I don't know if your high school was like mine, but sometime during my junior year, we were mandated to take driver's education. Of course most of us couldn't wait -- it was the first step toward getting a license and a little extra taste of freedom.
As part of the class, we had the chance to sit in driving simulators, which consisted of little more than a steering wheel and two pedals in a console posed in front of a movie screen. It was like a low-rent combination of Cruis'n USA and Star Tours. Students would "drive" on a "road" that would include any number of obstacles. The idea was to make the experience of being behind the wheel as real as possible -- although I swear some of the hazards included cars dropping directly from the sky.
It's not often that you get a simulator experience when you're coaching in the NFL. Every roster is different and while teams that hire new coaches do their best to find someone that could best complement the players, it's rarely a one-to-one fit.
Which is what makes the hire of Joe Lombardi as the Detroit Lions offensive coordinator an interesting one. Lombardi has never called plays in the NFL, but he did spend the previous five seasons as the quarterback's coach of the New Orleans Saints. If there's a team that mirrors the makeup of the Saints offense, it's the Lions. That's why Going Deep is taking a look at what fantasy owners can expect from Detroit's offense under a new regime.
Don't look for much to change here. In a league that has become pass-happy, the Lions are the pass-happiest. Over the past three seasons, no one has attempted more passes than Matthew Stafford and it's not particularly close. Stafford has put the ball in the air 2,024 times since the start of the 2011 season. Second on the list is ... Drew Brees.
In Lombardi's tenure working with Brees, the Saints threw the ball 62 percent of the time. That's right in line with Detroit's modus operandi of putting it up 63 percent of the time. Keeping in mind that the Lions' big prize in free agency was a wide receiver (Golden Tate), it doesn't look like there's going to be a major change in philosophy in 2014.
It's been awhile since New Orleans had a true featured back. Just ask any fantasy owner that has tried to wade through the Pierre Thomas-Darren Sproles-Mark Ingram-Chris Ivory quagmire of the past few seasons. Since 2009, no Saints running back has logged more than 224 touches in a season (Thomas in 2013) as the offense spread the wealth among the backfield.
That's an approach that is fairly new to the Lions offense. Last season, Joique Bell became a much bigger part of the attack. He was listed as a No. 2 running back on Detroit's depth chart, but it was probably more accurate to call him running back No. 1a. Reggie Bush led he team with 277 total touches, but Bell wasn't so far behind with 219 opportunities of his own.
Already this offseason, Bush has admitted that he could share even more touches with Bell in 2014 and says he's okay with the change. Fantasy owners might have a tougher time sharing that sentiment. But as far as backfield committees go, it's just one more to add to an ever-growing list. Plus, with as much as the Lions throw the football, enthusiasts could do worse than having to choose between two dual-threat running backs.
Okay, the Saints don't exactly have anyone like Calvin Johnson. But you could say that about nearly every team in the NFL. However, New Orleans does have Marques Colston, who has doubled as a pretty nice substitute over the past few years. Colston was targeted on 24 percent of Brees' throws in the past five campaigns. It doesn't quite match up with the 37 percent of the time Johnson had the ball thrown in his direction. Then again, the Lions never had a secondary option like Jimmy Graham.
However, Detroit did make a serious attempt to upgrade the receiver position by signing Tate. Hopefully he can provide the production the Lions had hoped to get from Ryan Broyles, Titus Young, and so on. There's also a chance that Detroit goes after a wide receiver in the draft. That could change things dramatically. But never fear, Megatron will still be Stafford's go-to option.
If the Saints don't have an equal answer to Calvin Johnson, the Lions can't match Graham. Then again, no one has really found an answer to Graham. It's not often you come across a wide receiver in a tight end's body. That combination has been the ruination of defensive coordinators around the league. It's also been the source of the currently stalled contract negotiations between Graham and the Saints. But that's a conversation for another time.
It's not fair to compare Detroit's tight end usage to New Orleans'. However, the Lions discovered the value of Joseph Fauria as a red zone target while sprinkling in healthy doses of Brandon Pettigrew between the 20s. Improvement from the players on the wings could lead to increased looks for the pass-catchers roaming the middle of the field.
That's about as apples to apples as you can get (mmmm, apples.) If you're Joe Lombardi, you couldn't have drawn up a better situation. And if you're the Lions, it's hard to imagine landing a better coach to take over the offense. If you're a fantasy owner, well ... it's enough to make you a little more fired up about what the Motor City Kitties could offer you this season.
Let's just hope that no cars fall out of the sky.