The Detroit Lions relieved offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn and assistant offensive line coach Terry Heffernan of their duties on Monday afternoon.
You probably already knew that.
So rather than going over the details of the coaching change, let’s focus on what needs to change on offense if the unit is to start resembling the potent group many believed (still believe?) it could be.
Before jumping into the specifics, it’s important to note that head coach Jim Caldwell explained that major changes shouldn’t be expected – at least not immediately.
“You can’t change an offense in its entirety in two days’ time or a week’s time. So it’s going to take some adjustments along the way here,” he said.
Still, Caldwell acknowledged that he anticipates “schematic changes” under the direction of new offensive coordinator (and former quarterbacks coach) Jim Bob Cooter.
So, if the Lions are to take a step (or several steps) forward on the offensive side of the ball, what changes need to happen?
1. Beat the Blitz
Quarterback Matthew Stafford has been under siege this year and the 16 sacks he’s taken aren’t as damaging as the 53 hits he’s obsorbed this season.
What’s troubling are the unblocked rushers that have made their way to the signal caller – starting with one that caused Stafford to injury his throwing arm all the way back in Week One.
Teams have learned they can confuse the Lions’ protection schemes by disguising their blitz packages, stunting their defensive linemen and overloading on certain sides of the line.
In order for the Lions to overcome this – and they surely will receive a heavy dose of it the rest of the way – Cooter must be prepared to tackle the problem.
That doesn’t mean he needs to be in max protect all the time but it does mean he has to establish a method to compensate for the pressure. This could be in the form of correcting the protection schemes (and before-the-snap adjustments) – something that must happen – or in the route concepts and timing employed by the team.
If a team is blitzing don’t target the sidelines, hit a pass in the area where a linebacker has vacated. Use shotgun (more) and allow Stafford to see the play without turning his back on the defense. Give the receivers more responsibility to adjust when blitzed (something that doesn’t happen much currently) and get them in space by sending them on routes that attack separate areas of the field.
2. Keep Your Best Players in the Game
Golden Tate shouldn’t exit the game as frequently was he does. He’s played a healthy 85% of offensive snaps this year but there have been games where his snap count is far too low.
The same applies for Eric Ebron. I understand that he’s not a blocking tight end, but the defense has to respect that he’s on the field and allowing the offense to play the matchup. Maybe you don’t want him blocking a linebacker, but you’ll take that coverage matchup all day. The reverse is true too; if he’s matched up with a defensive back, that’s an advantageous blocking situation.
Theo Riddick played on 52% of snaps last week – higher than his season average but lower than what we should see. At this point, Riddick is your best option at tailback. He’s shifty, he’s an exceptional receiver and he doesn’t have the ball security issues that rookie Ameer Abdullah has consistently demonstrated.
The team also shouldn’t be afraid to bench rookie first-round pick Laken Tomlinson. There is merit to the argument that Manny Ramirez has been the team’s best offensive lineman this season and he currently is riding the bench in favor of Tomlinson.
Also, less sub packages means less predictability.
3. Make Sure Calvin Johnson is Involved
I don’t subscribe to the notion that the Lions should just chuck the ball to Johnson on every play but I do believe the team needs to do a better job of getting him involved.
At 43 receptions, the team is clearly getting the ball in his hands but his 13.3 yards-per-catch – a number that has been inflated in recent weeks – could stand to improve.
The Reality is, Johnson isn’t going to be able to turn his touches into big plays as easily as he did a few years ago. Still, the Lions have not done a good job of dictating matchups. Motion him more, slide him to the slot just before the snap and put pressure on the defense by getting him matched up with players that simply can’t keep up with him.
If a defense is dedicating deep safety help to him – and the extent of effort defenses pay to him seems to be less this year than in years past – take the top off with Corey Fuller and make the defense pay.
Fuller isn’t a consistent enough route runner to have an extended role but he has the speed to get behind one-on-one coverage and could be a deep-threat option should defenses overly dedicate resources elsewhere. Fuller has seen the field on only 17 percent of snaps this year.
4. Spread Your Out Your Receivers
The Lions often have the entire offense lined up inside the numbers before they snap the ball. This can be an effective look when you want to give your outside receivers more space for routes targeted to attack the sidelines.
The problem is, the Lions haven’t had the type of protection they need from the offensive line to be consistently effective with these types of routes. What’s more is the fact that this enables the defense to more easily crowd the line of scrimmage and disguise their coverages.
Spread the defense out, play as much shotgun as possible and allow Stafford to make a quick read and get rid of the ball.
This offense is not built to go through deep progressions in the passing game and due to their lack of a consistent running attack, it creates more problems keeping Stafford under center.