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NFC North weekend mailbag

6/11/2010

In a world of lists, Entertainment Weekly might have created the best of all time: The magazine's 100 greatest summer songs. In scrolling through the list, I found more than a few that I've already referenced in previous weekend mailbags. Here's another, and I know you always have it -- and Daniel Larusso -- in the back of your mind on these warm summer nights:

Hot summer streets

And the pavements are burning

I sit around

Trying to smile but

The air is so heavy and dry

Strange voices are saying

(What did they say)

Things I can't understand

It's too close for comfort

This heat has got

Right out of hand

It's a cruel, (cruel,) cruel summer

Leaving me here on my own

It's a cruel, (it's a cruel,) cruel summer

Now you're gone

As always, you can get at me through the mailbag, Facebook or Twitter.

Onward...

Via Facebook, Darren asks how comfortable I would be with the Detroit Lions' linebacker position if I were coach Jim Schwartz: [DeAndre] Levy has a lot to prove and [Zack] Follett has yet to prove anything. We all love to talk about how terrible the Lions secondary is, but how well do the LB corps hold up in pass coverage? Seems like Detroit couldn't contain a tight end or a running back in the passing game to save their lives last year. Which may explain the high percentage of completions from QBs last year against the Lions. Of all those completions, how many were to blame on the LBs? It's a good question that rarely gets answered, statistical information on completions and incompletions against Lions LBs.

Kevin Seifert: I don't know how I would feel if I were Schwartz. But as we've suggested a few times this offseason, I think it's risky to accept at face value that the Lions' linebackers will be up to the task this season.

There really aren't any statistics available that would tell us how many completions any one linebacker gave up last season. But one way to address your question is to take a look at Pro Football Focus, a group of analysts that compile participation charts and grade every NFL player on every play of every game.

Obviously, it's impossible to know exact assignments, especially when it comes to pass coverage. But I think this table at least gives us a good understanding of how the Lions' defensive players compared to each other last year on a relative scale.

As you can see, PFF rated Levy last among all Lions players when it came to pass coverage. (Click on that column head to sort.) Follett and Julian Peterson, the third expected starter, were also rated in the lower third of the Lions' regular defensive players.

With all that said, I think the Lions' defensive problems ranged across the board last season. Linebackers were poor in coverage, but the pass rush was weak and most of the starting secondary has been replaced. Not for a moment would I single out the linebacker position for what was a system-wide failure.

It's reasonable to expect progress in the second year of a new scheme. PFF's grades indicate that the Lions' linebackers have plenty of room for improvement.


Joe of Milwaukee, Wis., asks why I didn't mention the comments Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers made on multiple fronts during an interview with ESPN 540 in Milwaukee. Topics included the knowledge level of several ESPN analysts and Rodgers' personal ranking of the NFL's top five quarterbacks. Rodgers later said the "setting" of his comments was "inappropriate" but didn't back away from their content.

Kevin Seifert: I listened to the entire interview soon after it was available on podcast. (Sorry, Homer. I don't stream you live.) I thought it was mostly an entertaining give-and-take among people who know each other and share inside jokes.

I just didn't have much of a reaction to what he said. Normally reporters are the people offering analysis and criticism. All that happened here was that Rodgers turned the tables. Had he ripped other NFL players or coaches -- and I'm still waiting for him to let loose one day on a certain former teammate -- then I would have reacted differently. (See the X-Files.)

I want players to speak their minds, be honest and offer original answers. Sometimes it can be disingenuous to then turn around and whine when they do.


Peter of St. Paul writes: Do you think the Wilfs/Vikings and/or the MSFC should take notice at what happened in Santa Clara, CA? They approved a new stadium for the 49ers, with the owner/team and the stadium authority assuming about 88% of the total $937 million cost, while the city and hotels in the area would cover the remaining 12%.

Isn't this the way it should be done, instead of asking the city/county/public to pay? As a Vikings fan I'm fine with whatever needs to happen to get a new stadium, but with a new example like this lingering out there for anti-Viking stadium people to cling to, it's going to be even harder for the Vikings to get public money for a new stadium. Don't you think?

Kevin Seifert: Perhaps, but that's only if the San Francisco model works. And as of now, there is at least some skepticism that the 49ers can pull off the roughly 88-12 split you note. Here's the way San Francisco Chronicle columnist Gwen Knapp put it:

Doubts about the current plans for a $937 million stadium abound, and with good reason. After the $114 million subsidy from Santa Clara, the 49ers' owners will need to find at least $500 million in financing. An additional $300 million is projected to come from seat licenses, concessions contracts and naming rights. Given that Jerry Jones still hasn't found a sponsor to slap its name on his palace near Dallas, the assumptions seem very optimistic.

So to summarize, the 49ers would need to pay $500 million out of their organizational pockets. The NFL could loan some of that money if its G-3 program, or something like it, is re-established as part of the next collective bargaining agreement. And then another $300 million would essentially have to come from stadium revenues.

The question the 49ers would have to ask is if they would net enough revenues after paying debt service on a presumed $500 million loan while also skimming $300 million off stadium income. No sense building a new stadium if you're not going to make money off of it. Maybe that's why the 49ers are already floating the idea of the Oakland Raiders becoming co-tenants.

If this plan somehow works, it could complicate the dynamic in Minnesota. But that's a long way off.


Noah of Oak Park, Ill., writes: Do you think that Major Wright will get the starting job at safety? The Bears have Chris Harris, Danieal Manning, and Josh Bullocks. Based on the roster it seems unlikely for Wright to get the starting job.

Kevin Seifert: Yes. I think he will get a chance, at some point this season, unless he's an absolute and total flop from the first day of training camp. Most of this is connecting the dots and making assumptions, but that's half of what we do. Realistically, the Bears aren't going to announce him a starter in June.

Don't forget: The Bears have made no secret this offseason that they wanted to upgrade the safety position. By definition, that's an indictment of their incumbent players -- including Manning and Bullocks. They traded for Harris and made Wright their first draft pick. So unless Manning and/or Bullocks demonstrate a proficiency they didn't show last season, it's reasonable to expect the Bears to turn to Wright at some point.


Mike of Raleigh, N.C., notes our skepticism on the immediate future of Detroit Lions running back Kevin Smith and suggested we should have included Smith's recent quote on the topic. When asked if he would be ready for training camp, Smith said: "Is my name Kevin Smith?"

Kevin Seifert: Unless he said, "Is my name Dr. Kevin Smith, MD?" I'm not putting too much credence in that statement. You can't will yourself back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. You get back on the field after your team's medical staff puts you through the necessary rehabilitation and then signs off on your full recovery. History suggests that process takes a certain amount of time. We'll see if Smith is a faster healer than most.