By: Will Burchfield
Jim Bob Cooter pines for a two-pronged offensive attack, but the Lions don’t have the run game to facilitate it.
They rank 30th in the NFL in both yards per carry (3.4) and yards per game (78.3).
“In this league, it ends up being difficult when you can only do one of those two things well, run the ball or throw the ball,” said Cooter. “Across the league, you see teams that sort of fall into (one) of those categories and then you see the teams that can do both. And traditionally, those are your best offenses year in and year out.
“When you have to sort of punch one-handed, you don’t have both hands available to you, that makes it difficult.”
To that end, Cooter has stuck with the run game, determined to make it go. It’s not just a year’s worth of results he’s trying to disprove. The Lions have ranked among the bottom-five rushing teams in the NFL in each of Jim Caldwell’s four seasons as head coach. Midway through his second he promoted Cooter to offensive coordinator.
“You can win ballgames, but you can’t be a really good NFL offense without being able to do multiple things well,” said Cooter. “Obviously, run (and) pass are two of those major, major categories. It’s something that I really want to improve, we really want to improve, but we have not done that around here. I’d like to be better and it starts with me.”
Each game, Cooter makes a point of trying to establish a rushing attack. It often backfires, with the offense unable to get off the blocks. The Lions have scored just 30 points and have been shutout five times in the first quarter this season.
In terms of getting the run game going, Cooter said he needs to call better plays.
“Yeah, not good enough. I need to improve. Our guys are working really, really hard. At the end of the day, it falls on my shoulders to improve every asset, every facet of our offense. The run game is a major part of that, and I’ve got to do a better job,” he said.
The Lions’ offense is built around the pass, to be sure. But Cooter’s commitment to the run has contributed to a number of early deficits, at which point it’s fallen on Matthew Stafford to step back and start winging the ball around the field. Only then, it seems, has the offense found its groove.
In last Thursday’s loss to the Vikings, the Lions turned Stafford loose too late.
Asked if it’s dangerous to stick with the run game if it’s not effective, Cooter said, “I’m going to hold off on some of the strategy thoughts I may have related to that subject.”
Cooter made one thing clear: Fixing the run won’t be easy. Its failures aren’t attributable to one factor.
“If you could really lock in on one thing and just work extremely hard to fix that, that’s a little more doable. Sometimes it’s one step here, one step there. Sometimes it’s just nuanced, little things, and then obviously I’m looking at doing a better job calling that thing. It’s overall improvement. It’s focus on details, it’s execution of details,” he said.
The Lions will stick with it, because good offenses can punch with both hands. But this offense has often been better using one.