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After the Lions went 0-16 last year, a house-cleaning was inevitable. Detroit tabbed Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to wield the broom, and all things considered it’s not a bad first gig; after all, it can’t get any worse.
Given that the entirety of Schwartz’s coaching career—13 years as an NFL assistant, three more as a scout, and four years in the collegiate ranks—has been spent on the defensive side of the ball, let’s focus on some generalities about the Lions’ new leader before focusing on what his offense might look like.
Schwartz played linebacker at Georgetown, where he earned All-American and Academic All-American honors. As you might expect given that background, Schwartz is known for his intelligence.
“He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever been around,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in a published report. “He’s one of those guys who can be working on 10 different things at the same time and if you gave him another one, it wouldn’t faze him. He’s a multi-task guy who is very bright.”
Schwartz’s start in the NFL came as a scout for Belichick’s Browns in 1993. He moved with the team to Baltimore, leaving scouting for a role as a defensive assistant in 1996, and in 1999 joined the Titans in a similar role. The next year Schwartz coached linebackers and was responsible for the Titans’ third-down package; one year later he was elevated to defensive coordinator. During his eight-year tenure the Titans won two division titles and made four playoff appearances.
The defining trait during Schwartz’s time in Tennessee was flexibility. For example, in 2004 the Titans replaced seven defensive starters from the previous season—a unit that had spent two years on the fringe of the top 10 in both points and yardage allowed after ranking 25th in Schwartz’s first season. By 2007 Schwartz had rebuilt them again, this time into a top-10 unit that bordered on top five.
If anything about Schwartz’s offensive tendency can be gleaned from his background, it’s likely that his teams will prefer a power running game. The Titans certainly employed that approach during Schwartz’s time there, and Belichick’s offenses, even during the record-setting 2007 campaign, consistently field a highly-ranked ground game as well.
Schwartz’s track record suggests he won’t try to foist a style on his personnel, but instead put their strengths to the best possible use. To that end, Schwartz has staffed his Lions with a pair of experienced coordinators—Scott Linehan and Gunther Cunningham—who echo that philosophy. And there’s plenty to take from Linehan’s resume with regards to what might be in store for the Detroit offense.
Like Schwartz, Linehan favors the run—but he’s also not afraid of the home run, as evidenced by the numbers the Vikings put up when he served as their coordinator. Linehan’s teams finished 8th, 6th and a respectable 14th in rushing from 2002 to 2004 despite cobbling together a backfield with partial seasons from Michael Bennett, Onterrio Smith, and Moe Williams the last two years. Randy Moss’s numbers during that span? 266 catches (including two 100-catch seasons), 3,746 yards, and 37 touchdowns.
And it wasn’t just a Minnesota thing. In Miami in 2005 Linehan oversaw an offense that had Ronnie Brown (207-907-4) and Ricky Williams (168-743-6) splitting carries while Chris Chambers went for 82-1118-11. His first two years as the Rams’ head coach produced a pair of 1,000-yard campaigns for both Steven Jackson (including his monster 1,528 and 13 rushing plus 90-806-3 as a receiver in 2006) and Torry Holt.
In other words, Linehan flat-out knows his way around an offense.
Granted, the Lions don’t have the same personnel at their disposal, but you can use Moss’s stats to approximate Calvin Johnson’s numbers and Kevin Smith can at least give you Bennet/Smith/Williams numbers, if not a 1,000-yard campaign like Bennet’s 1,296 in 2002. Linehan may even have one of his old quarterbacks running the offense, if the Lions opt to use Daunte Culpepper and give top pick Matthew Stafford a year to learn the ropes.
Linehan also sports a track record of successful tight ends: 393- and 401-yard seasons from Vikings blocking tight end Jim Kleinsasser, 71 grabs for 705 yards from Jermaine Wiggins in 2004, and 60-582-5 from Randy McMichael in 2005, Linehan’s first year in Miami. Linehan favors two-tight end sets, so rookie Brandon Pettigrew will be on the field plenty—with serious potential to put up helpful fantasy numbers.
Bottom-line, Linehan directed the Vikings’ offense to three straight top-10 scoring and top-five yardage rankings in his tenure, up from 24th and 12th the year prior to his taking over. In Miami, his offense jumped 12 spots in points and 15 in yardage, and his Rams ranked in the top 10 in both categories in his first season before the wheels fell off. And with a little talent to work with, Linehan is in position to boost the Detroit numbers from 27th and 30th—and make Schwartz look smart for hiring him.