Dan Orlovsky has been an interesting resource for Detroit Lions fans since his playing days have ended. The former Lions backup quarterback has made himself a career as a well-respected media member, be it a studio analyst or a color commentator. Given his unique background inside the Lions quarterback room, he has also been a valuable asset for Lions fans seeking background information on franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Though his analysis seems to be glowingly positive on any topic—almost to a fault—when joining The Ringer’s “NFL Show” podcast last week, Orlovsky had plenty to say about his frustrations with some coaches during his Lions tenure.
When asked why more NFL coaches don’t implement motion and play action more often, as we see with teams like the Rams and Chiefs, Orlovsky pointed to some coach’s stubbornness in their own ways.
“A lot of coaches in the NFL haven’t done it and haven’t been exposed to it, but they’ve been exposed to other things that have worked in the past,” Orlovsky said. “Coaches are hard-headed, guys. Coaches think that, ‘I can fix this guy. I can make this guy a player. Oh no, this offense has been great.’”
That’s when Orlovsky went back into his memory bank and pulled some frustrating days from the Mike Martz era (2006-2007) when the “mad genius” was the offensive coordinator for the Lions, fresh off a pretty successful run as the Rams head coach.
“We would do all the stuff that the Rams did,” Orlovsky said. “We would do all the drop-back game that the Rams did. And we could not do it. And Mike Martz kept calling all that stuff that the Rams were great at.
“And one time, I remember having a conversation with Jon Kitna, and we were talking about the struggles. I said, ‘Here’s the reality dude: This offense is great... when you have Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce and Orlando Pace and Marshall Faulk. When you have those guys, this offense is great, but we can’t run this offense.’”
Indeed, the Lions didn’t look like they could run that offense. In those two years under Martz, the Lions’ offense ranked 21st and 16th in points scored.
But Orlovsky didn’t stop there. He said he saw the same thing when the Lions hired Joe Lombardi from the Saints in 2014.
“He kept calling plays that the Saints would be very good at,” Orlovsky said. “The Lions and Matthew Stafford weren’t (good at those plays). But he kept calling it, because that’s all he knew. One, that’s all he knew. Two, he saw it be successful somewhere else, so he’s like, ‘No, this works. I’ve seen it work.’”
Lombardi was fired just a couple months into his second season with the Lions, and Detroit’s offense saw an immediate spike when Jim Bob Cooter took over.
Orlovsky has a good point about both coordinators, but it’s also a tough ask for a coach to do or teach something he’s not accustomed to. You teach what you know, and in the cases of both Martz and Lombardi, they had mastered one very specific system that saw Super Bowl-level success elsewhere. Orlovsky admits as much.
“So these coaches can watch all the cutups they want of all the motion and play action and whatnot, but if they don’t know how to teach it, they can watch all they want, they’re not going to be good at it.”
So where does that leave the Lions now? Well, their current offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is at least a little more varied in his approach. He entered the league as a passing-game coordinator, and worked under a pass-heavy scheme with Brett Favre. Though now he’s much more known to be a west-coast offense, run-focused game-planner.
And all that is fine, as long as Detroit has the personnel that can run what he wants. Does Detroit have its Adrian Peterson/Marshawn Lynch? Do they have the physical offensive front to dominate other teams? Do they have their Russell Wilson/Brett Favre in Matthew Stafford?
Time will tell.
Hat-tip to commenter Mr. Zebra for bringing this podcast to my attention.