It has been one of the most dramatic changes this season. Detroit was in the bottom third of the league in offensive pace under former coordinator Joe Lombardi, because he wanted to shuffle in personnel and packages at a dizzying rate.
Now, though, Detroit has been in the no-huddle 62 percent of their plays during the preseason. That's up from just 7 percent in the regular season last year.
"I think if you do it right -- if you do it well in general -- it's a more efficient way to go about your business," Cooter said. "Now does that mean we're always playing extremely fast? Absolutely not. But it also doesn't mean we never do that. We like to have all the options at our disposal. Sometimes we play fast, sometimes we don't. Sometimes we're in the huddle, out of the huddle."
The Lions’ offense really took off after Jim Bob Cooter took over as the play-caller, but that probably had more to do with the strength of schedule than anything he did. The Lions played Minnesota twice, Arizona, Seattle, Kansas City and Denver in their first eight games, and the schedule was significantly softer after the Week 9 bye. Still, Stafford was the #4 QB over the final eight weeks, averaging 21.5 points per game. The loss of Calvin Johnson will sting, but if Cooter’s influence is real, then Stafford could push for QB1 numbers if things break his way. Playing at a faster pace should only help, assuming the offense can move the ball effectively and stay on the field.
The Lions haven't scored much with their starting offense on the field, but they have moved the ball.
But Golden Tate is not concerned.
"I think we can be special," Tate said.
They put together a 12-play drive on their lone series in the preseason opener against Pittsburgh, before a Taylor Decker breakdown led to a sack-fumble. Then they went 10 plays and 79 yards to open against Cincinnati, before Tate dropped a would-be touchdown in the end zone.
QB Matthew Stafford has a 70.6-percent completion percentage, which is actually ahead of the pace he set in the second half of last season, and 171 yards through the air. He has not thrown an interception, though he does have two-sack fumbles.
Detroit has been without TE Eric Ebron and RB Ameer Abdullah as well, which isn't helping their production. Stafford's favorite target continues to be WR Marvin Jones, who leads Detroit with 81 receiving yards on five catches. That includes a 32-yard toe-dragger along the sideline last week, which helped set up a field goal. We've heard a lot about how Jones has been Stafford's go-to WR so far in camp and it's holding true in preseason games.
It illustrated two things.
First, Stafford has complete comfort in Jones at this point. He likely doesn't make that throw to many other receivers on the roster and it showed just how good Jones' awareness and hands are. He put his hands up at the last possible second -- good trackers of the ball do that -- to throw off the defensive back and make the catch.
Second, the window Stafford threw the ball into was minuscule, even by NFL standards. The only way that pass was going to be completed was if he threw it in a small spot just over Lawson's shoulder. He did. It was complete. It was a heck of a play -- whether or not it counted.
It was a continuation of what has become a strong rapport between Stafford and Jones, the story said. This isn't the first we've heard about this chemistry, and it appears Jones could be the top WR target, passing Golden Tate who many assumed would take that role over from Calvin Johnson. The author went on to say he "can't think of a day when Jones had a bad day of practice."
Golden Tate is expected to play a big role in the Lions offense this season, but it is prized free-agent acquisition Marvin Jones who looks like the club's top wideout. And in recent days, it hasn't been all that close.
On Tuesday, quarterback Matthew Stafford got his first chance to work against a foreign defense, and he went to Jones repeatedly, targeting him with seven of his 14 passes during team drills at a joint practice with the Steelers.
Jones caught six of those passes. No one else had more than two.
"Yeah, I think so," Stafford said, when asked if he were developing a chemistry with Jones. "There's a ton of work to be done between now and the season opener. That's what these days are for."
Jones has been Stafford's favorite target throughout most of camp, with Tate, Anquan Boldin and tight end Eric Ebron also earning a lot of looks. But Ebron is hurt right now, and Tate is battling an uncharacteristic bout of dropsies.
