Something pretty special is happening on this Sunday in February. No, it’s not just the Puppy Bowl. It’s not even just the Super Bowl. It’s the fact that this will be the last Sunday that the Lions do not have a head coach. As we all know by now, New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will take the helm as Lion head coach as early as Monday morning.
With the firing of Jim Caldwell, a lot of questions began to spring up about what Bob Quinn and Caldwell’s eventual replacement would want to do with the Lions existing coordinators? Terryl Austin has already skipped town for Cincinnati. And on Puppy Bowl Sunday, it would appear that we have our answer on Jim Bob Cooter. According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the Lions are expected to retain Cooter for another season.
That’s right. Jim Bob Cooter appears to have won Survivor: Lions Edition. And by all early appearances, it was the right thing to do by Bob Quinn. Today I would like to go into a couple reasons as to why that’s good idea.
You can try to make the case that this is an organization placating to its quarterback. You can make the case that Cooter is being forced upon Matt Patricia. But both of those cases are stupid. So don’t do that.
The reality is this: Jim Bob Cooter and Matthew Stafford work exceptionally well together. It’s safe to say that the former has changed the latter’s entire career since he took over midway through the 2015 season. Take a look at the numbers.
In Stafford’s previous 41 games without Jim Bob Cooter as his offensive coordinator, Stafford completed 966 of 1,597 passes for 11,488 yards, 66 touchdowns and 42 interceptions. That’s a completion percentage of 60.5 and a passer rating of 85.3.
Under Jim Bob’ 41 games, Stafford has gone 986-for-1,488 for 11,169 yards, 73 touchdowns and just 24 interceptions. His completion percentage has shot up to 66.3 percent, and his passer rating is at 98.2. That’s obviously a giant improvement.
It’s pretty clear why Matthew Stafford wants Jim Bob to stick around. He makes him an elite quarterback.
The offense is better with Jim Bob
It’s not just Matthew Stafford that the Cooter affects. The entire offense has taken a bump up under Jim Bob (except the run game, but we’ll get to that later). In 2017, the Lions were the only team in the league to have two receivers go for 1,000 or more yards. Eric Ebron has suddenly turned into a player that has become more dangerous. The Lions are squeezing every last drop of production out of their pass game.
And they’re scoring more points because of it. In the previous 41 games without Cooter, the Lions were averaging 21.9 points per game. With Cooter, they’re averaging 24.0 points per game. That doesn’t seem like a giant change, but it is.
Plus, the Lions’ 410 points that they scored in 2017 is the highest point total they’ve had since the 2011 season when their offense was stupid productive.
There’s more though. The Lions aren’t turning the ball over as much anymore either. In the previous 41 games before Cooter, the Lions offense turned the ball over 82 times, an unacceptable average of two turnovers per game. That’s not a miscalculation. Under Cooter, that number has been nearly cut in half. The Lions have turned the ball over just 43 times in the last 41 games.
The Lions are benefiting in all kinds of areas under Cooter—except for one. Let’s talk about it.
Cooter shares merely part of the blame for the run game
Despite the Lions’ strong output on offense, they still finished with a bottom-three running game for the second straight year. Cooter definitely deserves some blame for that, but only in part. At times, Cooter stubbornly called running plays where the Lions couldn’t succeed. Sadly, it seemed to happen at the worst times (see: third and fourth downs).
But there’s a little more to it than that. Jim Caldwell may be one of the best quarterback whisperers ever, but he needs to go by another moniker from now on, and that is Run Game Killer. Everywhere Caldwell has gone, the run game has died. Check out this chart from Kent Lee Platte’s article on this very topic:
It’s not that Caldwell is bad coach, it’s that he has a bad habit of smothering the rushing unit. The other issue was offensive line coach Ron Prince. Prince’s blocking schemes had a lot to do with the Lions’ inability to run the ball, and that secret is just now starting to leak out into the public:
Man have I heard some, shall we say, unkind words about ex-Lions OL coach Ron Prince this week.— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) February 1, 2018
It was essentially a perfect of storm of bad things all coming together in the right way to make sure the Lions could not run the ball.
The good thing is that problem may not be a problem for much longer. If the Lions and Matt Patricia can make the right moves when it comes to hiring these positions, the Lions run game could make Detroit the most dangerous offensive unit in the NFL. Their reported choice in offensive line coach Jeff Davidson certainly has some history of successes.
Continuity is king in the NFL
The final reason to hold on to Cooter is continuity. Just look at the best teams in the league. The Patriots, the Steelers and the Packers too, I guess. These teams are good because of continuity in important places. They don’t fire coaches every year and they don’t change the scheme ever year. They just keep on doing the same thing that works over and over again.
While a lot went wrong for the Lions under Caldwell, the one thing that unequivocally went right was Jim Bob Cooter. I think Bob Quinn saw that, and I think Matt Patricia sees that too. So why would anyone ever want to tear that apart?
Patricia could very well change his mind on Monday and go another route. If he doesn’t, then you can safely assume that Patrica will treat Jim Bob like Quinn treated Caldwell. “Prove it or I’ll go get my own guy.”