When Lions head coach Jim Caldwell set about hiring an offensive coordinator in January, his ideal candidate needed to possess these qualifications above all others.
He had to have a good understanding of offensive football; to have been around excellent quarterback play; and to have been in a system that utilized an array of weapons.
Joe Lombardi, the Saints’ quarterbacks coach from 2009-13, had all of that; so Caldwell didn’t hesitate to give the ex-New Orleans assistant the job of overseeing an offense counting on playmakers such as three-time First Team All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson; one-time First Team All-Pro running back Reggie Bush; and Matthew Stafford, one of five QBs to eclipse 5,000 yards passing in a season.
“The things we were looking for, … Joe met all those criteria,” said Caldwell, in his first year with the Lions (4-2), who host the Saints (2-3) at Ford Field this upcoming Sunday. “Not only that, he’s an excellent person, great teacher, and has a great presence about him.”
Lombardi, who joined the Saints in 2007 and spent two years as an offensive assistant prior to coaching the quarterbacks for five seasons, worked with Drew Brees in three of the four campaigns the Saints star has passed for 5,000+ yards.
The Saints won Super Bowl XLIV in Lombardi’s first year as QB coach. He collaborated with coach Sean Payton and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael as they rode players such as one-time First Team All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham; running back Darren Sproles, who established the NFL’s all-purpose yardage mark in 2011; and franchise record-setting receiver Marques Colston to rankings of first, sixth, first, second and fourth in yards gained from 2009-13.
“Once (the front office) decided that’s who they were bringing in, his work kind of speaks for itself, being a part of that system and how much success they have had over there in New Orleans on offense,” Stafford said in a conference call following Caldwell’s with local media Wednesday. “I kind of knew what we were getting going in.”
Lombardi’s first six games in Detroit haven’t been a carbon copy of the Saints production-wise. Stafford was passing for 265.3 yards per game as of Wednesday, putting him on pace for what would be his lowest total in that category since 2010, when he missed 10 games with a hurt shoulder. Coupled with a rushing game picking up 86.3 yards per outing, Detroit’s offense is 23rd in the NFL.
Nonetheless, Stafford has thrown just four interceptions this season, putting him on pace to toss about 11, fewer than the 19 he had last year. And limiting mistakes on offense has been enough for Lombardi and Stafford to help the Lions win this year, for the defense complementing them is allowing the fewest points, passing yards and total yards per game.
The Lions certainly have issues to resolve on offense. Among them is the fact that Stafford this season has been sacked 21 times, more than any other quarterback in the league.
But, at least until the spot the Lions were in on Wednesday is jeopardized, “he’s been great,” Stafford said of Lombardi.