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02 Mar 2011

Four Downs: NFC North

by Mike Tanier

Chicago Bears: How can the offense cut down on sacks?

The Bears gave up 56 sacks in 2010, and only a little of the blame can be placed on Mike Martz' pass-happy offense. Martz reigned in his scheme, using tight ends as extra blockers and running the ball more often in the second half of the season, but the Bears lacked talent on the line, and their preseason personnel-juggling made matters worse. With so many other pieces in place, the Bears' road to the Super Bowl looks clear: fix the offensive line and everything else will fix itself.

The Bears made their first important move of the offseason when they retained offensive line coach Mike Tice, who was coveted as an offensive coordinator by the Titans. Tice took some heat for installing overly complicated blocking schemes at the start of the season, but he made adjustments and improvements throughout the season. The last thing the Bears line needs during the offseason is a shake-up of continuity.

No position on the Bears line should be considered "set," not even center. Olin Kreutz is 34, a free agent, and coming off a terrible year by his standards. Roberto Garza is 32 and flipped from left to right guard last year. Former first-round pick Chris Williams slid from left tackle to guard, a major demotion for a team in need of good tackles. Frank Omiyale moved from right to left tackle out of necessity, and J'Marcus Webb was overmatched at right tackle.

Tice and Martz must try to sort out this mess before the draft. If they think Webb, Omiyale, and Williams are adequate tackles, the team can draft a replacement for Kreutz (or select a guard like Mike Pouncey and move Garza to center for a year). If the tackle situation is desperate, the team must invest there and hope the interior line doesn't take another step backward.

Plugging in one draft pick or free agent cannot solve the Bears' offensive line problems. The team needs fresh bodies, but it also needs development from players like Webb and Williams. That's what makes Tice's return so critical -- the young linemen are comfortable with him, and he has the best chance to get the most of what's available.

Free Agency, Whenever It Happens, Watch

At the Combine, Lovie Smith sounded committed to keeping Olin Kreutz in Chicago, and a lot of the writers and coaches I spoke to said things along the lines of, "What choice do they have?" All reports have Kreutz returning under a short-term deal. Smith also singled out defensive lineman Anthony Adams as a UFA the team hopes to retain; the release of Tommie Harris makes retaining Adams more important. The Bears will have to invest some internal free-agent dollars on special teams, with punter Brad Maynard and snapper Patrick Mannelly likely to stay in Chicago.

The free-agent offensive lineman market is deep, BUT the Bears could just muddle an already confused situation if they sign a bunch of mid-tier players to compete with the mid-tier players already in the system. The Chicago media seemed to think wide receiver was a high priority for the Bears; Smith fielded a few questions about bringing in a "big target" for Jay Cutler. There are plenty of big targets in all price ranges on the market -- Braylon Edwards, Malcom Floyd, medical marvel/Falcons historian Brian Finneran -- but I don't get the impression that the Bears are headed that way.

Detroit Lions: What was real, the 2-10 start or the 4-0 finish?

The good news for the Lions is that their four-game season-ending winning streak was no fluke. According to DVOA, the Lions played much better football in Weeks 14-17 than they did for the rest of the season. When you factor in how many close losses the team suffered during its 2-10 start (the Calvin Johnson non-catch against the Bears in Week 1, the Jets comeback in Week 9), it's easy to think that the Lions have finally, finally turned the corner.

Lions' DVOA Rankings
Weeks Offense Rank Defense Rank Total Rank
1-13 -2.2% 21 11.8% 23 -12.1% 23
14-17 19.8% 6 -7.8% 9 31.3% 4

Now the bad news: There are still plenty of holes on the roster. The late-season offensive surge was built around journeymen like quarterback Shaun Hill, running back Maurice Morris, and wide receiver Nate Burleson. That isn't the nucleus of a "team of the future." It's a bunch of veterans getting hot at once. Franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford missed most of the season, and rookie running back Jahvid Best faded down the stretch, with 22 carries for 70 yards in the final three games. The offensive line is still a patchwork of Lions lifers like Jeff Backus and Dominic Raiola (33 and 32 years old) and penalty-prone stopgaps like Stephen Peterman (12 flags last season).

Defensively, the outlook is a little better. Ndamukong Suh has the potential to be the NFL's best defensive tackle, and Alphonso Smith played much better than he did in his rookie year for Denver. But Smith was injured for most of the four-game winning streak, and the defense is spackled together in too many places by players like Nathan Vasher and Bobby Carpenter. As exciting as the four-game winning streak was, the Lions could still use an upgrade on almost every unit.

The four-game winning streak proved that players have bought into Jim Schwarz's system and that the Lions scheme gets the most out of middle-tier talent. Those are encouraging signs, and the streak was a step in the right direction. The Lions have just been so bad for so long that it's going to take a few more steps to get any real momentum.

Free Agency, Whenever It Happens, Watch

The Lions have breathing room under whatever cap is instituted for 2011, and none of their unrestricted free agents is a priority player. I promise not to plug Nnamdi Asomugha for every team I cover, but the Lions are as likely a landing strip for him as any. The Lions demonstrated with Kyle Vanden Bosch that they are willing to spend on premium free agents. Last year's four-game winning streak, the improved talent on the team's roster, and Jim Schwartz's reputation (plus lots of dough) could attract a free agent of Asomugha's caliber. If that happened, the Lions would officially become Everyone's Wild Card Sleeper, and I think many of us at Football Outsiders would join the bandwagon throng.

