Does Caldwell have the answers in Detroit?
After back-to-back disappointing seasons, going 4-12 in 2012 and 7-9 in 2013, another sub-.500 season would be crushing to the franchise, mostly because the roster consists of a team capable of winning at least 10 or 11 games, if not more. But if Green Bay gets a full season out of Aaron Rodgers and the Chicago offense continues to improve with the scary arsenal of Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, and Alshon Jeffery, the Lions will really have their work cut out for them.
The new brand of ‘smart football’ in Detroit will depend greatly on avoiding foolish penalties and preventing turnovers offensively. The former has mostly been a problem defensively in recent years, with Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, and a wide array of defensive backs frequently whistled for avoidable penalties. But apart from penalties and some costly big plays this past year, the defense as a whole is coming off a pretty solid season. It’s the offense that really needs to rebound strong and that’s where Caldwell is expected to help really cater a transition, and that transition first begins with Matthew Stafford.
2014 will be a make-or-break type of season for Stafford. If he can’t become a top NFL quarterback, the scrutiny from Detroit fans and the media will greatly increase and his tenure as Lions quarterback will be greatly in question. All the mechanics are there and apart from that, he’s equipped with the league’s best wide receiver and the talented backfield combination of Reggie Bush and Joique Bell - both excellent pass catchers. He’s in a position that at least a dozen other NFL starters would absolutely love to be in. Yet this past year, Stafford was prone to turnovers and routinely failed to lead key drives when the team really needed it - watch over the team’s final drive in their Monday Night Football loss to the Ravens for evidence of both.
The team is definitely in need of some depth at wide receiver behind Calvin Johnson. That need could be addressed in the draft - the Lions have the 10th overall pick - or in free agency. Either way, that’s the team’s top priority now that the head coach position has been filled.
Caldwell worked with Peyton Manning for a number of years in Indianapolis and then he helped lead Joe Flacco to one of the top quarterback performances in playoff history during the 2013 postseason. The track record is impressive but taking over the head coaching job of a franchise that has been haunted by poor play for half a century and has underachieved two years in a row is a new level of difficulty for him. Is he up to the task?