Center stage in the NFL rightfully belongs to the Broncos and Seahawks this week, and the setting couldn’t be better for the Super Bowl XLVIII opponents. The game is in New Jersey, but the base of operations leading up to it is in the heart of the Big Apple.
Away from the spotlight, other teams have been busy. Lions Coach Jim Caldwell was at the Senior Bowl last week with his staff, scouts and front office, and Caldwell has worked to fill out his staff of assistants.
What has stood out in his first three weeks on the job in Detroit?
Mike: And I thought we’d start with a Super Bowl pick (hint: quarterback play influences my pick).
There is no such thing as an unimportant hire when it comes to building a staff, but the line coaches are crucial because of the importance of the front four putting pressure on the quarterback and the offensive line protecting him. Caldwell kept those groups intact – Jeremiah Washburn and Terry Heffernan on offense, Jim Washburn and Kris Kocurek on defense.
Caldwell went with relative youth in hiring coaches who’ll be coordinators for the first time – Teryl Austin on defense, Joe Lombardi on offense. Austin’s background coaching defensive backs should help upgrading what has been a trouble spot, and Lombardi’s work as quarterbacks coach in New Orleans can help the offense become more consistent.
Lombardi has said he doesn’t think he needs to fix a "broken"quarterback. Do you agree?
The plan for Caldwell and Lombardi this offseason should be to give Stafford a couple more weapons on the outside and then put him in situations to succeed.
Sometimes it’s the play that isn’t made that can help a team win a game in the fourth quarter. I’d like to see them manage games better in the fourth quarter.
Look, both Peyton Manning and Drew Brees credit Caldwell and Lombardi, respectively, with helping to take their game to another level. It certainly can’t hurt Stafford to have those guys take a look and give an opinion.
They know what great quarterback play looks like, don’t they?
Mike: Yes they do, and it shouldn’t shock anyone if they see it again in Detroit. Yes, you’re reading that right – great quarterback play from Stafford.
Another new coach to look at is Robert Prince, who’ll work with the wide receivers. There will be an influx of new talent there, and whoever lines up with
The Lions have ranked first or second in the NFL in dropped passes for the last four seasons. That’s not all on the receivers. The running backs and tight ends have dropped balls, too, but getting more consistency and production out of the receivers will make Megatron even more dangerous.
From your vantage point and connections from covering the Senior Bowl, did any receivers stand out who might wind up in Detroit?
Tim: Most of the top-end talent at the position consists of underclassman like Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and Marqise Lee, but Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews and Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis could be guys that fit as early as the second round.
The Lions aren’t interested in slot receivers. They’re looking for a playmaker on the outside, preferably with good size and speed.
Matthews had 201 receptions the last two seasons in the SEC. He’s also 6-foot-3 and similarly built to Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery.
Abbrederis has good size at 6-foot-2, 192 pounds and had a very underrated 78-catch season in Wisconsin with suspect quarterback play. He just seems like one of those players who know how to get open.
Is receiver the No. 1 need this offseason?
Mike: In terms of what needs to be added, it’s No. 1 for sure – and it might be No. 2. Adding two receivers to strengthen the group wouldn’t be a surprise, and you’re right about not just adding a slot receiver.
It’s a good thing if a new receiver can operate in the slot, but it’s more important that he’s a stand-alone talent who can command coverage and make defenses concentrate on someone other than Johnson.
One reason Johnson takes so many hard hits is because of the attention he gets – double coverage, and a third defender to hit him as soon as he touches the ball. That’s why he has taken such a beating the last couple of years.
Another key issue for the offense is re-signing tight end
What would you add?
Tim: Good point, Mike, about the hits Johnson takes. There’s always a safety ready to lay a lick on him. He takes way too many big hits and it will take a toll on him.
I’d add a playmaking safety, who can cover the slot and the tight end positions, at the top of my wish list, too.
I’m not certain
The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks made enough plays to earn them a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII. So who wins it on Sunday?
Mike: I like both teams for different reasons. I like the precision of Denver’s offense and the unleashed fury of Seattle’s defense, plus the way Marshawn Lynch runs with power and speed.
The edge goes to Seattle. The Broncos cannot win unless Peyton Manning plays great. Anything less than great, and they’re in trouble. That’s not the case for the Seahawks. In their two playoff wins, Russell Wilson threw for 103 yards against the Saints and 215 against the 49ers.
He can play average, or even a little below, and the Seahawks still can win because their defense will force Manning to move off his spot and hammer his receivers.
My pick: Seahawks 19, Broncos 17.
I'm right, right?
I like Seattle’s defense, but the Broncos can attack a defense so many different ways. Manning has also had two weeks to prepare.
The weather can play a factor if there’s precipitation, but that’s not in the forecast, and I think that makes the Broncos offense too dynamic.
My pick: Broncos 27, Seahawks 24