INDIANAPOLIS — The improvement in Jay Cutler with the coaching change to Marc Trestman was palpable in 2013, with Cutler posting nothing short of career bests in a number of areas despite going down with two different leg injuries during the season.
The Detroit Lions are looking for the same from quarterback Matthew Stafford with the hiring of Jim Caldwell to replace Jim Schwartz as head coach.
In both cases, the incoming head coach replaced one from an exclusively defensive background. Both Caldwell and Trestman have extensive experience expressly working with quarterbacks, and both hired offensive coordinators directly from the New Orleans Saints and experience with Drew Brees: Aaron Kromer in Chicago, Joe Lombardi under Caldwell.
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Trestman brought a calm to Cutler’s play, allowing natural talent to flourish. If Caldwell can accomplish the same with Stafford, the NFC North will have a third player in the NFL’s top-12 starting passers (Aaron Rodgers 4th, Cutler 12th), something only the NFC West has (Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Sam Bradford).
Stafford has put up gaudy numbers but only one playoff appearance, in 2011 when the 7-3 Bears lost Cutler to injury and the Lions reached the postseason as a wild card.
"He's hungry to improve,” Caldwell said. “I've noticed that about him. He's eager. He's a willing worker, he's smart and he has tools. And when you find that combination, typically you're going to find a guy that does everything it takes to get him in position where he's a championship quarterback.
“Now, a lot of people want to talk about so many other things that really aren't that important. Whether or not he's ‘elite’ or this or that. That doesn't matter. We want a championship quarterback; that is what we're looking for. And I think we have the makings of that. I think you're going to see Matthew take the bull by the horns and do all the little things that are necessary to get us to keep moving forward as a team.”