On the face of it, it seems odd to suggest an eight-year starting quarterback with a 5,000-yard season and bevy of other passing records could "break out." Yet there are few other words that would as deftly describe Matthew Stafford's 2016 season.
In reality, the rise of the Detroit Lions' quarterback from enigmatic Jay Cutler-to-be to consistent, potential MVP candidate traces back to Jim Bob Cooter's elevation to offensive coordinator in 2015.
Since JBC was promoted, Stafford has completed 68 percent of his passes for 267.6 yards per game, a 102.5 quarterback rating and an outrageous (for the previously turnover-prone quarterback) 41 touchdowns to 9 interceptions.
Much has been made of Cooter's offense fitting Stafford's skill set. The Lions encourage the quarterback spread the ball around, get it out quick and Cooter schemes receivers into space. Stafford's improvement sans Calvin Johnson has been a national talking point.
Perhaps, however, Cooter's key to unlocking Stafford's potential has less to do with Xs and Os or personnel. Perhaps the key was the former Peyton Manning-confidant empowering Stafford to take control of the offense.
Cooter told The MMQB's Albert Breer that last year Stafford might not assert himself vocally in the meeting rooms.
"He may have seen a problem with a play and thought, 'man, that doesn't really make sense to me.' But he wouldn't have spoken up," Cooter said.
Stafford's demeanor change on the field is evident. He has critiqued receivers mid-game more than any other season, demanding they be in the right spots and execute. For example: In Week 1 he memorably ripped Marvin Jones for not getting out of bounds late in the contest; in the Week 4 loss to Chicago, Stafford laid into Golden Tate for running the wrong route leading to an interception.
"He's doing a good job talking through those things with those guys, the receivers and tight ends," Cooter explains. "That's making a big difference in how well he's throwing the ball to them, because he feels pretty confident he knows where they're gonna be. And we're still a little bit of a work in progress."
After taking over, the offensive coordinator sold Stafford on the fact that the offense would only benefit from the quarterback taking ownership over every facet.
"It's really important that the players are not out here doing exactly what we say, and being robots. It's their offense," Cooter said. "At the end of the day, the coaches are standing over there on the sideline and the 11 players that are on the field are out there making things happen. And things are gonna change.
"If you've not prepared your offense to take some ownership and adjust and adapt, you're gonna struggle with changing pictures, different things that happen on the field out there. And hopefully our whole offense is taking some ownership of what they do-and especially the quarterback. That guy runs the whole show."