Reggie Bush led the Lions with 1,006 rushing yards last season. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
Allen Park — The priority was to get a coach who either had a history of enhancing quarterback efficiency or could bring a proven and respected quarterback coach to his staff. That was one of the biggest selling points for Jim Caldwell, who was officially announced as the 26th Lions coach Wednesday.
Caldwell’s work with Kerry Collins, Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco has been well documented, as has his acumen for the passing game.
But there was another quality general manager Martin Mayhew was looking for in his next coach, one he thinks he found in Caldwell.
“One of the frustrating things for me over these last five years, up until this year, was our inability to run the ball,” Mayhew said. “In the NFC North and we were unable to run the ball. And we didn’t really stop the run, either. Some of that was personnel, but that was hard for me personally, for what I wanted for my football team.
“I don’t think that’s going to be an issue with Jim’s offense.”
To that end, one of Caldwell’s foundation points when he described the type of team he planned to showcase in Detroit was to be strong running the ball and stopping the run.
“The things that we want to make certain that we do — and we’re talking about how we win football games — No. 1, we want to make certain we control the line of scrimmage.
“I think you have to have a team offensively that can run the ball.”
Caldwell has had some productive running backs at his disposal — Edgerrin James and Joseph Addai in Indianapolis, Ray Rice in Baltimore. But his teams never were statistically dominant in the run game.
Going back to his days as Wake Forest’s coach, those teams set all kinds of passing records but rarely ran. As the Colts coach, his teams averaged 3.5 and 3.8 yards per carry in winning 26 games in 2009 and 2010. The most yards in a season his offense gained rushing in Indianapolis was 1,762. During the Ravens’ Super Bowl run in 2012, they were 12th in the league in rushing, with 1,901 yards (4.3).
Last year, dealing with injuries to Rice and the offensive line, the Ravens fell to 30th. The Lions limited them to 90 yards in Week 15.
So, the jury is still out on how much Caldwell’s offense will impact the Lions run game, which was 17th in the league (1,792 yards, 4.0) last season. He said he prefers to play out of one-back sets, which is what the Lions featured under Jim Schwartz and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
Caldwell was vague on whether he’d call the offensive plays.
“I am going to be involved deeply in that area,” he said.
He said, too, he expects quarterback Matthew Stafford to do a lot more reading and reacting at the line.
“We are a team that will certainly utilize the audible,” Caldwell said. “We want to make certain we have the chalk last.
“Oftentimes we’ll align on a formation and depending on what the defense does, we’ll do something to get ourselves in the best possible position from our angles in terms of our blocking scheme, from our routes in terms of our levels, working high-low on flat defenders, inside-out on middle defenders and things of that nature.”
Above all else, he said, the emphasis will be on ball security.
“In order to win, you’ve got to make certain that you don’t have an immense amount of penalties and you don’t turn the ball over,” he said, aware of the Lions proclivity toward both. “Turnovers are obviously the largest determinant as far as winning and losing ballgames. That’s an area you have to be really good at making certain that we take care of the ball.