The team will face a tough decision on UFA Drew Stanton. He's a third quarterback, but he played a lot 2009 and 2010, and he went from penny-dreadful in 2009 to pretty good (19.7% DVOA, 231 DYAR in 119 passes) last year. Matthew Stafford's injury history suggests that the Lions will always need a Plan C on the roster. If Stanton keeps improving, he could easily overtake Shaun Hill. The problem for the Lions is that Stanton might have shown enough to attract attention as a second-stringer, or even a placeholder starter for a rookie, elsewhere in the league.

Green Bay Packers: How can the Packers sustain success?

It's rare for a Super Bowl champion to get better by standing still, but the Packers will do just that this offseason. Ryan Grant, Jermichael Finley, Brandon Chillar, and others should return from injuries and upgrade the Packers on both sides of the ball. The returnees also give the Packers payroll breathing room. Nick Barnett's return provides negotiating leverage with A.J. Hawk (due to make $10 million next season). With Grant joining James Starks in the backfield, re-signing running back Brandon Jackson is not a high priority.

With so many positions set, the Packers can afford some luxuries. The team needs to improve its return units. The Packers averaged just 7.9 yards per punt return and 20.1 yards per kickoff return, and starters like Tramon Williams and (in the playoffs) Charles Woodson were pressed into return duties. Ace free agent specialists like Brad Smith don't fit the team's frugal philosophy, but the Packers should use their late draft picks to mine for a full-time return man. A player like TCU receiver Jeremy Kerley (12.9 yards per punt return, 27.7 yards per kickoff return) can hold both positions and provide depth at wide receiver if James Jones leaves via free agency.

The Packers are rarely active in free agency. Look for them to target their own players, like defensive end Cullen Jenkins, fullback John Kuhn, and kicker Mason Crosby. The Packers may want to scan the wire for a backup quarterback who can provide better insurance than Matt Flynn. Someone like Matt Hasselbeck could cover a three-game injury to Aaron Rodgers and keep the Packers in the Super Bowl hunt. That's the kind of investment a team can make when it is already on top of the heap.

Free Agency, Whenever It Happens, Watch

Cullen Jenkins said that he doesn't think he will be back in Green Bay next year. Ted Thompson said at the Combine that he planned to try to sign Jenkins. It was couched in the language of "we want to bring everyone back," but at least Thompson didn't swing his arms around and rant about "hypotheticals." If Jenkins leaves, the defensive line around B.J. Raji becomes the Packers' top draft priority.

This is a big year for free-agent fullbacks, with John Kuhn and Baltimore's Le'Ron McClain on the market. John Harbaugh said that the market may set McClain's price pretty high, and Kuhn may also earn a premium from a team that wants a combination fullback/power back. Korey Hall is an RFA, and the Packers keep bushels of fullbacks in a storage freezer, so the team has options if Kuhn leaves, including using Raji as a two-way player.

Minnesota Vikings: What is the Timetable for Recovery?

The Vikings start over in 2011 under new coach Leslie Frazier, new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, and a new quarterback, possibly a rookie. But before you say "rebuilding year," take a look at the roster. Tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams turn 39 and 31, respectively, next season. Guard Steve Hutchinson and cornerback Antoine Winfield will turn 34. The Vikings were built to win in 2010, and many important veterans don't have time to wait through a rebuilding cycle.

Grabbing a veteran quarterback like Vince Young and gearing up for a quick turnaround may sound appealing to the Vikings, but that quick-fix mentality led to the Brett Favre-Randy Moss catastrophe, which swallowed the season. Frazier and management must take a long-range view. The Williams Wall has been cracking for years -- opponent rushing totals have increased in each of the last five seasons, from 985 in 2006 to 1,635 last year.

The Vikings have problems that that go beyond the need for a better quarterback and better manners toward caterers. Pat Williams is a free agent and should be allowed to walk. Young would cost the Vikings an early round draft choice better spent on a defensive tackle or interior offensive lineman.

As for that pesky quarterback problem, free agent Tarvaris Jackson is viable stopgap and rookie groomer. He is used to playing the good soldier while getting yanked in and out of the lineup. Joe Webb proved he can play make-believe Michael Vick for the scout team and provide trick-play potential as a receiver, but the talk of him competing for a starting job is just talk. The Vikings have not taken quarterback development seriously since Daunte Culpepper faded. Jackson proved he wasn't the answer in 2007, but the team fiddled with Brad Johnson, Gus Frerotte, and finally Favre rather than grooming a long-term solution. It's time for the Vikings to make some harsh decisions about veterans, invest in a Cam Newton or Jake Locker, and deal with a year or two of growing pains. In other words, it's time for the Vikings to rebuild.

