheme despite not having his most dynamic cog, D’Andre Swift, close to full health for much of the season. His unit is backed by a defense that is dead last in most key categories, yet Detroit’s offense spearheaded a recent three-game winning streak and nearly pulled off a huge upset of the Bills on Thursday.
“I like everything about the guy,” said one longtime NFL evaluator, who has been a part of numerous successful coaching hires. (He spoke on the condition of anonymity to frankly discuss a coach under contract.) “He kind of came out of nowhere, but I’m buying him as a future head coach.”
The first-time play caller entered Week 12 with the Lions ranked in the top six in the percentage of drives that reach the red zone and in touchdowns per drive. He has served as a tight ends coach and quarterbacks coach and has an innate ability to process information and understand analytics, according to people who have watched him.
Johnson was a math and computer science double major who walked on at North Carolina and ended up playing quarterback for the Tar Heels. He was working in software development and writing code before getting into coaching, and he has studied all aspects of the offensive side of the ball, including working with offensive line guru Chris Foerster in Miami.
He’s special,” said another longtime personnel executive, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity. “What he’s had to overcome with injuries and from a personnel standpoint, the way they run the football, what he’s done for Goff: Not many coordinators are doing what he’s doing. You look at the film and the way his players respond to him. That’s how you evaluate a coach. That’s coaching.”