Well, it's official. Apparently in early discussions and camps Schwartz and his staff have begun working with players and they have chosen a bold new (old?) direction to get the Lions' lifeless offense back on track: the run & shoot.
I have to say I'm surprised, but here's the quotes being attributed to Schwartz:
We have to do something bold this year, and I've always thought the run and shoot was one of the hardest offenses to defend. We might mix it up with some five wide receiver stuff, but we're going to base out of four wide receivers and one running back and run the majority of those old concepts.
I've met with Mouse Davis and June Jones and even Mike Leach in the past few months, and we've seen what they've done and sort of fit it together with what me and Coach [Scott] Linehan want to do.
Now, readers of this site know I have no problem with this sort of thinking, but I can say I'm shocked that Schwartz and the coaches would even consider making it public. I mean these are just leaks at this point from early camps, but come fall camp and 24/7 ESPN scrutiny, we'll be back to hearing all the old stuff about the Houston Oilers losing the comeback game to the Bills and how the 'shoot can't get it done in big games, etc.
But does it make sense? Well, first it's not a total surprise. Schwartz is a daring thinker himself, and he likes other guys who push the envelope. When Michael Lewis wrote a piece about Texas Tech's Mike Leach, the article strongly hinted that, if Schwartz ever became a head coach, he'd be looking for someone like Leach to hire, and maybe even Leach himself:
At least one N.F.L. head coach had taken a special interest in the Texas Tech offense and had been ordering its game tapes on Monday mornings. At least one N.F.L. defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz of the Tennessee Titans, had stumbled upon Texas Tech accidentally and said, Oh, my. The surprise runner-up in the search earlier this year for a new San Francisco 49ers head coach, Schwartz had scrambled to answer a question: if he got the 49ers job, whom should he hire? He was just in his mid-30's, and his football career stopped at Georgetown (where he graduated with honors in economics), so he really hadn't thought about this before.
. . .
Looking for fresh coaching talent, Schwartz analyzed the offensive and defensive statistics of what he called the "midlevel schools" in search of any that had enjoyed success out of proportion to their stature. On offense, Texas Tech's numbers leapt out as positively freakish: a midlevel school, playing against the toughest football schools in the country, with the nation's highest scoring offense. Mike Leach had become the Texas Tech head coach before the 2000 season, and from that moment its quarterbacks were transformed into superstars. In Leach's first three seasons, he played a quarterback, Kliff Kingsbury, who wound up passing for more yards than all but three quarterbacks in the history of major college football. When Kingsbury graduated (he is now with the New York Jets), he was replaced by a fifth-year senior named B.J. Symons, who threw 52 touchdown passes and set a single-season college record for passing yards (5,833). The next year, Symons graduated and was succeeded by another senior - like Symons, a fifth-year senior, meaning he had sat out a season. The new quarterback, who had seldom played at Tech before then, was Sonny Cumbie, and Cumbie's 4,742 passing yards in 2004 was the sixth-best year in N.C.A.A. history.
Now Texas Tech had Cody Hodges, still another fifth-year senior - barely six feet tall, with an average arm and four college seasons on the bench. Before the 2005 football season even began, Hodges was short-listed for the Maxwell Award for the finest college football player in the land. Whoever played quarterback for the Texas Tech Red Raiders was sure to create so much offense that he couldn't be ignored.
Schwartz had an N.F.L. coach's perspective on talent, and from his point of view, the players Leach was using to rack up points and yards were no talent at all. None of them had been identified by N.F.L. scouts or even college recruiters as first-rate material. Coming out of high school, most of them had only one or two offers from midrange schools. Sonny Cumbie hadn't even been offered a scholarship; he was just invited to show up for football practice at Texas Tech. Either the market for quarterbacks was screwy - that is, the schools with the recruiting edge, and N.F.L. scouts, were missing big talent - or (much more likely, in Schwartz's view) Leach was finding new and better ways to extract value from his players. "They weren't scoring all these touchdowns because they had the best players," Schwartz told me recently. "They were doing it because they were smarter. Leach had found a way to make it work."
I guess this is what appealed to Schwartz: doing it smarter; doing more with less; and doing something different. All three are things Schwartz will have to do in Detroit. And if you can't get Mike Leach (or don't know if you could handle the personality quirks involved with having him), then do the next best thing: hire a veteran offensive guy (Scott Linehan) but sit down to do something that is is smarter, a better equalizer, and different. The run and shoot certainly gives you all that.
Now, it's true that the NFL is more spread than it was then, but the run and shoot is still different: it's based on every receiver reading the coverage and reacting on the fly -- it strives to make the defense wrong on every play.
Moreover, from a personnel standpoint, the Lions have some receivers, but they struggle at runningback. The line problems can be ameliorated by creative use of screens and quick passes. The biggest obstacle is quarterback, but that would be an issue with every system in the NFL. There's a good chance the 'shoot can, well, do more with less.
What they do need to find is a guy who can make good decisions but doesn't necessarily have to be Tom Brady or Peyton Manning otherwise. Let Calvin Johnson run the "choice" backside and try to outnumber the defense to the frontside, and for god's sake just get them the ball in space.
Now, it can't be lost on Schwartz that the 'shoot was once the offense of choice in Detroit. But he also has to know that, since it has been gone, Detroit hasn't exactly succeeded. They put up better numbers and won more games with that offense than they ever have with the "traditional" stuff that Matt Millen imposed. So why not?
Finally, no doubt Schwartz is aware of what went on in Miami last year: the Dolphins came out with creativity -- the Wildcat of course -- but Chad Pennington also threw for over 3,000 yards to help that offense get back on track. Schwartz is clearly hoping that it will work. Linehan failed in St. Louis but is a respected mind who has been around spread offenses all his career (particularly at Louisville), and even tight-ends coach Tim Lappano was an old 'shooter before he got with Joe Tiller at Wyoming and then Purdue. So they will know what they are doing.
I'm looking forward to seeing the run and shoot back in the NFL.