Every team has its own distinct December story, many of which look and feel much different than they did just a few weeks ago. Some of those stories include more intrigue and hope than others, both in the short and long term.
Go ahead and put the Detroit Lions high on that list.
First of all, they’re winning. This plays well in any NFL city heading into the holidays, but especially in Detroit, where meaningful games in December have traditionally been challenging to come by. And this time around, after heading into November with a 1-6 record, they also count as a pleasant surprise.
Now the Lions are set to host the NFC North-leading Vikings – having just trounced the Jaguars, 40-14, for their fourth win in their last five games – while eyeing a run at an NFC wild card. They have confidence, momentum, and a nice little quarterback conundrum brewing.
How Jared Goff is Helping the Lions
Jared Goff is playing at a high level. In the last five games, he’s thrown seven touchdowns to just one interception. You can connect the dots further and throw in some math to magnify his efficiency. Over those past five games, Goff has one interception and one loss.
Think about how unlikely that seemed just a month and a half ago. In back-to-back October losses to the Cowboys and Patriots, the Lions were outscored 53-6. In those contests, Goff threw zero touchdowns and three interceptions.
But in the most recent five-game stretch, he’s completing 66% of his passes and getting a lot out of them—Detroit’s offense is sixth in the NFL in yards per completion—one of the best ways to measure a passing game’s downfield effectiveness and how it relates to winning, evident by which teams do it the best. The only teams ahead of Detroit are: Miami, Kansas City, Buffalo. Philadelphia and San Francisco. In fact, the Lions are the only team in the top six without a winning record. It turns out that giving up the most points in the league is difficult to overcome, but the Lions’ passing game is doing its part.
Stats aside, I like Goff’s command of offensive coordinator Ben Johnson’s game plans. Johnson spreads the field horizontally and is committed to getting five receivers out in the pattern. Having minimum protection puts pressure on a quarterback to diagnose the defense quickly and get rid of the ball.
Goff’s recognition-release combo in the pocket has become a real asset for Detroit. He’s not rocket-armed and doesn’t evade pressure well. But more often than not lately, he diagnoses where the ball should go and gets it there accurately. With the rushing attack producing average results recently, Johnson’s passing plan and Goff’s crisp execution have combined to form the strongest part of Detroit’s offense.
Goff is undoubtedly helping the Lions win now, but he might confuse their plan for later.
What Should the Lions Do with Jared Goff?
When he was traded from the Rams to Detroit in March 2021, he was seen as a band-aid of sorts, a nice bridge to get Detroit from Stafford to the next face of the franchise. But with the way he’s playing and the team winning, seeing Goff as the permanent, long-term starter demands consideration.
There are other factors to consider, starting with the Lions’ draft capital. It’s significant. In addition to their own first-round selection, which right now would be the 15th overall, they also own the Rams’ first-rounder via the Stafford trade. Currently, that would be the fourth overall pick.
That means the Lions are on track to have a pair of picks in the top half of the first round, putting them in prime position to identify and land the quarterback they deem their favorite. He could come to them with one of the picks they already own, or they could package them to move up further into the top 5, potentially even the first overall.
To help that potential cause, they also own a pair of second-round picks; theirs and the one they acquired from Minnesota in the T.J. Hockenson trade. Bottom line, they’re well-positioned to do this if they want to. And there’s the question around which their offseason plans will hinge: Should they want to?
Only if they love, not like, one of the candidates. Because just as their draft capital has put them in a position of strength, so has Goff’s play. While some teams will have to look for their next QB in the first round, Detroit can afford to be selective.
I would go about it this way: If the extensive pre-draft work Lions GM Brad Holmes does on CJ Stroud, Bryce Young and Will Levis leads him to believe that one of them has a quarterback gear that Goff does not– that the prospect’s potential greatness is more valuable than Goff’s consistent good – they should go get him with their bounty of early picks.
It makes for interesting conversation now, but the reality is the next five games will provide Detroit’s QB road map. If they run the table or win four of the next five, with Goff’s consistency paving the way, the offense should be his, and the team should use those four picks in the first two rounds to boost the league’s worst defense.
If they stay below .500 and regress, get ready for the excitement – and risk – that comes with bundling draft picks to nab the next QB of the future. Whether he actually is or isn’t better than the incumbent, that would then become part of their December story next year.