Detroit Lions' Ben Johnson pining for more big plays; Romeo Okwara readies for debut

The Detroit Lions grinded out four drives of 10 or more plays in last week's win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. But as gratifying as it was to dominate the time of possession, Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said he prefers a more quick-strike attack.

"I love explosive plays," Johnson said Thursday. "It’s like after every drive we’ve got one of our young coaches, he’ll say, 'Hey, that was a 15-play drive or 12-play drive.' And I’m like, 'You know what’s better than that? A three-play drive, a two-play drive that ends up in the end zone.'"

The Lions rank in the top 10 in virtually every offensive category this season, and much of that success has been predicated on big plays.

Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson on the sidelines during the Lions' 28-25 loss on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022, at Ford Field.
Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson on the sidelines during the Lions' 28-25 loss on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022, at Ford Field.

They are tied for fifth in the NFL with 43 passes of at least 20 yards, and they're one of three teams with four or more runs of 40-plus yards.

But as explosive as the Lions' offense has been, and as well as they've played winning four of their past five games, Johnson has been pining for more big plays in recent weeks. Just 14 of the Lions' 20-plus-yard pass plays have come during their five-game hot stretch, and the Lions have not scored a touchdown of 20 or more yards since Week 4.

"Every week we’re on a quest to find more explosives and when you play a game like that and it’s about efficiency as opposed to explosives, you’ve got to be good on third down and that was probably our best all year that we’ve been on third down," Johnson said. "So we were able to stay on track and it worked out for us. But all of a sudden if we’re not quite as good on third down, then playing that type of game isn’t nearly as good for us.”

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The Lions converted a season-high 67% of their third downs (8 of 12) against the Jaguars, but face a Minnesota Vikings team Sunday that held them to 3 of 16 on third down conversions when the two teams met in September. The Lions failed to convert on two key third downs late in that game, when the Vikings rallied in the final minute for a 28-24 win.

It's nit-picky coming off their most lopsided win of the season, but Johnson said it's important the Lions generate more big plays on offense with the playoffs in reach.

"It gives us a great opportunity to coach hard, I think, because you can feel good about yourself," Johnson said. "‘Hey, we had great results, but at the same time there’s plenty on the tape that we need to clean up if we want to continue to produce.' So that’s the encouraging thing is we can get after our guys a little bit."

'Long time coming'

Defensive end Romeo Okwara said he expects to make his season debut Sunday against the Vikings, a little more than 14 months after he tore his Achilles tendon in a game against the Chicago Bears last October.

"It's been great just being out there with the team, just kind of getting back into it, knocking the rust off a little bit," Okwara said. "But yeah, I'm just real excited to get after it this weekend. It's been a long time coming."

Detroit Lions defensive end Romeo Okwara (95) celebrates with teammates after a sack against the Tennessee Titans in the end zone for a safety Dec. 20, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn.
Detroit Lions defensive end Romeo Okwara (95) celebrates with teammates after a sack against the Tennessee Titans in the end zone for a safety Dec. 20, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn.

Okwara led the Lions with a career-high 10 sacks in 2020, and had one sack in four games last season.

Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said Okwara should help a Lions pass rush that ranks 26th in the NFL in sack percentage.

"We’re looking forward to utilizing him and seeing if we can get that out of him as far as the sack production," Glenn said. "Excited to have that player back, he’s excited to be on the field. I know he’s chomping at the bit to get a chance to play, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how he operates."

Injury update

Cornerback Jeff Okudah, receiver Kalif Raymond and backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld missed their second straight practice Thursday with an illness, while offensive linemen Taylor Decker (elbow) and Frank Ragnow (foot) returned on a limited basis. Linebacker Derrick Barnes remains out with a knee injury, guard Kayode Awosika wore a boot on his left foot in the locker room, Chase Lucas did not practice because of a hamstring injury and Will Harris (hip) was added to the injury report after being a full participant in practice Wednesday.

The Lions also returned running back Craig Reynolds to practice Thursday and have 21 days to activate him to the 53-man roster or sit him for the rest of the season.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions OC Ben Johnson: 'I love explosive plays'