NFC North: Mike Nolan
Eleven months later, the teams have a combined record of 8-15-1.
That’s why the NFL moved the game, which was originally scheduled for prime time on Sunday, to a 1 p.m. ET start.
ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky and ESPN Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure break down the matchup:
Rob Demovsky: Vaughn, it’s hard to believe the Falcons are in playing-out-the-string mode with all of the talent they have on offense. Obviously, injuries have been an issue, especially losing a talented receiver like Julio Jones. But unlike the Packers, they didn’t lose their quarterback. How come Matt Ryan hasn’t been able to be a difference-maker?
Vaughn McClure: Well, it’s been hard for Matt Ryan to be himself, playing under duress most of the season. The Falcons have ranked in the top 10 in sacks allowed per pass attempt, but that’s only because Ryan has taken shorter drops and delivered the ball quicker. He has still been sacked a career-high 30 times and has been hit countless other times. In the past two games alone -- against the Saints and Bills -- Ryan was sacked 11 times. True, being without Jones hasn’t helped Ryan’s cause. But also, Roddy White hasn’t been at full strength all season. Without Harry Douglas or Tony Gonzalez, Ryan would really be in trouble.
Speaking of quarterbacks, can you explain the different scenarios for the Packers at the position come Sunday, based on Aaron Rodgers’ injury status?
Demovsky: Well, it sure looks like Rodgers will be out for at least another week. This was the game he was really targeting to come back for, thinking he could lead them to the playoffs if he got back for the last four games. But his collarbone did not check out well enough Tuesday to be cleared. Even though he plans to practice this week, it doesn’t look good for him to play. I was a little surprised that coach Mike McCarthy appears to be going with Matt Flynn again. Flynn was completely ineffective in the Thanksgiving debacle at Detroit, and quite frankly, his arm strength does not look good. He didn’t have a lot of zip on the ball indoors against the Lions, and it sure won’t get any easier to throw in the cold, wintry conditions at Lambeau Field. I wondered if he might go back to Scott Tolzien, who looked good in a couple of his appearances but threw too many interceptions.
You mentioned pass protection -- the Packers had issues of their own against the Lions. Flynn was sacked seven times, but on at least a couple of those, he held onto the ball too long. What has been the Falcons’ biggest problem in pass protection?
McClure: The biggest problem has been the offensive line, simply. The guys up front haven’t held up their end of the bargain. They’ve been physically dominated at times, particularly in the loss to the Seahawks. The Falcons lost left tackle Sam Baker to season-ending knee surgery, and Baker wasn’t the same player he was last season before being placed on injured reserve. Left tackle Lamar Holmes, the guy trusted to protect Ryan’s blind side, admitted being out of shape at the beginning of the season and is still experiencing growing pains. Center Peter Konz, right guard Garrett Reynolds, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood and Holmes have all been benched at point during the season. Such turnover hasn’t helped the group develop any cohesion. And now, it has to face a capable Packers defense.
I know Clay Matthews was injured this season, but is he back to the dominant player he was when I covered the NFC North?
Demovsky: He’s starting to look like the player you remember, Vaughn. In his first game back from his broken thumb, he wasn’t a factor,because he had to wear that giant club cast. But the next week against the Giants, he was able to play with a much smaller cast. Ever since then, he’s been a playmaker again. In the past three games, he has three sacks and a forced fumble. The problem is he’s not getting a ton of help. And even when they make big plays like they did against the Lions last week, when they forced four turnovers, the offense can’t take advantage of them. Even with Matthews back on the field, the defense has been in a free fall over the past month.
About the only thing the Packers have been able to count on has been their running game, and even that has been a little up and down. But rookie Eddie Lacy looks like a force with 806 yards rushing in basically 10 games. I’m sure the Falcons will load up the box to stop him like most teams have tried to do since Rodgers got hurt. Do you think they can stop him?
McClure: No. Not at all. They struggled to contain speedy backs like Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller (149 rushing yards) just like they’ve struggled against powerful backs like Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch (145 yards). Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan counted 28 missed tackles for his defense over the past two games, which is unacceptable, particularly when they occur in the second level and lead to explosive plays. Although rookie linebacker Paul Worrilow has been a tackling machine, he can’t do it alone. Like the offensive line, the defense has been dominated physically at times. Lacy’s bruising style is the last thing the Falcons want to see. The Falcons are tied for 29th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game.
My short answer, Brandon, is that I think Martz is the best candidate the Bears have interviewed to produce immediate results. And there are some similarities between the way the Packers decided on Capers and the way the Bears have meandered to Martz.
The Packers interviewed at least three other candidates -- Mike Nolan, Gregg Williams and Jim Haslett -- before hiring Capers. The Bears interviewed Rogers, Ken Zampese and Rob Chudzinski before giving Martz his interview.
Capers’ defense is based on being unpredictable and coming at the quarterback from all angles, making big plays through forced turnovers and lost yardage. It was flexible enough to cover for some personnel mismatches in his 3-4 scheme.
The same is true for Martz’s offense. Martz is by no means perfect, and there is a reason his services are available. But of all the candidates the Bears have interviewed, I think Martz has the best chance to effect a quick turnaround.
That’s my take from the baseball press box here at Sun Life Stadium. Don’t believe I’m actually at the Pro Bowl? Take a look at the byline on the picture above.
