What Lombardi's offense might look like

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:50
PM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- There is clarity now with the Detroit Lions offense, and the northern version of the New Orleans Saints is coming to town.

[+] EnlargeJoe Lombardi
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsJoe Lombardi' pass-oriented Saints offenses give a hint as to what the Lions should expect.
New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi will be calling the plays for the Lions this fall -- answering a question that lingered since Jim Caldwell said he might call plays at his introductory press conference -- and Lombardi said Friday the base playbook will come from the Saints.

While there will be wrinkles to fit what works best for the Lions personnel versus the New Orleans players, a lot of the base workings will be rooted in what Lombardi learned in New Orleans. This likely means more passing than running and some things that were similar to how things ran in the past.

Over the past five seasons when Lombardi was the quarterbacks coach in New Orleans and Drew Brees was his quarterback, the Saints passed on 59.5 percent of their snaps, completing 68 percent of those passes. The Saints rushed the ball 38 percent of the time and gained 4.31 yards per carry. The quarterback was sacked 2.4 percent of the time.

In those five seasons, New Orleans picked up 1,826 first downs.

The pass breakdown of where Brees and New Orleans threw the ball during those five seasons also gives clues as to what the Lions might see. From 2009 to 2013, the Saints threw the ball behind the line of scrimmage -- screens and flats -- 20.8 percent of the time. They threw between the line of scrimmage and 15 yards from the line of scrimmage 62 percent of the time and went deep -- 15 yards or further through the air -- 17.3 percent of the time.

The Saints were most successful throwing behind the line of scrimmage, completing 74.1 percent of the passes in that range (486 of 656). They were almost as successful during their short-to-medium passing, completing 71.7 percent of passes in that range (1,404-1,958).

New Orleans went deep the least and had the least success there as well. Even then, it was close to a toss-up whether it would be completed. The Saints completed 49.6 percent of their passes over the past five seasons going beyond 15 yards (271-546).

The Saints also featured at least one running back catching passes out of the backfield. The past three seasons, New Orleans had Darren Sproles catch 71 or more passes but didn't use him much as a rusher. Sproles ran less than 100 times in each of those seasons.

His predecessor in the position, Reggie Bush, caught at least 30 passes in 2010 and 2009. He also carried the ball less than 100 times in both of those seasons, but the current Lions running back was injured for parts of both of those seasons.

The main rusher in 2010 was Chris Ivory, who had 137 carries, and Pierre Thomas had 83. The season before might give a better idea to what Detroit's rushing attack could look like. Marcus Bell had 172 carries and Thomas had 147. Bush only had 70.
But Bell and Thomas could resemble what Bush and Joique Bell could look like in Detroit. Most years in New Orleans with Lombardi there, there was a similar breakdown to 2009.

One thing that might not happen, though, is a rusher getting 200 carries like Bush had with the Lions in 2013. Over the past five seasons, no Saints running back had more than 200 rushes. With the Lions in 2013, Bush had 223 and Joique Bell had 166.
The Saints' pass distribution, though, might look somewhat familiar to Detroit next season. Brees and the pass-heavy attack often hit four pass catchers more than others -- the top two wide receivers, the running back and the tight end, Jimmy Graham.

Prior to Graham, the distribution was still similar.

Marques Colston, who will have that role filled by Calvin Johnson in Detroit, had 70 or more catches over the past five seasons and had 1,000-yard seasons in four of those five years. The second receiver in the Saints offense -- a role still to be determined for the Lions -- typically had between 60 and 70 receptions. That number dropped in 2013.

Lombardi, though, said not everything will remain exactly the same. So there should be tweaks -- but expect a lot of passing from Detroit and potentially big offensive production numbers from the Lions in 2014.

Michael Rothstein | email

ESPN Detroit Lions reporter

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