Jones has averaged 3.6 receptions for 48 yards and 0.44 TD in his last 32 games. The 6’2” receiver has been especially good at catching touchdowns (14 in his last 32 games), so he'll be asked to pick up the slack in Detroit after Calvin Johnson's retirement. Used inconsistently in Cincinnati, he should see plenty of work with the Lions, though we expect he'll play second-fiddle to Golden Tate in terms of total targets. Jones’ FP/T (1.03) was average last year, but it was an elite 1.64 FP/T in 2013, when he scored 10 times. If he sees 120 targets at his 2015 FP/T, it would yield 123.6 FP, which are solid WR3 numbers in standard formats. He has upside from there if his TD rate regresses toward his 2013 levels. Given this buzz, his ADP is likely to climb into the 6th or 7th round after hovering in the 8th for most of the offseason. We're generally leery of receivers who change teams in free agency, unless they're getting a promotion, which seems to be the case here.
Lions OC Jim Bob Cooter and QB Matthew Stafford had obvious chemistry last season, when Stafford threw 19 touchdowns and just two interceptions in the final eight games. His 110.1 QB rating during that stretch would have led the league, if extrapolated for the full season.
But that offense was held together by the football equivalent of bubble gum and duct tape. Cooter basically took the reins while on a flight to London, and had only a couple days to prepare before making his playcalling debut against the Chiefs.
Cooter slowly faded out the Joe Lombardi system in subsequent weeks, while working in some of his own concepts, all the while keeping everything simple enough for guys to understand. But it was never the offense he wanted to run. Not completely.
Cooter has had months to work on the system and it's clearly suiting Stafford's game right now, the story said. It went on to say Stafford's been sharp throughout training camp, but especially so in recent days. He put only one ball on the ground Sunday and Monday combined, then led the first-team offense to that touchdown in Wednesday's 2-minute drill. Stafford's ADP is just the 11th round so he could be a real nice find at that point in the draft.
And as strong as Matthew Stafford finished last season, Lions coach Jim Caldwell made somewhat of a bold statement Thursday when he discussed the start of the 2016 season and how much his quarterback knows about the offense he's about to run.
“Matthew is better than he was at the end of last year right now,” Caldwell said. “I continue to say that I think he’s certainly going to continue to improve.”
Caldwell implied that Stafford understands OC Jim Bob Cooter’s offense better now that he has had a full offseason to learn it, as opposed to the piecemeal installation that took place over the second half of last season.
Under Cooter, Stafford threw 19 touchdown passes and two interceptions in the final eight games of last season. He completed 70 percent of his passes with a QBR of 73.1 -- better than Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. He was the #4QB over the final eight weeks. Stafford, of course, will be without Calvin Johnson this season but the team signed Mohamed Sanu in the offseason and most recently Anquan Boldin to go with Golden Tate. Stafford is 17th on our QB list with a 12th round ADP. We think if this offense is for real, Stafford could push for a QB1 ranking.
Lions TE Eric Ebron didn’t play much football the first two weeks of OTAs, sidelined with an injury. He returned this week and immediately slid into his position in Jim Bob Cooter's offense. It’s a role he believes will be “a lot more exciting” than it was his first two seasons under Joe Lombardi.
Ebron is going to have to take more responsibility, too. With Calvin Johnson's retirement, he becomes one of the team’s primary mismatches for opponents. When he was drafted, he was supposed to be another option for Matthew Stafford. Now, he’ll likely line up with Marvin Jones and Golden Tate as a primary one.
“I see him hopefully taking strides this year,” Cooter said. “And making those big strides.”
Ebron caught 47 passes for 537 yards and five touchdowns last season and finished as the #13 TE in PPR formats, though he was actually worse under then-interim and now-official offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. He averaged 13.0 FP (PPR) through the first seven weeks, and 7.3 FP once Cooter was promoted. With Calvin Johnson gone, there are a lot of moving parts in Detroit, so this doesn't mean that Ebron won't produce similar (or better) numbers in his third season.
The offense being installed in Allen Park this offseason is very different than the one the Lions ran even the second half of last season.
“I think it's exactly what it is, we started from scratch,” receiver Golden Tate said after an open OTA practice last week.
“The calls are different. The signals are different. From top to bottom it’s all new and we’re just taking it day by day. I think our guys are doing a great job staying in their book and trying to learn it.”
