His name has been the butt of many jokes, but Jim Bob Cooter’s playcalling ability is serious stuff.
The Lions were a trainwreck when Cooter took over as offensive coordinator in the 2nd half of the 2015 season. At 1-6, the team fired then OC Joe Lombardi and promoted JBC. The next game was another disaster, as the team fell 45-10 to the Chiefs in London. With this performance, it looked as if nothing had changed for the offense.
Instead, the team dramatically turned around. The Lions went 6-3 in 2015 since the Cooter hiring, and 6-2 after the London game. Quarterback Matthew Stafford’s production sky rocketed as well. In the first 7 games of 2015, Stafford threw 12 touchdowns to 9 interceptions, while since that mark, he’s thrown 23 touchdowns to only 4 interceptions.
It’s hard to imagine the 2015 season as a whole would not look better under JBC, and this was ultimately confirmed in the season opener at Indianapolis. Thanks to Cooter’s play calling, the run game, and Stafford’s efficiency, the Lions squeezed by and won late in a 39-35 victory.
While it was against the Colts, the game was further proof about how Jim Bob Cooter has returned the Lions to being playoff contenders.
Cooter is one of the smartest offensive coordinators in the league. He runs a short passing game that encourages yards after the catch and quick throws that make the offensive line look better. Like the best coordinators, he understands the skill sets of his players and puts them in the most comfortable places where they are best set up to succeed.
Against weaker defenses, the scheme will feast. In the above GIF, the left side of the front seven buys the play action, and the right blockers provide a wall in the process. With a guard at Stafford’s blind side, the checkdown option gets freed, and the left corner and safety buy into it. This allows receiver Marvin Jones to get open for the quick strike from Stafford and affords him lots of YAC because of the space provided.
Because the Colts secondary plays deep, it provides an easy splash play for the Lions, but it also highlights the creativity of Cooter’s play calling.
Detroit’s offensive linemen have a limited skill set. When Stafford was forced to hang on to the ball more under the Lombardi scheme last season, the pass protection would often collapse on him, preventing plays from happening.
Fortunately, Cooter has been able to get the most out of the Lions’ protection and scheme in roles where they can allow big plays. In the above GIF, The Colts think they have a free hit on Stafford, as the pass protection seems to offer little effort to protect their quarterback. However, this was bait, and the Colts pass rush bought into it. With the rush distracted on getting Stafford, not only did the play call allow Anquan Boldin wide open in space, it also allowed the offensive line to block for him because the pass rush was so far behind. This, in turn, allowed Boldin to stay patient with great blocking, resulting in another big play. A genius play call from Cooter.
Cooter also understands the explosiveness of his young group of runningbacks. Theo Riddick is a deadly offensive weapon that can create yards after contact thanks to his elusiveness and is one of the best receiving backs in the league.
Not far behind him is sophomore Ameer Abdullah, a talented back gifted with great vision and the ability the burst after cutting the field.
The two GIFs above don’t necessarily highlight the play calling, but rather the talent the two backs have. Below is where the usage of these backs comes into play
In the Riddick TD above, the Lions have a 3 WR 1 RB set. The receivers on the left run their normal routes, but the receiver on the right side is schemed to block. The right guard is schemed to block up front after the catch, and the right tackle picks up the defensive end, fooling the Colts’ left defensive tackle and allowing Riddick to get open in the process.
You were probably as confused by this explanation as the Colts were. Because the receiver on the right was schemed to block, and the objectives of the pass protection confused the left side of the Colts’ defensive line, Riddick was able to get a nice, easy touchdown off another terrific play call.
In the touchdown from above, Abdullah is lined up as a receiver. Marvin Jones is lined up in the slot, and Abdullah’s route is a fake out, where runs close to Jones’ route. When Jones eludes the safety, at the same time the corner is faked out by it, as Abdullah turns his route, is easily open, and Stafford tosses him another easy touchdown pass. Cooter’s play call again is brilliant.
In the last 40 seconds of the game, the Lions trailed 35-34 after the Colts miraculously stormed back from an 18-point deficit to take the lead. The team needed its play calling and players to step up when it mattered most, and they delivered impressively with limited time.
This play is a bit similar to the Riddick pass TD from above, with the OL formations and pickups being mixed around. The front is concerned with tackling Stafford right away, allowing Riddick to get free. Stafford eventually notices his checkdown, and Riddick explodes for a huge gain.
In Golden Tate, Anquan Boldin, and Marvin Jones, Detroit has 3 quality receivers that provide good hands and route running. Cooter is aware of this, and used Jones’ talents to good use on the final drive. Here, Antonio Cromartie is guarding Jones. Jones’ route initially has him crossing right, and that’s where Cromartie goofs up. He should be aware that the Lions are aiming for the sidelines on these plays, especially considering they used up 2 of their timeouts beforehand on the same drive.
Nevertheless, the offensive line formation provides Stafford plenty of space and time to fire to Jones, and while Jones failed to get out of bounds (somehow), it puts the Lions in comfortable field goal position, where they eventually get the win from Matt Prater for 43 yards.
This week, the Lions return home to face the Titans, another struggling defense. The offense’s chances to put up points is again huge, thanks to the lack of talent on the other side of the field, the talent on Detroit’s offense, and the impressive scheming used by Cooter. Cooter does not get nearly as much credit as he deserves. The Lions finally have a comfortable offensive scheme they can stick to without worrying too much about it. His play calling has turned the organization around, and along with a few key moves/injuries in the NFC North, has turned them into playoff contenders.
The name may be silly, but the offensive coordinator is no laughing matter.
(Featured image via det.247sports.com)