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Lions Roundtable: Will Detroit’s offense recapture its groove under Jim Bob Cooter?

Is there any chance the offense rights the ship this year?

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

First things first, if you’re unfamiliar with our roundtable or how it works, check out our archive and some of our most recent discussions from this season:

In Week 9’s contest against the Minnesota Vikings, the Detroit Lions offensive line was sieve.

10.0 sacks. Ten. Ten of them.

After protecting Matthew Stafford like few other teams have protected their quarterback this season, Detroit’s pass protection was abysmal, atrocious, abominable. Over twenty years of watching Lions football, I’ve never experienced anything like this.

On paper, the Lions offense should be one of the most productive units in the NFL. On film, it’s looking like one of the most uninspired, unimaginative offenses in comparison to the other attacks in the league.


And this leads us right into our discussion for this week:

Will Detroit’s offense recapture its groove under Jim Bob Cooter?

Ryan Mathews: So more specifically, will the Lions passing offense bounce back to the type of productive attack it was from yesteryear? Since his first full season as offensive coordinator, JBC’s offense has finished in the top half of the league in all of the major passing categories.

Halfway through this season, the Lions offense is lifeless, ranking in the bottom half of the league in both yards and points, and the matchups aren’t going to get much easier; Detroit’s getting the most efficient defense by DVOA’s measure, the Chicago Bears, twice in the next four weeks, the trending-up Carolina Panthers, and the Los Angeles Rams to ring in the holiday season.

I don’t see it happening.

Mansur Shaheen: Probably not. The offense has never been able to find consistency with Jim Bob Cooter as play caller and it’s hard to imagine anything will get better without Golden Tate. Detroit’s offense was supposed to be among the league's elite this year, but as Ryan said, they are nowhere near the top in every relevant statistical category.

Whether it’s the fault of Cooter, Matthew Stafford or the offensive line, this offense is in shambles at the moment. And it probably will be for a majority of the remainder of the season.

Kent Lee Platte: So we've all complained about Cooter at some point. Whether it's design or play calling, everyone has found fault with something. The thing is, he's been far better in 2018 than he was in previous years, developing plays out of different alignments and making use of a diverse set of skill players. Things were looking up. The Vikings game was inexcusable from an offensive standpoint, however, and all the bad memories of Cooter came rushing back.

There's a better than zero chance that Cooter is gone in 2019 regardless of how the rest of the season plays out, but with the defense improving despite a lack of talent and the offense sputtering despite talent volume, Cooter's head is firmly on the block and I'm not sure he knows how to get out of it.

Jeremy Reisman: The Lions offense—while never spectacular—made some real strides in the first third of the season. The offensive line improvement we saw early on was real, as was the drastic rushing attack improvement.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t resulted in what matters the most: scoring touchdowns. The Lions remains an average-at-best team in the red zone, and that’s ultimately where the failures of Jim Bob Cooter are magnified.

John Whiticar: I wouldn’t even call the Lions a mediocre red zone team, which is really surprising given the arsenal at our disposal: Golladay is 6-foot-4, Marvin is 6-foot-2, Blount is 247 pounds. Coupled with tight ends Michael Roberts (6-foot-5), Luke Willson (6-foot-5), and Levine Toilolo (6-foot-8), it’s shocking how badly the Lions are bullied in the red zone. Settling for field goals is going to ruin your chances of winning, and the Vikings game is a prime example. I think a lot of this falls on the shoulders of Cooter. I don’t necessarily want them to run another Phill—I mean Detroit Special, but the Lions need to deliver killing blows.

Reisman: That being said, I think there are two reasons for optimism in regards to offensive improvement: Matthew Stafford regressing back to his mean and defensive improvement. Let me explain.

In the past two years, Stafford has been one of the most consistent quarterbacks in the league. He’s taken care of the ball, completed well over 65 percent of his passes, and seemed to settle into his “veteran quarterback” status. That has not been the case this season. Stafford has regressed this year, but I have no reason to believe this will stand. He will get better.

As for the defensive improvement, I truly believe we’re seeing incremental progress on that side of the ball. Damon Harrison Sr. has undoubtedly made the run defense better, and if they can get rid of the big plays, they’ll be able to actually give the offense the ball back every now and then—and hopefully with good field position every once in a while.

The schedule looks daunting and the upcoming opposing defenses are tough. I don’t expect a huge turnaround on offense, but I do expect it to look better than it was against the Vikings.

Mathews: If it doesn’t look better than it did in Week 9 against the Vikings, does Cooter stick around through the remainder of this season? We’ve seen the Lions move on from one coordinator so far when they fired special teams coach Joe Marciano on Monday. Could JBC suffer a similar fate if things don’t turn around?

Andrew Kato: Everyone above has focused on either the people calling the plays or making the play, but I want to go back to something Jeremy said early on: the improvement in the offensive line in the first quarter of the season was real and the team had a ground game. The issue that has been exposed in the recent Seattle and Minnesota games is that the team no longer has that offensive line on the field.

Right guard T.J. Lang is an outstanding player, but injuries have once again forced the Lions to either sit him or ease him back into the games slowly on a rotational basis with Kenny Wiggins. Teams are paying attention to personnel and blowing up plays whenever Lang is not in the game. The other injury issue is with left tackle Taylor Decker, who was replaced for a bit at the end of the Seattle game by Tyrell Crosby due to a back issue. I am not going to get into it in detail here, but suffice it to say that the Minnesota game is the worst I have ever seen from Decker. The guy was limited all week and it showed; something is (or at least was) seriously wrong with him.

Reisman: “I am not going to get into it in detail here.” You tease, Kato.

Kato: We’ll get to that later - anyway, I don’t think our readers need a reminder of what happened last year when the offensive line was crushed by injuries down the stretch. Horrible blocking at crucial times by reserves eliminated the Lions from the playoffs and got a head coach (and offensive line coach) fired. I would not be surprised if it gets an offensive coordinator fired. Unless the offensive line somehow magically became completely healthy again, it would shock me to see above average offensive production at any point going forward.

Reisman: But mostly because they traded Golden Tate, right? I need a reason to be angry at a person. It’s a lot less fun being angry at injury luck.

Kato: Oh, that surely did not help. At all.

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