There are obviously some elements that were put in place on the fly the second half of last year that have been adopted into the new package. But this has truly been a full reinstall, according to Tate. And like anything new, it takes time to perfect.
It would explain some of the sloppiness, penalties, missed assignments and balls hitting the ground on offense over the course of the two open OTA practices the last two weeks.
The offense was more productive once Jim Bob Cooter took over in Week 8, averaging 2.24 points per drive compared to just 1.54 points per drive in the first seven games. Total yardage and number of plays remained about the same, but there was a larger commitment to the run (+4.8 rushing attempts per game). Passing yardage declined (-26.5), but touchdowns were up (+0.36) and interceptions were way down (-0.99). Given Tate's comments about the new install, it sounds as if the offense is a work in progress, and the team will have to get new WR Marvin Jones up to speed.
Lions.com writer Tim Twentyman was asked via Twitter who will lead the team in catches. His response:
I think it will be hard for Theo Riddick to reach 80 catches again this season. Teams will scheme hard against him.
I expect Eric Ebron’s stats to take another significant increase in year three, but the 90-catch range is probably a bit high for him.
In the end, I expect Tate and Marvin Jones to be right there, with Tate edging Jones out.
Jones had a career-high 65 catches in 2015, so it's tough to see him pushing Tate, who has back-to-back seasons with 90-plus catches. Tate looks like a great value, especially in PPR formats.
Johnson’s future -- and the possibility of him returning -- came up in an interview Wednesday evening on the Mitch Albom Show on WJR-760 at the annual Taste of the Lions event at Ford Field.
“In my mind, I don’t see that happening,” Stafford said. “He retired because he wanted to. That’s it.”
It's up to Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and Eric Ebron to pick up the slack. Over the last two seasons, in 11 games in which Johnson was questionable, doubtful or out, Tate averaged 6.6 receptions for 77 yards and 0.73 TD. Fantasy-wise, that’s about what Allen Robinson scored as the #6 WR in PPR formats in 2015. It’s also solid WR1 production in standard formats. Jones has averaged 3.6 receptions for 48 yards and 0.44 TD in his last 32 games. The 6’2” receiver has been especially good at catching touchdowns (14 in his last 32 games), so he'll likely have a large role in the red zone.
Sunday, April 3, 2016, 12:57pm
Bob Quinn worked for the Patriots before being hired in Detroit, so he was on hand when the Patriots used relatively early picks on Kevin O’Connell, Ryan Mallett and Jimmy Garoppolo to back up Tom Brady. He was also hired in 2000, which was the same year that the Patriots drafted Brady in the sixth round and a year before Brady took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe in a franchise-shifting move.
Quinn suggested the same might be in store for the Lions in this year’s draft.
“I think it’s really good football business to acquire a young quarterback every year or every other year,” Quinn said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “There’s such a value in the position and nowadays in college football there’s a lot of spread offenses, which means it’s a lot different than pro football. So it takes these young quarterbacks time to develop. So if you can add a young quarterback every year or every other year to your roster, it’s good football business in my mind. So you have time to develop them, either on the practice squad or as a backup, before eventually them having to play in a game.”
The story mentioned the Lions would look in the mid-to-late rounds for a possible QB selection.
Saturday, December 12, 2015, 9:58am
One of the best indicators of success in the NFL is a team's turnover differential. During the first half of the season, the Detroit Lions' inability to protect the football was reflected in the team's 1-7 record.
While not entirely his fault, quarterback Matthew Stafford was part of the problem. Through eight games, he had racked up 11 interceptions and was even benched in the third quarter of the team's Week 5 loss to Arizona after tossing three picks.
But things have turned around since the midpoint of the campaign. In the first four games of the second half, Detroit is one miracle play away from being undefeated. Asked about the biggest factor behind the team's recent success, coach Jim Caldwell immediately pointed to turnovers.
The Lions have given it away just twice in the past four games with Stafford throwing only one interception.
Friday, October 30, 2015, 6:45pm
Thursday, October 29, 2015, 6:14pm
Wednesday, October 28, 2015, 6:45pm
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