NFC North: Jimmy Johnson
Longtime head coach and current Fox broadcaster Jimmy Johnson caused a stir early Friday morning with this tweet:
"Looks like 2 of my guys getting NFL jobs..Chud Cleveland and my QB coach at U Trestman to Chicago"
The Chicago Bears portion of that tweet refers to Marc Trestman, who was with Johnson at the University of Miami in the early 1980's and then spent nearly 20 years as an NFL assistant -- including two stints with the Minnesota Vikings and another with the Detroit Lions. He has spent the past the past five years as the head coach of the CFL's Montreal Alouettes and is known as a creative offensive mind.
The Cleveland Browns hired the other coach in that tweet, Rob Chudzinski, late Thursday night. Does that mean the Bears are going to hire Trestman? He was scheduled to interview earlier this week, but I honestly have no confirmation that the Bears have developed a list of finalists, much less zeroed in on a likely hire. At last check, they still had multiple first interviews with other candidates scheduled through the weekend.
At the same time, Johnson remains plugged into the league rumor mill and his thoughts aren't to be dismissed. So we will have to stay tuned on that one.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon backs Trestman's candidacy, reports Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Bears linebacker Lance Briggs, via ESPN 1000: "The part that hurts the most is the change that happens ... we don't know what the future holds. We don't know what the new coach is going to come in here and how he is going to run things and how he is going to change things. We've known for the last nine seasons how our approach to football is going to be."
- Green Bay Packers place-kicker Mason Crosby believes his late-season problems have been fixed, according to Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is among the players in his team's locker room who were sick this week, notes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
- The Packers got some help from rookie linebacker Terrell Manning last weekend, notes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- The Detroit Lions could get some help from offensive lineman Bill Nagy next season after he spent the year on injured reserve. Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press explains.
- Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News: "This is it. This is the offseason we learn if Martin Mayhew is truly clever, or simply an Accidental GM. This is the most important juncture of Mayhew's career, which also makes it the most important of Jim Schwartz's career."
- Lions coach Jim Schwartz plans to evaluate his own performance this offseason, writes Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com.
- Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com projects the Minnesota Vikings' adjusted salary cap totals for 2013.
- Vikings general manager Rick Spielman was vague about the team's offseason plans during a meeting with reporters Thursday. Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune has more.
- Spielman on receiver Percy Harvin, via Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "Percy was, as any player is, so competitive that they want to play. Mentally you may want to play, but physically you may not be able to play."
- Lost in the discussion over Ndamukong Suh's third-quarter ejection was how critical the accompanying penalty and his subsequent absence was. You almost forget that the Lions had stopped the Packers on third-and-3 at their 3-yard line. The Packers probably would have set up to kick a short field goal in hopes of taking a 10-0 lead. Instead, they got another set of downs and ultimately scored a touchdown on John Kuhn's 1-yard run. The penalty cost the Lions four points, and it also opened the floodgates for the Packers' offense. In the end, they scored 20 points with Suh off the field. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 10 of 15 passes when Suh was in the game. Afterward, he hit on seven of nine and averaged 16.9 yards per attempt. According to ESPN Stats & Information, all seven of those completions came against the Lions' four-man pass rush, one obviously watered down without Suh.Kevin SeifertAfter falling to 7-4 following a loss to the Packers, the Lions take their turn in the examination room.
- As fallout from the Suh incident continues, it's probably only a matter of time that people start connecting Suh's style with the personality and approach of fiery coach Jim Schwartz. That's essentially what Yahoo! Sports' Jason Cole wrote in the aftermath of Thursday's events. Cole made clear that Schwartz wouldn't encourage a player to do what Suh did Thursday. But, Cole wrote, "It's no surprise that Jim Schwartz's Detroit Lions are out of control" and added: "It's also not much of a surprise that the same coach who earlier this season stormed after San Francisco counterpart Jim Harbaugh is now watching his team's best player face a suspension for losing his cool." Schwartz's role in the incident with Harbaugh doesn't excuse Suh for his actions. But I agree with Cole in this sense: The coach sets a tone for his program. If the coach occasionally flies out of control, that's the example for decorum he has set for his players -- consciously or otherwise. The bottom line, according to ESPN Stats & Information, is that the Lions have had more personal fouls called against them since the start of Schwartz's tenure in 2009 than any other NFL team. Patterns always emerge over time.
- It's amazing how central running back Kevin Smith became to the Lions offense in such a short time, and that's why the Lions are keeping their fingers crossed on further tests to his right ankle. Smith touched the ball on four of the Lions' first five plays and had 10 touches in just over a quarter of play. X-rays were negative on the injury, and Fox analyst Jimmy Johnson reported on air Thursday that the Lions believe Smith has a high ankle sprain. Starter Jahvid Best (concussion) was at the game, but there is no indication when or if he will return or if he will play again this season. The Lions will have to hope that their extended weekend will give Smith enough time to heal. It's obvious they deem him a preferable option over current incumbents Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams.
How many defensive starters will the Lions have to replace for their nationally televised Dec. 4 game at the New Orleans Saints? It's quite possible Suh will be suspended. And the Lions finished Sunday's game with half of their secondary sidelined by injuries. Things got so thin that veteran Rashied Davis was pushed into emergency duty as a cornerback. Safety Louis Delmas (knee) and cornerback Chris Houston (knee) didn't return after their injuries, leaving Chris Harris and a combination of Aaron Berry and Brandon McDonald in their respective places. The Saints lead the NFL in total offense (436.9 yards per game) and are second in scoring (31.7).
Would they like a 48-year-old running back in 2011?
That's the question posed Monday by once-and-perhaps-future Vikings running back Herschel Walker, who now competes as a mixed martial artist. On a promotional conference call this week, Walker said he has toyed with playing up to the age of 50, and that the Vikings or his hometown Atlanta Falcons would be his preferred landing spot.
Walker via Franklin McNeil of ESPN.com: "I'm a much better-conditioned athlete now than when I was playing football. I'm 48 and in better shape now than I was when I was in my early 20s, playing football."
If anyone could pull a George Foreman-like comeback in the NFL, it would be Walker. But I'm going to go out on a limb and say the Vikings aren't likely to be interested in that sideshow after a year as tumultuous as the one they just endured.
Plus, I hear Jimmy Johnson wants one final cut of that action.
Most NFL people associate Detroit defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham with an up-tempo scheme. And in this story on the Lions' Web site, Cunningham gets more specific about his blitz tendencies than you normally hear from NFL coaches when talking about their own scheme.
Here's the relevant quote from Cunningham:
"One of the things I've always believed in is high blitz. Up to 40 percent in a game, which is off the charts for most people. But that's what I believe in. I think you have to keep the quarterback nervous all the time."
If you take Cunningham's words at face value, then you can expect the Lions to blitz on two out of every five plays this season. Teams define blitzes in different ways; technically, it's when you assign at least one non-defensive lineman to the line of scrimmage in a 4-3 scheme. In general, though, I can tell you that a 40 percent blitz rate is pretty high, but definitely not unheard of in the league.
Disciples of legendary Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson have been known to hit that number or soar past it if game conditions call for it. In last season's regular-season finale, for example, New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo -- now St. Louis' head coach -- blitzed Minnesota on 80 percent of its snaps. At the time, defensive coaches I talked to said that you'll rarely see more than 50 percent blitzing in a given NFL game.
Lions fans should start getting ready for a blitz-heavy defensive scheme this season. It might not be off the charts, but it should be intense nonetheless.