There's been a lot of conjecture about the ramifications on the Cowboys offense since it was announced that Scott Linehan would be joining the coaching ranks in Dallas. Much of it has circled around the logjam at the top of the food chain now that the former Lion's coordinator has been brought in to call the plays.
We can go back and forth until we're all blue (and silver) in the face, but it will probably be some time before we get the real skinny on whether or not he is in fact serving in the capacity of coordinator or if he is really just limited to calling plays for an offense he is only partially designing.
When looking at Linehan's past, one can see that he might be more pass happy than Jason Garrett; as both are well below the league average for run/pass ratio over the last five years. In 2013, however, that changed for Linehan with the improved tools at his disposal; a tool set that the Cowboys can seemingly provide him in his new gig.
But for all of the talk on whether or not he's a good fit with our organization, we aren't going to get a clear indication based on eyeballing statistics or basing assessments on the few Cowboys-Lions clashes over the years. We need more information from those that followed his teams closely. You know how some teams will hold on to various assistant coaches after the head coach is fired, in case the new coach wants dibs? That didn't happen here. Why not?
Enter Sean Yuille, Managing Editor for SB Nation's outstanding Lion's blog, Pride Of Detroit. Sean was kind enough to offer his insights on Linehan's tenure in Detroit, and what he thinks we might be able to separate from what was done in their Big D to what will occur in ours.
Blogging The Boys: Let's start with the basics.. how do Lions fans feel about losing Scott Linehan as their coordinator?
Pride of Detroit: Most fans wanted him gone just as much as Jim Schwartz, so it was fitting that Linehan was let go just hours after the Lions fired Schwartz. While Linehan's offenses were usually pretty good from a yardage standpoint, they just weren't very efficient.
The big issue in 2012 was an inability to consistently finish drives, either because the Lions were constantly settling for field goals or turning the ball over, and the big issue in 2013 was a complete inability to take care of the ball. That was the biggest reason behind the Lions' downfall, and while the players certainly deserve a lot of the blame, this wasn't exactly a new development for a Linehan-led offense in Detroit.
BTB: The progression of the Lions offense over Linehan's first four years was pretty incredible. For those of us that didn't get a chance to see the Detroit offense on a weekly basis, describe for us his ability to establish an offensive flow within a game. Does he pass to set up the run, run to set up the pass, let the game evolve or seemingly have no semblance of a plan beside throw it up to Megatron?
POD: It really varied from week to week. In 2012, for example, the Lions had a stretch of a few games where they tried and tried and tried to establish the run, and it seemed like they were waiting too long during games to make Megatron a bigger part of the game plan. Once they finally abandoned the run and simply started throwing it downfield, things went much better.
Then again, slow starts were almost always an issue for the offense in the last couple years, regardless of whether they opened the game by airing it out or trying to run the ball. Linehan definitely seemed to have a clear plan going into each game, but at times it felt like he waited a bit too long to make adjustments and deviate from his plan.
BTB: I joke about the last part, as we well know how one meme can overtake the public's perception. We do know that last year, Linehan relied heavily on the backs as part of the passing game and increased his run ratio to over 40% once he acquired Reggie Bush. Was there any impression of a hesitation to move the needle away from pass heavy tendencies?
POD: Just based on some of his game plans from 2012, it seemed like Linehan wanted to be able to run it more. However, the offensive line and the running backs didn't really allow for that. It simply wouldn't have been smart to go away from the Lions' clear strength -- the passing game. This past year, however, the running game was quite excellent. The offensive line was stellar all season long, and the addition of Bush really allowed the Lions to take advantage of all the six-man boxes they were presented. Linehan seemed to do a better job of using the run to his advantage, although his love of the shotgun draw up the middle still puzzles me to this day (he called that play far, far too often).
BTB: One of the biggest gripes that Cowboys fans have about the offense is their ability to convert on third downs and in the red zone. They finally made a leap in red zone productivity last season but were pretty horrid at staying on the field. That wasn't a problem for Detroit. Was there a lot of creativity there, or more so a stable of plays that were regularly successful?
POD: I think it's fair to say that Linehan was pretty creative in those kinds of situations. Sometimes that wasn't always a great thing, though. I would've preferred to see fewer five-wide sets on third-and-1, for example, especially with Joique Bell doing so well in short-yardage situations. At times, simply being conservative would have seemingly been more beneficial. Then again, a lot of times Linehan put the Lions in a situation to succeed, but a drop or a pass that was just off the mark would derail the play. (On the creativity note, get ready to see a play where the quarterback fakes a handoff to the running back, then fakes an end-around before going to the running back on a screen. That was one of his favorite calls with the Lions since there are so many options out of that setup.)
BTB: How have Lions fans viewed the separation between Matthew Stafford's limitations and the system that he was asked to operate in? Like Dallas, Detroit has had plenty of success on the offensive side of the ball, but there always are points left on the field and facets of the offense that could be improved. Does Linehan get credit for working around Stafford's flaws, or disdain for not helping him evolve?
POD: It's definitely the latter. Stafford has not progressed nearly enough as a quarterback, and a big part of that goes back to the coaching. At least one former player has indicated that Linehan (and Schwartz) didn't push Stafford enough, and the thinking has been that he was basically coddled by the coaching staff. It also didn't help that Linehan brought in such an inexperienced quarterbacks coach (Todd Downing) to work with Stafford. What's more, the coaching staff didn't seem to think that there was anything wrong with Stafford's game despite fixable issues like poor footwork being an obvious problem since his rookie season.
Obviously it's a bit of a different situation with a quarterback like Tony Romo already in place. At this point, from an outsider's perspective, it seems like the bigger concern for the Cowboys is the actual play calling rather than developing the quarterback. With that in mind, I would sum up Linehan by saying this: When the offense is executing at a high level, his play calling can be a thing of beauty. Every now and then there was a drive where every call seemed like the right one and the Lions would just go right down the field and score a touchdown. At the same time, though, there were far too many drives in recent seasons where the Lions would gain a lot of yards and have nothing to show for it.
As mentioned earlier, turnovers and drives that stalled short of the end zone were a big problem for the Lions. Perhaps that was more of an issue with Lions players instead of Linehan's play calling, but the Lions' inability to convert yards into points on a consistent basis was the biggest cause of their collapses the last two seasons. They had a lead or were tied in the fourth quarter in 15 of their games this past season, but they only won seven of them. There just didn't seem to be a killer instinct on offense.
In short, I think Linehan could do a very good job in Dallas considering there seems to be a lot of talent in place on offense. However, don't be surprised if the end result is a ton of yards but not a ton of points, at least not on a consistent basis. Also, don't be shocked if slow starts become the norm for the Dallas offense, and there could be a lot of turnovers at times as well.
When everything was running smoothly, Linehan's offenses in Detroit were a thing of beauty, but it seemed like even a minor mistake here or there could throw everything out of sync. Again, it's not clear how much of that was a Lions issue vs. a Linehan issue, but be prepared to be applauding the play calling on one drive and bemoaning it on the very next possession. Inconsistent and inefficient would probably be the best way to describe the Lions offense under Linehan.
That's a lot of food for thought included there, a lot of similarities to the complaints about Garrett's offense as to what Yuille described as Lions' fans issues with Linehan. Most notable was the frustration with the Lion's inability to convert yards into points, something that plagued Dallas until 2013.
So the question becomes, does this addition help or hinder the progress made in those areas?
Many thanks to Sean Yuille for sharing his time and thoughts with us, and make sure you check out the fantastic work he and his team crank out over at Pride Of Detroit. We don't have to hate them anymore, Jim Schwartz is gone.
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