Half of the NFC North division teams will begin 2014 with new head coaches — Jim Caldwell in Detroit and Mike Zimmer in Minnesota. The ripple effect through the division will be a crucial story line all season in a division that began last season as one of the NFL’s best but ended as anything but.
Thinking offense in Detroit
The hiring of Caldwell to coach Detroit is not good for the Bears. The Lions, like the Bears with the addition of Marc Trestman, Aaron Kromer and Matt Cavanaugh, were intent on getting a disappointing team on a winning course and doing it by fixing an offense built around an underachieving quarterback.
As long as defense-oriented Jim Schwartz was nominally in charge of the Lions, Matthew Stafford may be signed to a franchise-quarterback contract but was simply not one. Huge yardage totals but more reflective of more than 630 passing attempts in each of the past three seasons and a pedestrian 83.1 career passer rating.
The Bears needed to be wary of cheap shots by the Schwartz Lions (even Stafford was fined for a 2011 incident vs. the Bears) but they ultimately didn’t usually need to be exceptional to take the Lions.
The trouble (for the Bears) is, first, that Caldwell is a winner and knows something about what goes into a winning quarterback. He inherited Peyton Manning in Indianapolis when Tony Dungy exited and the Colts reached the Super Bowl and the playoffs in his first two seasons. When the Colts went 2-14 in the 2011 season with Manning out, Caldwell was fired.
Caldwell then went to Baltimore as quarterbacks coach and then offensive coordinator for a Ravens team that won a Super Bowl behind Joe Flacco, a different type of quarterback from Manning.
Still thinking defense in Minneapolis?
The Vikings sacking Leslie Frazier and replacing him with former Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer does nothing to upgrade the Minnesota quarterback situation.
The defense in Minnesota was abysmal last season, allowing more yardage and points per game than the Bears. With all the problems at quarterback – Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman, Matt Cassel – the Vikings still finished Top 15 in yardage and scoring.
Yet in a league increasingly dominated by quarterback play, the Vikings stayed the defensive course with Zimmer, perhaps noting that the NFC at least is still ruled by elite defenses. And Zimmer, the defensive coordinator in Dallas, Atlanta and Cincinnati previously, can address the offense with the right coordinator; veteran Norv Turner’s name is among those mentioned.
“I don’t know precisely who he’s going to bring in but he obviously he gave them some good ideas or they wouldn’t have hired him,” said St. Paul Pioneer Press Vikings beat writer Chris Tomasson speaking with Mike Florio on Wednesday on “Pro Football Talk Live!”