The importance of heavy play-action, with Dan Campbell and Jared Goff

Today’s NFL is a heavy-shotgun, quick-pass league in which most play-action passes do not come from under center in the traditional ways. But the Detroit Lions under head coach Dan Campbell, offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, and with quarterback Jared Goff, are decidedly old-school o their approach to play-fakes.

In the 2023 regular season, Goff used play-action from under center on 135 dropbacks, by far the most in the NFL. And on those plays, Goff completed 92 of 130 passes for 1,258 yards, 588 air yards, seven touchdowns, one interception, and a passer rating of 116.1.

Another old-school concept the Lions use in the passing game is the use of six offensive linemen. Of course, this cost the Lions their game against the Cowboys when referee Brad Allen got a bit confused as to the reporting rules for eligible receivers, but if you think that debacle got Campbell doing less of the 6OL stuff, that’s not the case — in fact, the Lions have been trolling enemy defenses with it more than ever before. In their regular-season finale against the Minnesota Vikings, the Lions put sixth offensive lineman Dan Skipper on the field for nine of Goff’s passing attempts, and on 17 offensive snaps overall.

“Oh, I thought it was great, man,” Campbell said after the Vikings game, when asked about the home crowd’s response to Skipper reporting as an eligible receiver. “Everybody loves Skip, right? That he reported, he was loud. I thought he was very clear on what he did and he got a ball out in the flat, thought he tucked it away ran up the sideline, so it was great. And look, let me say this, Brad, Head Official here, he worked our camp this year, he’s done a great job and he was great. I thought he handled everything really well, because that’s not easy to come in after what happened in Dallas and you’re going to be the guy in our game and he’s a pro. He has been and he was great with communication, so anyway everything was great. But yeah, I thought it was for the crowd to get up for Skip, that was good.”

But this is more than a gimmick. Against the Vikings, Goff completed eight of nine passes with six offensive linemen for 152 yards, 73 air yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, and the highest possible passer rating of 158.3. His explosive plays out of 6OL personnel were completions of 34 and 70 yards to receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown against two different Vikings blitzes.

The first play, a 34-yard gain with 10:07 left in the first quarter, was a 34-yard gain in which Skipper’s release to the left flat opened up St. Brown’s boundary route to that side. This also had Goff’s under-center play-action fake to running back David Montgomery.

Then, there was Goff’s 70-yard touchdown to St. Brown; the first play of the fourth quarter. Another blitz from the Vikings (no surprise there), and this time, Skipper stayed in to help with the protection. You’ll notice that Goff used under-center play-action again (this time to running back Jahmyr Gibbs), and St. Brown got free to the boundary.

By the way — Matthew Stafford of the Rams has the NFL’s second-most dropbacks with under-center play-action, so you can expect to see a lot of this when the Lions and Rams face off on Sunday evening.

In this week’s “Xs and Os with Greg Cosell and Doug Farrar,” the guys get deeper into why the Lions are so successful with these concepts, and why some quarterbacks struggle with under-center play-action than you might expect.

You can watch this week’s “Xs and Os,” previewing every game in the wild-card slate, right here:

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Story originally appeared on Touchdown Wire