Free Agency, Whenever It Happens, Watch

UFA Sidney Rice sniffed at the Vikings' contract offer and plans to test the market. That's no surprise coming from a young receiver who has no idea who will be throwing passes for the Vikings next year. The stadium issue will also play into the team's free-agent efforts. As of now, it sounds like the Metrodome roof will be patched for $25 million, and it will be a tight squeeze to get the repair done before preseason. Construction being construction, the Vikings could be playing some home games at University of Minnesota, or elsewhere. Try selling that to a free agent: "Hey, sign with us, and you may be dressing for games in a Division III college locker room, or possibly playing at unheated Gopher Stadium in early December."

UFA defensive end Ray Edwards is the youngest starter on the Williams Wall and should be an in-house priority. Kicker Ryan Longwell is an unrestricted free agent, and I have a feeling there will be a veteran kicker square dance in the offseason: Longwell signs with the Eagles, David Akers (transition-tagged but miserable) signs with the Colts, Adam Vinatieri goes to Seattle, Olindo Mare ends up in Minnesota. Or some other strange, closed loop like that.

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 02 Mar 2011

69 comments, Last at 08 Mar 2011, 1:47pm by witless chum


by thebuch :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 1:24pm

Since when is it a given that Nick Barnett will return? Seems most are under the impression that it will be either him or Hawk, and Barnett very well can be the odd man out... And given Flynn's performance against New England, I highly doubt the Packers will be trying to get a "better" backup for Aaron Rodgers. He has shown that he has guts and that he can make throws under pressure, what more do you want out of a backup? Sure he lost against New England, but the offense line not touching a blitzer on first and ten from the cusp of the red zone had more to do with that than anything else.

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 2:21pm

Agreed on both counts. I think if Hawk isn't willing to take a pay cut, he'll be the one gone. And I think they're more likely use a mid-round pick at QB to replace Flynn when he's likely to leave after next year as they probably think Flynn can hold the fort for 2-4 weeks. (Graham Harrell isn't ever going to be better than a #3.) It wasn't Flynn's fault an OL returned a kickoff to the four yard line or the defense couldn't stop Brady when he was at his hottest last year. I also think Flynn will be much better prepared in a two-minute offense next time it happens.

Jenkins leaving is likely as TT probably will be satisfied with Raji, Pickett, Green, Neal, and Wynn. Jones is gone because some team will gamble on his potential and overpay for a WR who drops too many balls. But he will have some games where he'll look great. Jones is probably Terrell Owens light. Kuhn may also be gone, but there are still two other FBs on the roster. It's not that McCarthy wanted a combo back. He just didn't have any other ball carriers available.

by Mike W :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 2:47pm

Also agreed. TT will be happy with Flynn as his #2 QB. Clearly now that Hawk has resigned, Barnett is gone, and so will be Jenkins. They'll draft a DE within the first two rounds, and probably use the other high pick on an OL.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 1:32pm

The Vikings can't be good for some time, so they may as well be entertaining. They should acquire Vince Young and draft Cam Newton. Then, their standard offensive personnel grouping should have Young, Newton, Webb, and Harvin on the field, and the default rule should be that every forward pass is preceded by two overhand laterals. Next, get a waiver from the league office, allowing for "Yakety Sax" to be cued up on the P.A. system at home games, with each offensive snap by the Vikings.

Hell, I might travel back to my home town to see a game in person, for that spectacle!

by Jimmy :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 1:45pm

Could we have the Benny Hill music instead.

by P (not verified) :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 1:53pm

Yakety Sax IS the Benny Hill chase music.

by Jimmy :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 3:03pm

Well that is me told.

by ghinterm :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 6:06pm

I'd get season tickets for that and I live 1200 miles away.

by Shattenjager :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 1:52pm

I will be surprised if Pat Williams plays next season.

by andrew :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 2:19pm

Opinion is divided on how effective Pat Williams still is. He thinks he is still great. Everyone else thinks he isn't. Pat Williams talks of playing 3-4 more years.

Oh, and the NFL is still trying to suspend him 4 games. I wouldn't be surprised if they inserted a Williams clause into whatever CBA gets worked out.

At any rate, I guess as a Vikings fan this is a good year for labor unrest as any if you had to have some.

by Drunkmonkey :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 1:17pm

Maybe they can make it official that he's not allowed to play in the NFL anymore, forcing him into retirement? I'm pretty sure the League would be pressuring the P.A. to put something in there about Favre being forced into retirement if he hadn't already fooled us all that he's done for good this time.

by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 2:35pm

Patrick Mannelly has already resigned with the Bears. He signed a contract extension back in December at the same time as Matt Toeaina

by TomC :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 2:46pm

The Chicago media seemed to think wide receiver was a high priority for the Bears.

I'm curious: does anyone other than the Bears brass think that WR is not a high priority? I think you can actually construct a halfway plausible argument that adding a true #1 WR would improve the Bears offense more than any moves on the O-line. If you don't want to break the bank by going after Sidney Rice, how about James Jones (who should have a lower price tag based on performance but is going to be awesome if he ever puts it together).

by Jimmy :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 3:18pm

I don't think it is all that high a need for the Bears, so there is at least me. Yeah if Rice or Jackson would want to play for the Bears for cheap I might be interested but I would not want to waste the money on James Jones (I don't think he would beat out any of Hester, Knox or Bennett and if he didn't excel on specials he might not beat out 'Droppapotomus' Davis). Check out FO's stats, Knox, Bennett and Hester rank 9th, 23rd and 60th in DVOA. Considering that there are (at least) 64 'starters' in the NFL it would seem to indicate that the Bears WRs don't represent the cess pit of doom that some seem to think they are.

