Joe Lombardi’s Time in Detroit May Be Up


Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Embattled Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi may have the support of his head coach, but it might not be enough soon.  Once considered one of the hottest coordinators in football, we now have not one, not two, but three different opponents in 20 games that have claimed to have known the Detroit Lions offensive play calls before they were coming, and that’s a death knell for any coordinator on either side of the ball.  Can Joe Lombardi survive this kind of unique criticism?

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The first rumblings began last season when New Orleans Saints quarterback

Drew Brees

claimed that the Detroit Lions offensive scheme under his former quarterback coach was “

Nearly Identical

” to the one he ran.  Brees has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL for years now, so it isn’t really all that concerning when he says he knows his own playbook, but that’s part of the problem.  This isn’t the Saints.  This is the Detroit Lions. Joe Lombardi failed to adapt anything from his previous team to his new personnel in Detroit.  The offense was a mess in 2014 and it’s continued so hard into 2015 that it might make

serious sense

to look ahead already.

The signs have been everywhere since his signing.  Week one of this season he didn’t even know his quarterback was hurt, illustrating just how oblivious he is to his own players on the field.  He was forced to “simplify” the playbook in 2014 over concerns it was too complex for his players.  After such zingers as having a guard run a route in the red zone, Lombardi has continued to make questionable play calling decisions.  He said last season that he didn’t know what to do with Calvin Johnson, which should have caused all the red flags to raise, but he’s continued to misuse the league’s best receiver in 2015.

Those could be attributed to growing pains of being a rookie play caller, albeit some insanely hard to believe ones. What makes him in a position to be removed from the team entirely, or more likely simply demoted, are remarks we’ve heard in recent weeks from opponents and Detroit Lions players.  It’s one thing to have a player who worked in the system for years claim he knew the play calls, it’s another to have a second year cornerback who isn’t known for his field awareness easily calling the routes and jumping passes and then claim he simply knew where everything was going.  It isn’t isolated to Bradley Roby or David Bruton, either.  Golden Tate claims he’s heard it from each of the Lions three opponents this year.

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In only 20 games, Joe Lombardi has turned one of the best offensive lines in the NFL into one of the worst.  He took one of the most dynamic run games in history and turned it into one of the worst in the league two years running, despite a huge influx of talent.  He took one of the league’s most promising young

signal callers

and put him in every possible position to fail.  Are players to blame for miscommunication?  For physical and mental breakdowns that have broken plays?  Sure, some of that blame is shared.  At what point do we put the crosshairs

where they belong

and instead of just targeting the problem, but fixing it?

There are obvious issues with blocking.  Matthew Stafford has been pressured more often than any QB through three weeks.  Joique Bell is rushing for an embarrassing 1.1 YPC.  Ameer Abdullah and Zach Zenner are criminally underutilized.  Stafford’s passing hasn’t been perfect, either, both in and out of pressure.  Any or even all of these problems could be fixed with proper coaching, which is why talking about those issues is pointless while Joe Lombardi still wears a headset.

So what happens? Will he be fired?  Unlikely.  That decision lies on Jim Caldwell who has thrown his full support behind Joe Lombardi.  More likely we will see him removed from play calling duties, no matter what the head coach said during his presser.  Caldwell could replace him in that duty and the Lions have the supporting staff such as Ron Prince, Jeremiah Washburn, and Robert Prince to help whip the players into his own scheme in what will likely be a rough couple of weeks.  They could also keep the scheme and simply switch the play caller.  If not Caldwell, possibly Ron Prince the assistant head coach or, more preferably, Robert Prince who was the offensive coordinator of Boise State from 2012-2013.  Whoever takes over those duties, at least teams might have to guess the Detroit Lions offensive plays instead of knowing before the ball is even snapped.