Coordinator Cooter provides polish for Stafford

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has been better by just about every metric since Jim Bob Cooter took over as offensive coordinator in Week 8.

In seven games with Cooter calling the plays after Joe Lombardi was fired, Stafford has a passer rating of 100.8, a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 15 to 4 and has completed 67.2 percent of his passes. Half those interceptions came in Week 8, Cooter’s first game as coordinator.

In the seven games under Lombardi, Stafford had a 86.8 rating, a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 12 to 9, and completed 65 percent of his passes.

“I think they have very good synergy together,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “I do think that some of the changes that we’ve made have fit (Stafford’s) strengths, but I have to certainly just give him a lot of credit because what he’s doing is not easy. It’s a complex system, and that complex system is not necessarily for everybody. You see more people fail in it than advance and prosper within it.”

The Lions players talked about the complexity of Lombardi’s scheme during his 1-1/2 seasons. A common theme throughout the offseason was coaches and players expecting an improved comfort level to produce better results, but that didn’t pan out as the Lions scored 20-plus points in two of the first seven games.

The team’s ability to improve quickly under Cooter also shows the scheme and execution is typically more important than having more time to learn it. Caldwell, though, declined to say which of the schemes are more complex.

“I’m not doing any sort of comparison,” he said. “None of them are easy. That position is the hardest position to play in football.”

But Stafford made it look easy against the Saints on Monday night, with three first-half touchdowns. He finished with a career-high 88 percent completion rate (22-for-25) and a career-best 148.6 passer rating in the 35-27 victory.

Stafford’s performance came three games after he bettered his career high with a 137.8 rating against the Eagles on Thanksgiving.

Part of Stafford’s success under Cooter has been matchups against the Eagles and Saints, who rank 29th and 31st in total defense, respectively. Both teams have been hit hard by opposing quarterbacks, and the Saints allowed passer ratings of 135.7 or better to Eli Manning, Kirk Cousins and rookie Marcus Mariota.

But after watching Stafford on Monday, Caldwell applauded the quarterback.

“It’s highly unusual to have a game like that,” Caldwell said. “I’ve only seen a few in my career where a guy has been that accurate.

“For a guy to throw it that well, for the ball to be caught that well, for the protection to hold up, for the routes to come out and give him an opportunity to get the ball to them, all of those kinds of things go along with it.”

As much as Stafford seems to be throwing better, one of the things Caldwell lauded was his improvement with protection calls under Cooter. Against the Saints, the Lions allowed three quarterback hits.

“That’s what he’s capable of if we give him the right help around him and all those kinds of things,” Caldwell said. “He just keeps getting a little better.”

Some of Stafford’s teammates have improved in the second half, too. Right tackle Michael Ola has been a significant upgrade over LaAdrian Waddle and Cornelius Lucas. Wide receiver Golden Tate has at least six catches in five straight games, including five touchdowns in the last four.

Overall, there seems to be more cohesion.

“They’re playing well for him and around him,” Caldwell said. “And that makes a difference.”