For my mind the most pressing needs for the Bears are the interior of both lines. I would sign at least one offensive lineman in free agency and take a DT in the first round, then add complementary players later in the draft and in second and third tier free agency. Obviously adding competition at all spots is important but after that the place I would want to see an influx of young talent at linebacker but I would hope they could pick up a player or two in the third round or later.

by Dan :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 6:11pm

They were only 17th, 38th, and 62nd in DYAR, and they contributed to Cutler's sack & interception problems (which don't count against their DVOA). None of them is a go-to receiver who Cutler can reliably trust to get open or make a play on the ball. Knox can make plays down the field but quick throws to him in traffic are often a disaster, Bennett does alright as a possession receiver, and Hester is back to focusing primarily on special teams. If they had a #1 receiver like Sidney Rice or Brandon Marshall then they'd be in great shape at receiver, as the other receivers would be able to stick with what they do well, but there were too many plays last year where Cutler just didn't have anywhere to go with the ball.

I see the Bears' top needs as OT (the main cause of their pass protection problems), WR (no go-to receiver), interior OL (lack of push in the running game, last in power success, and Kreutz is over-the-hill), CB (Tim Jennings is starting and Tillman's getting old), and three technique DT (a prime position in their defense where they don't have a prime player). Their main moves this offseason, in free agency and the first two rounds of the draft, could be at any of those positions.

I agree that WR is more of an all-or-nothing need - adding a decent free agent or another late 3rd rounder isn't going to do much for the team. OL is where they could benefit from adding some decent or risky veterans, like Damien Woody or Evan Mathis.

by Jimmy :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 10:54am

I do think that having another year in the system will help the WRs (another offseason would be nice too), all last offseason every player who had played for Martz was saying it takes more than a season to learn the system. Actually knowing how you are supposed to react to the defense has to help and being more certain (and hopefully correct) should help reduce defensed passes and interceptions. I do think that the Bears actually have youth and (some) talent at WR whereas several other areas of the roster look rather thin. I would love the Bears to have a dominant WR but considereing what they are likely to do with six draft picks and in free agency, I wouldn't spend resources on a WR and I don't expect the Bears to.

by Spielman :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 12:14pm

"all last offseason every player who had played for Martz was saying it takes more than a season to learn the system."

I tend to think that this argument is a bit overblown, given that 1999 was Martz's first year with the Rams. They did have an advantage in that Jerry Rhome used a similar system in 1997 and 1998, but still, they won with Martz's complex system and:
A QB who had never started before.
A running back who was new to the team.
A fullback playing a new position.
A rookie WR.
Three new starters on the offensive line.

And then they didn't exactly take a big leap forward in subsequent years.

by Jimmy :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 12:27pm

I can only go by what players say in the media as the Bears keep refusing to let me in to their meeting rooms. The Bears players and coaches all kept saying it wouldn't be a problem but then it was. I would expect the hot reads to improve at least. It is all a bit specualtive though you are right.

by Chip :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 2:22pm

I count 3-4 HOF in that group. 0 on the current Bears (offensive) roster.

by Spielman :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 5:18pm

Their talent level isn't all that relevant to the point that they were able to play at essentially their maximum production level in that first season with Mike Martz, despite the offense being in heavy flux. Even Hall of Famers would be expected to have a learning curve if the system were impossible to pick up quickly.

by tuluse :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 5:22pm

Rams offensive DVOA for 1999 - 12.4%
Rams offensive DVOA for 2000 - 25.9%

You were saying?

by Spielman :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 8:51pm

Those numbers surprise me. Looks like insofar as DVOA is accurate, I'm wrong.


by Dan :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 5:25pm

I think their troubles at WR last year were caused more by their limited abilities than by their lack of familiarity with the system. They do have some talent, but they don't have the skills or pedigree for it to be reasonable to expect that another year of development and learning the system will be enough to turn them into a great WR corps.

The nice thing about the WR position is that one big signing would be enough to transform the WR corps. On the OL, they need about four guys (to get added or to make a big improvement). At WR they should go for quality - go big or stand pat - but at OL they need to go for quantity.

by tuluse :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 5:29pm

I don't think anyone expects the receivers to become great, but they are good enough that other areas of the roster should be addressed first.

Also, the o-line probably needs 2-3 players. Williams could still prove to be a useful tackle, and Garza is fine at guard.

by tuluse :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 4:32pm

I would move CB and safety way up on your list, my priority list would be OT -> OG/C -> CB -> S -> WR.

