Cooter Backs Stafford, Takes Ownership Of Offensive Struggles As Job Security Wanes

Detroit's offense has gone stale in its third full season under Cooter.

Will Burchfield
November 26, 2018 - 8:20 pm

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The Lions offense has taken a step back in its third full season under Jim Bob Cooter, and Cooter isn't deflecting the blame. 

"I’m accountable for everything that happens on this offense," he said on Monday. "Bad things that happen, things that don't happen right, whether it’s being in a different spot or some decision somebody out there on the field is making that maybe isn't even seen on the TV copy of the game, that stuff’s all on me. I have to do a better job coaching our guys and putting us in a better position to succeed." 

A year after ranking 13th in the NFL in total offense and seventh in points per game, the Lions rank 23rd and 21st in those two categories, respectively. Their output has actually increased in terms of yardage, but offenses have exploded across the league this season and Cooter and the Lions haven't kept up. 

It puts Cooter, one of the few holdovers from Jim Caldwell's staff, in a precarious situation. Matt Patricia already fired special teams coordinator Joe Marciano, another coach he inherited from Caldwell, earlier this season. There's a feeling Cooter could be next, though he insists he doesn't feel the heat. 

"I try to figure out how may radios and internets and newspapers I can get around my office so I can really soak all that stuff up," he joked. "But really, it’s the same thing I've said a couple times. The reality of the situation is this is a week-by-week, year-by-year league. You’re judged by your results, and we want better results. Our goal is to play better offensively to help our team win games.

"It’s probably not very wise for me to worry about all the outside talk or all the speculation. It’s pretty wise for me to get ready for the next opponent, evaluate our offense, what we can do better, what we should do better, and how we can improve as the year goes." 

Cooter has been dealt a tough hand in recent weeks, between the trade of Golden Tate and injuries to the likes of T.J. Lang, Marvin Jones and Kerryon Johnson. But the offense wasn't exactly lighting it up in the beginning of the year either. And relatively speaking, the Lions have had a pretty clean bill of health. 

"At the end of the day, a lot of my job is problem solving -- what is the problem and can I fix it? Could be something really, really small. You fix it in Week 2 and it never rears its head again. If you don’t fix it in Week 2, something bad happens in Week 8. Those type of things happen in my profession, so it is my job to fix those problems," Cooter said. "It is my job to recognize certain things and improve those.

"If I'm not improving things with our offense as the year goes, we’re not really doing our job." 

In that case, the stats don't paint a pretty picture. After averaging 380.5 yards and 25 points over their first six games, the Lions are down to 297.4 yards and 16.2 points in their last five. Their struggles are due in part to the disappointing play of Matthew Stafford. He's thrown 17 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, and his passer rating (90.8) is the lowest it's been in five years.

The numbers say he's regressed, but Cooter doesn't believe that's the case. 

"No, I don’t. I think he’s a really good player," Cooter said. 

"Quarterback is a position where you get criticism," he added. "He knows that, I know that, I think the fans at home know that. When you're winning games, you get a lot of positivity. When you’re losing games, you get a lot of criticism. That comes with the job. ... Matthew Stafford's a really good football player. I'm excited to call plays and let him go execute them. I'm excited to work with him on a daily basis.

"I stand behind him, I think he’s an excellent player. He’ll continue to get better and continue to help this team win games." 

Stafford took big strides in his first two and a half seasons under Cooter, cutting down his turnover rate and drastically improving his completion percentage. A lot of that was attributable to taking fewer risks. But the progress appears to have stalled this year, even when accounting for compromised personnel. That makes Stafford and Cooter a rare tandem in a league where offensive numbers are soaring through the roof. 

Still, Cooter likes where they stand. 

"I think we have a good thing going here. I think we're working together well," he said. "There are multiple new members of the staff, multiple new players. We work well together, we go out and try to execute and try to win football games.

"At the end of the day, you’re judged on winning and losing. We’re not winning as often as we would like right now, especially offensively we're not helping our team win as often as we would like. It’s a team game, it’s all of us, and it starts with me offensively. I have to do a better job of getting our guys ready." 

It may not be his job for much longer, unless the results start to improve.