There are certain games on the schedule where all you can do is chuckle. When the Detroit Lions meet the New Orleans Saints this Sunday, given the who’s who of the match up, this affair will certainly qualify.
In January, the Lions dumped Jim Schwartz, then hiring Jim Caldwell. Shortly thereafter, Caldwell set about to change the culture of the team, bringing in young coordinators who had been position coaches elsewhere and giving them a hefty promotion to reshape things.
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One of those men was Joe Lombardi, who worked as a quarterbacks coach for the Saints for his entire career before departing for Detroit. Lombardi spent plenty of time mentoring Drew Brees and becoming well versed in New Orleans’ wide open playbook.
Now, Lombardi’s offense, which has scuffled to an ugly start thanks in part to playbook unfamiliarity, injury and the like, will be going up against the very coaching staff which mentored him through the years.
It nearly goes without saying that in a chess match between Rob Ryan, Sean Payton and Lombardi, something will have to give. If there is anyone who will have an exact idea of what Lombardi will want to be doing with the Lions, it’s both of these two, who have plenty of experience within the same system.
If there is anyone who will have an exact idea of what Lombardi will want to be doing with the Lions, it’s Ryan and Payton, who have plenty of experience within the same system.
“(Joe Lombardi) was very responsible for a lot of what we were doing from a game plan standpoint,” Payton said on a conference call this week. “He was a great assistant for us.” Likely, Payton himself had a hand in such meetings with Lombardi, giving him knowledge of what kind of game he might call as a coordinator. Ryan, of course, would know the ins and outs of the offense as well as defensive coordinator routinely seeing the schemes in practice.
Knowing this, it will be important for Lombardi to be a few steps ahead of his old team this week. Hopefully, he’ll have a few different wrinkles to throw into the game plan that the Saints’ coaching staff will not be able to anticipate from mere formation or cadence alone.
Execution of the players, of course, will remain a significant key in the end, but if the offensive coordinator doesn’t do a little something extra to spice up the playbook himself, it could be an even tougher weekend for Detroit’s offense than usual, the struggles of the New Orleans’ defense not withstanding.
The NFL is already a difficult league, and intimate knowledge of scheme only complicates things further. How both Lombardi and the Saints react to that may tell the biggest story in the end.