Outside of Tillman no other member of the secondary is above average, and Tim Jennings is not even that..

by Dan :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 5:28pm

Manning is above average, Wright is an unknown, and Chris Harris is close to average. If they don't bring Manning back then safety enters the picture with the other five positions.

by tuluse :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 5:32pm

Manning and Harris are both really average looking to me, neither one ever makes a play I'm not expecting. They rarely screw up badly either. I guess when I think about it, I'd say their talent level is comparable to the receivers IMO. However, offensive improvement can come about easily from offensive line improvement and not giving Taylor carries. On defense, I think every position is above average except the secondary, so that's the only group that can easily be upgraded.

by Dan :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 8:38pm

I think you're underrating Manning, but more to the point I think that safety just isn't that important a position. The Bears are in much better shape with solid but unspectacular safeties than with solid but unspectacular WRs or solid but unspectacular DTs. A disruptive under tackle or a playmaking go-to receiver can change the whole complexion of the game. Getting the 2005 version of Mike Brown would be nice, but I'd much rather have the 2005 version of Tommie Harris or the ERROR: COMPARISON BEAR NOT FOUND (2009 version of Sidney Rice?).

by tuluse :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 8:44pm

The 1999 version of Marcus Robinson?

by Jimmy :: Fri, 03/04/2011 - 8:47am

I hardly got a chance to see the Bears that year but Robinson's numbers are amazing. Was he any good or was it just a product of Crowton's demented system?

by tuluse :: Fri, 03/04/2011 - 10:52am

From what I remember he was a big receiver who could go up high and make all kinds of circus catches, then he sustained an injury and was never able to recover fully.

On a completely pointless note, he was my buddy's favorite player and every year in Madden up to about 2003 he tried to make him his #1 receiver.

by the cat in the box is dead (not verified) :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 8:30am

'Droppapotomous' is now my favourite football nickname ever.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 3:42pm

I wrote a long reply to this before my computer crashed and I lost it. Here's the short version:

-the recievers fit Martz's scheme = little quick guys
-Hester and Knox are inexperienced with room to improve. Both have been pretty productive considering the line's total inability to block for a month
-Bennett's pretty decent as the 3rd reciever
-They really need a defensive tackle and some offensive linemen.

by Dean :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 3:53pm

Hester's not exactly a kid anymore. I think it's fair to say at this point that he is what he is, both for better and for worse.

by Jimmy :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 11:00am

Would you have said the same thing about Derrick Mason after his fourth season having come out of college as a kick returner?

by Dean :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 11:12am

I would say that Derrick Mason is about as relevant to Devin Hester as Az Hakim. Or, for that matter, my Grandmother.

by Jimmy :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 11:59am

Your argument seemed to be that Hester can't improve. Can't become more familiar with the system, can't define his routes better, can't develop a better understanding with his QB, it is also impossible that the Bears' offensive line could improve and allow the receivers more time to get open and Cutler a cleaner pocket to throw. Three straight years of improved production in the same scheme (playing a new position) were followed by a step back as the offensive scheme changed. Why is it so very strange to imagine that if/when he learns the nuances of the new scheme he will be more productive.

When the Titans started trying to use Mason as a WR the response was very similar to the one you exemplified with Hester. Both players had little experience playing WR in college and had to learn on the job in the pros and few people gave it much of a chance. There were folks who had similar doubts about Steve Smith. In reality you have no idea how Hester will develop (or not).

You seem to think that Hester and Hakim are comparable in Martz offense, this is wrong; Hester plays flanker and Hakim played the slot.

by Dean :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 12:59pm

So I point out that Mason and Hakim are both irrelevent to the discussion and yet you still insist I'm somehow comparing them to Hester?

by Jimmy :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 1:38pm

You're probably right. A better way of saying what I really mean is I think you know very little about Devin Hester yet feel strangely compelled to demonstrate this to folks at large on the internet.

by Dean :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 3:13pm

I suspect I'm more familiar with him than you are. As Hurricane alum, I've been familiar with him since they were recruiting him out of high school.

by Jimmy :: Fri, 03/04/2011 - 8:45am

So presumably you are aware that he wasn't a WR in college, had to leave college early to pay for his mother's dialysis treatment and comsequently never learned the position at a lower level. That he played CB for the Bears his first year in the league and having moved to WR put up steadily increasing numbers his first three years playing the position before a change in system (and a fair amount of offensive confusion early in the year) affected his production. Being so familiar with Devin (I am assuming you call him Devin with you two being so close) you of course know that in '09 he aggregated over 750 yards in 12 games - 1000 yard pace - which quite frankly would be perfectly satisfactory opposite Knox and with players like Bennett, Olsen and Forte on the field too.

He may never improve beyond his 2009 production but if he did he might be very scary. At least better than your grandmother anyway.

by Eddo :: Fri, 03/04/2011 - 12:43pm

If I may interject...

First, Hester will never be a pro-bowl level WR, or even a true WR1 in the NFL. However, he has made great strides since he was first installed at WR for the Bears.

To begin, he's probably the best current Bears WR at using his body. While his hands are just OK and his route-running is, charitably, below-average-but-improving, he has good enough body control and situational awareness to square his shoulders and give his QBs a decent-sized target to hit.

Compare that to Johnny Knox. Knox is more polished in other areas, but either doesn't know how or simply is not willing to use his body at all. They're both small receivers, yet Hester is better at this usually ignored aspect of WR play.

by Andrew Potter :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 3:01pm

Martz reigned in his scheme

Given the context, I'm pretty sure you mean reined in... but then it's Mike Martz you're writing about so reigned is probably just as true.

by andrew :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 4:36pm

I think most vikings fans would prefer Webb to Jackson as a stopgap while developing a rookie... though Jackson would probably handle it better, and at least have the benefit of all those starts. Since he's a free agent (in theory depending on CBA) and Webb isn't, though, the question may largely be moot.

by jmaron :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 4:51pm

Why is Cam Newton a better prospect than Joe Webb?

