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Q&A with Football Outsiders (Part 1): Jim Bob Cooter’s scheme change partially responsible for Lions offensive turnaround

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Part 1 in our Q&A session with Football Outsiders tackles the drastic offensive turnaround for the 2015 Detroit Lions.

NFL: International Series-Detroit Lions Practice Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re looking for a advanced statistics website to replace other, more disappointing — and costly — alternatives, look no further than Football Outsiders. Each year, Football Outsiders comes out with their annual almanac, providing detailed analysis and statistics you cannot find anywhere else.

Assistant Editor of Football Outsiders, Vincent Verhei (@FO_VVerhei on twitter) was nice enough to answer five of our questions. I was originally planning on throwing all five of his answers down here in one post, but Verhei gave us such amazing answers that we’re going to split this into a five-part series.

Today’s topic: the offensive turnaround in 2015. As most of you already know, the Lions’ offense came alive midway through the season last year, which just so happens to be when Jim Bob Cooter was promoted to offensive coordinator. Does he really deserve all the credit, though? What about the Lions’ strength of schedule in the last two months of the season? Here is Verhei’s answer:

Q: There has been a lot of debate about what caused the Lions’ offensive turnaround in 2015. How much can be attributed to strength of opponent and how much credit does offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter deserve? Did Stafford just play better?

A: Well, we wrote about 2,000 words in the Almanac basically trying to answer this exact question, but here is the short answer: usually when a team radically improves (or declines) in the second half of the season, it's just random fluctuation and not a great indicator of what's going to happen the following year. In Detroit's case, though, we looked at the Lions' offense pre-Jim Bob and post-Jim Bob and found significant strategic changes. In the run game, Cooter cut down on zone blocking in favor of more man schemes, he called a lot more runs up the middle, and when he did call outside runs he was a lot more likely to use pulling guards to set the edge. In the passing game, he started calling for a heavy use of screen passes, which obviously resulted in shorter, safer throws, and as such cut way down on interceptions. As a result, the run offense went from dirt-terrible to mostly OK, and the passing game went from erratic to consistent and dangerous. Some of this is still likely random noise, but some of it looks like Cooter designed and implemented a scheme that's a good fit for the talent on hand, and that's a good omen for 2016.

Remember, this is just one of the five questions Verhei was nice enough to answer for us. Tomorrow is part two, where Verhei will delve into how much he thinks a unique type of receiving running back like Theo Riddick is worth to an NFL team, and what kind of contract extension he could receive from the Lions.