ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Jim Bob Cooter, in the middle of a 20-minute session with the media Monday night that was peppered with questions about his job security, the play of his quarterback, Matthew Stafford, and the performance of the Detroit Lions offense he created, offered a bit of levity.
As he faced question after question about topics he clearly didn’t want to talk about, he admitted he knew he was evading the questions from the media and that he was doing a pretty good job of it.
But the reality is, Cooter understands why the questions are coming. He understands the criticism that he’s been taking. Not that he says he hears much of it other than what’s asked during his weekly sessions with the media.
"I believe a couple years into this thing, starting to get a feel for how you guys work and what your job entails and what you got to produce and all that. Now do a pretty good job of staying away from some of those talk radio shows and all that stuff that you guys talked about earlier," Cooter said. "But my job is to help our offense move in the right direction to help our team win games. It is on me to improve during the year, to find problems, to find weaknesses and improve those.
"At the end of the day, I think a lot of my job is problem-solving. What is the problem? Can I fix it? It could be something really, really small and 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 types of things happen in my profession. So yeah, it is my job to fix those problems. It is my job to recognize certain things and sort of improve those. If I’m not improving things with our offense as the year goes, we’re not really doing our job."
It's tough to say the Lions have improved this season. Cooter didn’t want to make year-over-year comparisons from his two prior full seasons as Detroit’s offensive coordinator. The numbers show that it hasn’t been markedly different.
The yards per game this season (342.7) is the highest it's been under Cooter, although the yards per play (5.36) is the lowest. The rushing yards per game (101.4) and per carry (4.29) are massively better this season.
His team’s passing yards (241.4), yards per pass attempt (6.44), interception rate (2.7), third-down conversions (37.6 percent) and red-zone efficiency (51.4 percent) are all the lowest of any year he’s been the coordinator.
The offensive points per game (21 this season, 20.06 in 2016 and 22.56 in 2017) are all pretty close. So perhaps it’s tough to judge Cooter, although it’s clear his quarterback, Matthew Stafford, is regressing and that compared to offenses around the league, his unit is not keeping pace.
So does he think he’s improved?
"It is my goal to continuously improve, day after day after day, week after week, month after month. It’s not my goal to stand up here and say look how much I have improved or haven’t or whatever," Cooter said. "But I’m certainly trying to get better. There’s a lot of different assets or facets of this game where I’m looking to improve, looking to do a better job. It’s a fascinating game when you get really in-depth with it, in-depth with the strategy, with the psychology, with the people dealing with different types of guys, people that grew up in different environments.
"It’s a really interesting job, one I really enjoy, and I am working really hard to get better every single day. Whether or not that is happening, I’ll let you guys write the story."
The story of the Lions' season has been as such: uncompetitive in multiple games, a quarterback who has appeared to struggle in an offense that isn’t keeping pace with the rest of the league. Cooter’s offense doesn’t rank in the top 10 in any major statistical category other than time of possession (fifth, 31:22).
The Lions are 4-7 and are last in 11 offensive categories, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Defensively, Detroit isn’t much better, ranking in the top 10 just in sack percentage (9.8) but last in almost every major category.
But Cooter is the one under fire because the offense was supposed to be the better unit as the defense went through an overhaul. It has the franchise quarterback in Stafford. It started the season with perhaps the best receiving trio in the league (now down to just Kenny Golladay after Golden Tate was traded and Marvin Jones was placed on injured reserve) and had much of the free agency investment and draft capital in the run game and offensive line.
And it just hasn’t worked. So Cooter’s job status is in question. The results haven’t been there in 2018. And just as he did with questions about his quarterback and his offense, he evaded what he truly thought about that as well.
"I try to figure out how many radios and Internets and newspapers I can get around my office so I can really soak all that stuff up," Cooter said, sarcastically. "I mean, really, it’s the same thing I’ve said a couple times. The reality of the situation is that this league is a week-by-week, year-by-year league. You’re kind of judged on your results.
"We want better results. Our goal is to play better offensively to help our team win games, so it’s probably not very wise for me to worry about all the sort of outside talk or all the speculation. It’s pretty wise for me to get ready for the next opponent and evaluate our offense, what we can do better, what we should do better and how we can kind of improve as the year goes."