Newton certainly played at a higher level of football. But what does that really tell you when guys like Flacco and Roethlisberger do so well in the NFL and guys like Russell and Quinn are huge busts.

Did Newton play a more complicated offence that would prep him better for the NFL? I don't know the answer here because I really don't know much about football, but from what I've heard he played a very simple offence.

Did he get more games in as a starting QB? No.

Is he a better athlete? Doubt it - certainly isn't anywhere near as fast. Bigger 6'6" 240 vs 6'4" 220 for Webb, but from pure combine type stats I doubt he comes close to Webb.

Does he have a Stroger arm? Not from anything I've seen of the two.

Is he more accurate? He completed 66% in his one year as a starter vs roughly 60% for Webb in two years, but without context that sure doesn't tell you anything. Watching Newton at the combine - accuracy sure didn't look like a strength.

Is he smarter? Is he a better leader? Hell if I know, but there are certainly some questions about his attitude and character. Haven't heard anything bad about Webb.

I'm not touting Joe Webb here or anything like that, but I just don't see what about Cam Newton makes him a better prospect.

by andrew :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 8:20pm

A: He will sell more tickets. Maybe even get some votes for a new stadium.

"I was corrupt before I had power!" - Random

by bigtencrazy (not verified) :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 5:40pm

Little puzzled why d-line for GB becomes the top priority given that Mike Neal comes back from IR and Jolly will be most likely reinstated. Neither is Jenkins quality but it's not like a draft pick would be either when a team is drafting at the very bottom of each round.

by Ben41885 (not verified) :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 11:54pm

I completely agree. With Jenkins gone, the Packers still have a strong unit with good depth.

BJ Raji
Ryan Pickett
Mike Neal
Howard Green
Johnny Jolly ( if reinstated )
CJ Wilson

I would only put the DL as a priority if Jenkins walks AND Johnny Jolly is not reinstated. If Jolly is reinstated I don't know if we even have room on the 53 roster for another D-lineman since we're running a 3-4.

Regardless of what happens with Jenkins I think the Packers needs go OLB / OT / CB and not necessarily in that order. If James Jones goes I'd even put WR ahead of DL.

by justanothersteve :: Fri, 03/04/2011 - 8:23am

Thanks for pointing out the potential WR problem. Jones is probably gone and Nelson could leave in a year. Driver has had problems staying healthy the last couple years. In an offense which needs good receivers, that leaves Jennings and Finley as the only guys who might be around after this year. I'd have no problems if TT uses a draft pick for a WR in rounds 1-3. (I also expect TT will try to trade out of the first round, then trade a lower round pick for a pick next year.)

by zlionsfan :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 6:26pm

IIRC Best was bothered by turf toe on both feet pretty much all season. I'm not sure why people keep referring to his season as a disappointing one ... I've never had turf toe but can certainly see why it would be a significant problem for a running back. I don't think he "faded" as much as he simply wasn't 100%.

I don't think it was just veterans getting hot, though: it was Linehan tweaking the offense to suit whoever was available (pistol plays for Hill, zone reads for Stanton). That's more consistent with the idea of Schwartz (copy editor! Help out Mr. Tanier, he's misspelled a Friend of FO) getting the most out of the players he has anyway.

Besides, the offense isn't all journeymen. Pettigrew had a solid second season for the Lions, giving them a TE threat they haven't had in a long time, and Scheffler gave Linehan the ability to run two-TE sets instead of having to rely on the weakness of the Lions' WRs other than #81.

Stanton might also have been completely healthy (um, at one point) this season ... maybe it took 2009 to get him to that point. He did show some promise, but I think the question at QB isn't at that end of the depth chart. Stafford's missed a lot of time in his first two seasons, and he hasn't yet approached what you'd want from a #1 pick. At some point, he's either going to have to show that promise, or Detroit may have to think about trying again.

Defensively, the story was the DL as a whole. Suh was obviously a big factor, as was KVB, but Vanden Bosch missed some games at the end of the season and Detroit was still able to get regular pressure on QBs with Avril, Williams, Jackson, and McBride. With Detroit tendering Avril with a 1st and 3rd, it's safe to assume that group will return essentially intact.

Beyond them, though, it's basically Levy, Delmas, and a bunch of question marks. (And I'm not yet convinced that Levy is going to be the MLB that Ernie Sims never was ... unless you believe EA's ratings.) The assessment of the veteran DBs is accurate. I mean, this is the team that brought in C.C. Brown and actually played him.

My feeling for the 2011 draft is that the focus should be OL and then some combination of LB, DB, WR ... maybe a late-round RB as insurance for Kevin Smith. With those two healthy, the Lions actually have a pretty strong group at RB, but that's asking a lot of Smith ...

It would also not surprise me if Detroit trades up to get a late first-round pick again. Schwartz has done well in the past two drafts with that (Pettigrew in 2009, Best in 2010), and the Lions definitely need a couple more young impact players.

