Stats show Lions offense better under Cooter

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

The difference from the first half of the season to the second half was incredible.

Even including the pitiful loss to the Chiefs, the Lions offense under Jim Bob Cooter was significantly better this season than when Joe Lombardi was coordinator.

Through seven games, the Lions ranked 29th in points per game at 19.9 and 32nd in turnovers with 18. The problematic offense led to the dismissal of Lombardi before the Lions traveled to London in Week 8 to play the Chiefs.

Over the final nine games, though, the Lions scored 24.8 points per game, which would’ve ranked 10th in the NFL over the entire season. They also had just six turnovers, a significant reduction from the first nine games.

The Lions hardly improved their yardage total on a per game basis, 346.6 in the first seven games and 346.8 in the last nine. The team finished last in rushing, where it ranked after seven games, but after gaining just 68 yards on the ground the first seven games, the Lions averaged 95.4 yards in the final nine.

All in all, the offense was significantly more efficient and effective under Cooter, but coach Jim Caldwell is still reluctant to say there were problems with the system Lombardi ran for one and half seasons in Detroit.

Matthew Stafford.

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“I don’t think it was flawed at all,” he said Monday. “All you have to do is look at the system and look at the production within that system, and that system’s had a lot of great production — end of story.”

Perhaps Caldwell was referencing the incredibly productive New Orleans Saints, who employed a similar offense to the one Lombardi ran in Detroit. The Saints have consistently had one of the top offenses in the league since coach Sean Payton joined the team in 2006.

In Detroit, the offense rarely matched the output in New Orleans. The Lions ranked 22nd in points per game (20.1) and 19th in yards per game (340.8) in Lombardi’s first year.

“Sometimes certain schemes don’t work certain places,” said Lions receiver Lance Moore, who spent most of his career with the Saints. “You look at a guy like Chip Kelly, whose offense at Oregon was one of the best of all time. And then he came to the Eagles, and they had kind of their ups and downs but more recently their downs and he’s no longer there.

“The Saints offense has worked great in New Orleans, and last year it worked decently well here. But for whatever reason, the first eight weeks of this season, it didn’t work the way that it probably should have or that guys obviously wanted to.”

As the offense struggled in the first half, particularly with blocking, rushing and turnovers, the Lions started 0-5 and eventually 1-7. For that reason, Moore understands why the team fired Lombardi after a 1-6 start even if he was initially resistant to the change.

Caldwell, meanwhile, has said multiple times he didn’t regret waiting until a 1-6 start to fire Lombardi. Although the poor performance against Kansas City goes on Cooter’s ledger, the offense improved significantly after the bye week that followed the London trip.

At the center of the improvement was quarterback Matthew Stafford. In the first eight games, he had 13 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, a passer rating of 84.1 and completed 64.6 percent of his passes. In the final eight games, he had 19 touchdowns, two interceptions, a passer rating of 110.1 and completed 70 percent of his passes.

Stafford said after the Lions’ win over the 49ers in Week 16 that he wants Cooter back in 2016.

“You can tell that we had an upward tick, and we were trending in the right direction,” Caldwell said. “But, you also have to keep in mind that that was only a bit of implementation on a week-by-week basis, and … Jim Bob didn’t have the entire spring to put in the entire package the way in which it’s taught from the ground up.

“So, there was a lot of learning on the run, and it was still effective.”

The effectiveness of Cooter’s offense is, of course, a direct contrast to the discourse Lions coaches and players presented while Lombardi was coordinator. The team regularly discussed the importance of more time in the system leading to an improved comfort level.

Yet, Cooter made significant changes during the season and each week with an offense that featured more elements of the offenses run in Indianapolis and Denver with quarterback Peyton Manning, with whom Cooter had worked previously.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that have played a lot of ball that could handle it, and we did,” Moore said.