The Detroit Lions offense has come to life in the second half of the season with offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter at the controls.
Since the team’s Week 9 bye, the Lions have seen a decent bump in their yardage output – producing about 20 more yards per game. However, the true turnaround has come on the scoreboard, where the team has averaged an output of 26.4 points per game in the second half of the season vs. only 18.6 in the first half. Cooter officially took over during Week 8.
For context, there are only six teams in the league that average more than 26.4 points per game.
The question is, how could Cooter take essentially the same personnel and produce more than an additional touchdown per game with them?
“I think he’s a smart guy, he’s doing a good job of trying to create matchups, we’re getting the ball out quick sometimes, we’re holding it other times, it’s kind of tough to get a beat on us on what we’re trying to do,” explained quarterback Matthew Stafford.
The early season’s concerns of predictability have seemed to vanish. Now, the Lions are keeping their opponents off balance.
It’s not just the play calling – which has no doubt improved – it’s the player’s ability to adjust on offense. The offense is willing to exploit holes in what the defense is giving by adjusting to their real-time reads. It’s something that is evidenced by some of the ad-libbing between Stafford and running back Theo Riddick but expands beyond Riddick to all of the team’s pass catchers.
“(My responsibility with sight adjustments are) the same as receivers,” said running back Theo Riddick. “It’s nothing individually or anything like that. It’s all in the rules of our offense.”
This is one of the key adjustments to the offense under Cooter. The pressure seems to have shifted from the offensive line to the quarterback, backs and receivers - who have more responsibility to adjust to defensive pressure.
Stafford is doing a good job of reading the defense pre-snap as well as getting them to show their hand. During Sunday’s victory, Stafford caused the San Francisco 49ers’ defense to commit multiple neutral zone infractions because he was using hard counts in an effort to force them to tip their hand.
“I was trying to use my cadence to help us out as much as I possibly could,” said Stafford. “It was a good job by our guys for not moving. Just trying to get tilts and leans from safeties and ended up getting offside so it was good.”
On top of it all, there is a palpable chemistry between Cooter and Stafford. Simply put, they are seeing the game the same way. What’s more is the fact that Stafford has input into the offensive game plan.
“Jim Bob and I are on the same page, the majority of - if not all - the time,” said Stafford. “We have good discussions throughout the week about what we like and things like that. I’m pissed that I missed Calvin (Johnson) on that one post early in the game, that was my play that I wanted up and it was wide open the way I drew it up and I threw it a yard inside.
“I feel comfortable, the guys feel comfortable, they understand what we’re trying to get done and we just got to go execute.”
What’s interesting is that as the Lions seem to hit a stride on offense and are finally showing signs of the unit many expected them to be, there are clouds of uncertainty surrounding the future. With a front office shakeup that could potentially spill to the coaching staff, no one knows if Cooter will be back next year.
Despite the fact that the decision will not be made by Stafford, the quarterback admits he’d like to work with Cooter beyond this year.
“That’s not my decision but I just know we’re playing really well on offense right now,” he said. “I’m having a good time – I think everybody is. He’s a smart guy, you know, but it’s not my decision. I’d like to have him back no question.”