I'd love to see Asomugha in Detroit. (I think it'd be interesting if they were to bid on Ray Edwards, but that wouldn't make sense given Avril's situation now.)

by AnonymousD (not verified) :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 8:47pm

I think the first round pick used on Pettigrew was from the Roy Williams trade. Detroit didn't trade up into the first round that year.

by zlionsfan :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 11:11pm

Ah yes, thanks for that. So Schwartz gets credit for the pick, but not for acquiring it ... well, it was Mayhew who made the trade, but anyway, you're right, it wasn't the same type of trade as the one that got them Best.

by Podge (not verified) :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 7:15pm

Vince Young would cost an early round pick? Really? I doubt anyone will trade for him without the opportunity to negotiate a new contract with him, which gives Young some leverage in choosing his next destination. Bearing in mind that everyone knows Young will be cut eventually, I reckon the Vikings, given their situation, could easily acquire him for a relatively low round pick, if not as a FA.

by MCS :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 11:55am

Vince Young = Tarvaris Jackson with more starts.

by jds (not verified) :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 12:45pm

Vince Young = Tarvaris Jackson with more starts.

WRONG. Vince Young just wins. Tarvaris Jackson does not.

by The Ninjalectual :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 7:32pm

What's with the low opinion of Shaun Hill? He's been more effective than the highly drafted QBs everywhere he's played, isn't it about time to say that he is a quality NFL starter? If I were the Lions I would have an open competition in camp and may the best player win, regardless of contract and draft position.

I've been saying all season that the Lions are just a couple of starters away from the playoffs. I think they are closer than Tanier does, but I'm glad to finally hear someone agreeing with me.

by Drunkmonkey :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 1:23pm

I agree that he is constantly undersold by miles, but you really can't make the claim that he's a good QB by outplaying highly drafted QBs. I mean, it was ALEX SMITH and Stafford. Hill has been in the league for a while, is not the franchise QB that will hold your team together for years, and lead you to a title. If he was, he would have shown something before.

I think he is a good option, and would love to see him get onto a team like the Panthers, Titans, or Vikings, where he would be the starter, but it won't happen. He needs to beat out a highly drafted QB that is actually good first, I guess.

by Aaron Brooks' Good Twin (not verified) :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 1:56pm

I don't know that it's clear he's better than Stafford. Stafford had 4th quarter leads against both the Bears and the Jets (both divisional finalists), and beat the Redskins. He looked clearly better last year than in the previous year. His biggest problem is staying healthy, and it's not like Hill didn't get hurt last year, too.

by zlionsfan :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 11:20pm

I think he hasn't demonstrated he's clearly better than Stafford now, and I'm not sure that Hill's upside is more than what we saw last year. Stafford theoretically has a higher upside, if only because he's yet to have a season's worth of continuous play where he can be learning on the field every week.

Stanton may even have a higher upside than Hill. On the other hand, I'm not sure that I'd want Stanton as the #2, especially behind a QB who is, at this point, reaching Chris Chandler-levels of fragility.

by mschuttke :: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 9:43pm

This is being written just after A.J. Hawk was released but, just yesterday, I read in a local Wisconsin paper (writing from Milwaukee here) that Thompson "really wanted" to keep Hawk around. My instant though was 'He's gone in 24-48 hours.' With that said though, I do think it was a wise decision as his salary is rather high for a decidedly average linebacker.

I do not associate myself as a Packers fan but, if I were in Thompson's shoes, the following would be my plan to stay on top:

1.) Do what it takes to acquire Nnamdi Asomugha from Oakland.

I think the secondary would be improved most by this move combined with moving Charles Woodson, he no longer of spring chicken status, to safety. At that point, the Packers would have arguably the best coverage pair of safeties in the NFC, if not the NFL. Woodson has shown more than enough competency as a tackler to not be a liability in the back half as well. In addition, he was often covering the slot receiver in the Packers nickel and dime packages late in the year, oftentimes doing so to put him in an optimal position to come after the quarterback on a blitz. The move to safety would effectively be similar in its effect on putting him in more blitzing situations "naturally". Asomugha wants to go to a winner and would likely sign for a cheaper total amount with a team like Green Bay than any other team. Plus, Woodson could be an effective salesman to bring him over.

2.) Trade Matt Flynn while his value is high in conjunction with signing Matt Hasselbeck.

Due to the CBA situation, this is admittedly a dicey prospect but wars are won with unconventional moves they say. In that, Green Bay has had a good track record of turning productive backup quarterbacks into valuable draft picks before they leave via free-agency and they get, at best, a very low-round compensatory selection the next year. In this instance, trading Flynn for a high draft choice (I could see a second-round selection as reasonable to expect) in either this draft or next year's. The caveat is that making a deal before/during the draft means that Green Bay would be putting its eggs in a shaky free-agent basket in hoping to get a player like Hasselbeck. Again though, I view their options as a.) allow Flynn to ferment on the roster and gain nothing when he departs as a free-agent anyway or b.) gain something in the meantime. To me, the choice is hard but obvious when the long-term is factored in.

3.) Attempt a sign-and-trade franchising of Cullen Jenkins.

