The Detroit Lions offensive coordinator, Jim Bob Cooter, excelled early, when he was coaching future Hall of Famers. With average talent, he’s just average.
When Jim Bob Cooter took over the offense of the Detroit Lions, it was all sunshine and lollipops. He took a brutal, stagnant offense, and turned it into a feared unit, able to run up scores. His ball control scheme kept a (terribly) vulnerable defense off the field.
When they would fall behind—usually due to defensive ineptitude— Cooter would take the wraps off, and the offense would explode for a last-minute touchdown, or a furious fourth-quarter comeback.
But that’s not the case anymore.
The defense has surpassed the offense this season, and in a big way. It’s now the defense that keeps us in games, dragging a laggard offense along with it. Everyone has pointed out the flaws: the line can’t protect, or run-block; the receivers aren’t getting open; and the backs aren’t making plays when they do get past the line of scrimmage. Even Matthew Stafford – “Franchise”—has struggled, mostly due to the severe beatings he has taken.
JBC’s scheme hasn’t changed all that much; short, controlled passes to keep your line from having to block for long, and help keep Stafford upright. Use the running game as a secondary means to the pass. If anything, the line should be—should be—better, with the addition of guard T.J. Lang and tackle Rick Wagner. It hasn’t been, but both are upgrades over the guys they replaced. Travis Swanson has taken a step back, and Graham Glasgow has been–well, less than advertised—and he was a late-round pick.
But the offensive line isn’t the problem. It’s part of the symptoms, but it isn’t what’s wrong.
Cooter is the issue.
JBC was considered by most to be a budding genius, and some pundits were kicking his name around as a possible head-coaching candidate after the immediate and overwhelming success he had in his first year and a half.
The problem is that Cooter IS a great coach—when he has great talent. You see—and people seem to forget this—JBC had himself some amazing receivers when he took over in 2015. Calvin Johnson—arguably a future Hall of Famer—was wrapping up his career that season, and did well under Cooter. The following year, the Lions signed Anquan Boldin—another probable Hall of Fame guy—to help replace Johnson.
Both of those guys could beat press coverage, and both guys could make nearly impossible catches when covered. No one could guard either man in single coverage. So in the Red Zone—where Detroit went 0-5 against the Steelers—Cooter would simply use one of those mismatches to create openings in tight spaces.
Here’s the rub: Golden Tate isn’t Calvin Johnson or Anquan Boldin. He’s closer than Marvin Jones is, but Tate is often the smallest guy on the field, and gets jammed up at the line of scrimmage in press coverage. That means no one requires a double team, and Cooter can’t seem to find the recipe for beating man press.
The Steelers loss is 100% on the O.C., and if Jim Bob Cooter can’t find an answer soon, he will go the way of his predecessor, and find himself looking for a job.