Again, a risky move but a player of his caliber who wants to play in a different system would merit a decent bargaining chip for more draft choices. With Jenkins not being happy and saying he's 99% likely to leave, Green Bay may not have as much leverage in trading him but, again, something is better than nothing. However, the new team would likely want a long-term deal settled on and that is, again, where this CBA situation utterly sucks for player movement.

4.) Draft an offensive lineman in the first two rounds, if not two.

I am stilll not convinced that Green Bay has long-term solutions set at tackle. Bryan Bulaga did play well late in the year but I think banking on Chad Clifton another year is a risky proposition, particularly with Rodgers' concussion history. In a tackle deep draft, this would be a good year to stay at 32 or move up slightly to ensure getting the man that they would want.


by justanothersteve :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 10:41am

1) Not gonna happen. The Packers are already one of the highest payroll teams in the NFL, especially in the secondary. While it's a nice dream, the Packers do have a budget and Nnamdi would be too expensive.

2) Matt Flynn hasn't shown as much as Hasselbeck did before being traded, plus Holmgren really wanted Hasselbeck. He might be worth a 3 with a conditional 2 at best. They can keep him, and if Rodgers gets hurt they'll find out what he's worth. They then could likely franchise and trade him next year ala Cassell.

3) They did ok with a sign-and-trade a couple years ago with Cleveland. But Jenkins is 29 and two years older than Williams was at the time. There's not a huge trade market for a 29 year old DL with an injury history. They might get more with a compensatory pick.

4) I'd be thrilled if their first two picks were CB/OLB and OT, in either order. IMO, those are their biggest needs. Even if Bulaga can be the LT, I think I'd rather have Lang and Newhouse fight for Colledge's LG slot and find a new RT.

by Jimmy :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 10:47am

There are quite a few teams in the league that Hasselback could start for, why would he want to go and play back up in Green Bay? Given that there are teams who will try to get him to come in and start for them he will be far too expensive anyway.

by bravehoptoad :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 1:02pm

Why make all these fancy moves when what they're doing is working so well? If they draft well -- good reason to think they'll do that -- and manage to keep people healthy, they're already contenders. What's the need for all the razzle dazzle?

by Mike W :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 2:50pm

1 - no way. Everyone loves Nnamdi now, but many CBs have a short shelf-life. They lose a half-step after 4-5 years, and they drop to "just a guy" level.
2 - never gonna happen, and shouldn't.
3 - it'd be great but too many moving parts - never happen
4 - one OT, one DE in rounds 1 and 2. Hopefully.

by tuluse :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 4:33pm

no way. Everyone loves Nnamdi now, but many CBs have a short shelf-life. They lose a half-step after 4-5 years, and they drop to "just a guy" level.

Do you have some examples of this? Most of the great CBs had a longer period of good play than that.

by Arkaein :: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 9:35pm

I gotta disagree on almost every point, except maybe drafting an o-lineman high.

1. Did you forget about Sam Shields and Morgan Burnett? GB could use upgrades at dime CB, but are set at starters and Nickel (Shields will be a very good starter by the time Woodson retires). And with Burnett coming back to compete with Peprah at safety there will already be a logjam at a position where backups don't play much. My guess is GB takes a dime/developmental CB in the 3rd or 4th round.

2. They could trade Flynn, but the talk out of GB the last few days makes it sound unlikely. Flynn is currently a top backup and another good Superbowl run is probably seen as more valuable than the draft pick they would get. Still a possibility though.

3. Mike Neal is coming back from injury and will likely compete for a starting DE job. Howeard Green is returning, and Johnny Jolly will likely be reinstated. Add in CJ Wilson to round out the group lead by Raji and Picket, and you have your 6 D-lineman (the number typically kept on a 3-4 roster), even without Jenkins.

4. O-line is uncertain. Will Clifton make it through another year? Will Bulaga be moved to the left side? Is TJ Lang the RT of the future? Or maybe the LG of the future, since Colledge is a FA and probably the weakest link. I love Lang's versatility as a backup, but if he gets promoted to starter then GB's line gets very thin, especially since Spitz will probably be cut. I could see replacing Colledge with a 2nd round guard, making Lang Clifton's backup and planning on moving Bulaga to the left side in 2012. I don't really see a 1st round O-lineman unless Clifton announces a sudden retirement.

by DenverCheeze (not verified) :: Fri, 03/04/2011 - 10:49am

Totally agree. O-line is their biggest need with LB maybe second. they have lots of talent coming back off IR to fill the other gaps.

TT philosophy was much maligned in GB for the last few years, but maybe it works? (ya think?!? they won the friggin' SUPER BOWL!)

They will draft well and not sign anyone in FA unless Rodgers has a motorcycle accident in the offseason (he does not even ride).

by Bobby Wommack (not verified) :: Mon, 03/07/2011 - 12:23pm

The Lions defense will never be good until they get rid of Gunther. The only thing you can count on with Gunther at the helm is leading the league in missed tackles every year. He's a terrible coach now who's 10 years past his prime. Seriously, he hasn't coached a single good defense since the 90s.

by witless chum :: Tue, 03/08/2011 - 1:47pm

Maybe we're starved in Detroit, but he's seemed pretty good so far, at least in combo with Schwartz, without that much as far as talent outside of the defensive line.

The Lions need help at LB and CB, but they aren't far from producing that good defense.