Cincinnati quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, who interviewed earlier this month, is no longer a candidate. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis told the Chicago Tribune he has closed the window on Zampese’s availability. The Bears have said they plan to cast a wide net in replacing the fired Ron Turner, but it’s relatively common for other teams to expect quick decisions so they can hire replacements in a timely fashion.
Jackson will become the third candidate to interview for the job. ESPN analyst Tim Hasselbeck said in an interview with ESPN Chicago’s Jeff Dickerson that Jackson “relates to players well and does an excellent job of keeping things fairly simple.” It continues to appear the Bears aren’t seriously considering former St. Louis coach Mike Martz, writes Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times.
I’m all for a thorough search, and it’s possible the Bears have Martz as a backup plan knowing he isn’t likely to be hired elsewhere. It’s hard for fans and media members to be patient at this point, but it appears the Bears are doing just that.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Bears receiver Johnny Knox was added to the Pro Bowl as a kick returner, replacing Minnesota’s Percy Harvin, who bowed out Monday. Harvin had been added after Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson was elected as both a receiver and a kick returner. Knox is the Bears’ lone representative after linebacker Lance Briggs bowed out.
- Both Vikings cornerbacks will enter the offseason nursing significant injuries, according to the Star Tribune. Cedric Griffin is believed to have torn an anterior cruciate ligament and Antoine Winfield is still nursing a fractured foot.
- Vikings fullback Nauhfau Tahi didn’t have much to say Monday about his role in the Vikings’ penalty for having 12 players in the huddle at the end of regulation in the NFC Championship Game. John Shipley of the St. Paul Pioneer Press has more.
- Detroit coach Jim Schwartz is working to erase the memory of last season’s 2-14 record, according to Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
- The Lions’ special teams will look much different schematically under new coordinator Danny Crossman, writes Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press.
- By coaching the North squad this week at the Senior Bowl, writes John Niyo of the Detroit News, the Lions are hoping they get a chance to know players better.
- Mike Nolan discussed his decision to turn down the Green Bay Packers’ defensive coordinator job last year with Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Packers linebacker Clay Matthews is hoping to better translate his film study to the field next season, according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
It all happened while we were trying to put a bow on some of our central themes of the season, including Brett Favre’s impact on Minnesota, the changing face of NFC North offenses and the development of young tight ends within the division. Let’s continue that wrap-up, using questions from the mailbag and Facebook. (You can also send questions and thoughts to me via Twitter.)
Let’s get to it:
Kyle of West Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Early in the preseason, there was a discussion between you and the AFC North blogger about which division would come out on top between the two. I was wondering if you could revisit that discussion!
Kevin Seifert: Great idea Kyle! I presume you’re talking about this post from July. I offered seven points on the AFC North–NFC North matchup.
First, we should count up the record and realize the 16 games between the four teams were split down the middle. Each division went 8-8 against the other. Let’s look at the breakdown, naturally from an NFC North perspective:
Minnesota (3-1): Beat Cleveland, Baltimore and Cincinnati. Lost to Pittsburgh.
Green Bay (2-2): Beat Baltimore and Cleveland. Lost to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
Chicago (2-2): Beat Pittsburgh, Cleveland. Lost to Cincinnati, Baltimore.
Detroit (1-3): Beat Cleveland. Lost to Cincinnati, Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
Now, let’s look at the seven points I made at the time and reconcile them with the facts.
I wrote then: Detroit was 0-16 last season, but its new coach went 4-0 against the AFC North in his previous job. As the defensive coordinator in Tennessee, Jim Schwartz helped the Titans defeat Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cleveland and Cincinnati. Included in that run was a 31-14 late-December shellacking of the Steelers. Schwartz's new team is in a much different place than the Titans were last season, but it's a rare advantage to have seen all four interconference opponents the previous season. The Lions can use every edge they can find.
I see now: The Lions won only one of the four, but it’s worth noting they were relatively close against the Steelers (28-20) and Bengals (23-13) before getting crushed by the Ravens (48-3).
I wrote then: Who will have the last laugh between Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis and Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson (Oct. 18)? As you might recall, Peterson said at the Pro Bowl that he wanted to gain 12 pounds during the offseason. "I don't think too many guys would be excited to see me at 230 two times a year," Peterson said. But his father told USA Today last month that a group of veterans -- including Lewis -- "set up" his son, hoping to convince him to make a change that ultimately would slow him down. Let's see if Peterson, who by all accounts will remain close to his playing weight of 217 pounds, returns the favor.
I see now: Peterson ran for 143 yards on 22 carries in the Vikings' 33-31 victory. Case closed.
I wrote then: The AFC North boasts two of the game's best pass-rushing linebackers in Pittsburgh's James Harrison (16 sacks in 2008) and Baltimore's Terrell Suggs (eight). You never know exactly where outside linebackers will line up in a 3-4 defense, but I'm guessing they'll find their way toward the NFC North's host of young right tackles. Chicago (Chris Williams), Minnesota (Phil Loadholt) and Green Bay (Allen Barbre or T.J. Lang) are all expected to have new starters at the position -- and Detroit's Gosder Cherilus is entering his first full season as a starter. Defensive coordinators would be remiss not to test all four spots.
I see now: I don’t have the breakdown of where he was lined up, but I can tell you that Harrison had five of his 10 sacks this season against NFC North opponents. Three came against the Lions and two against the Vikings. Suggs, limited by injuries this season, did not have a sack against the NFC North.
I wrote then: This season will be a referendum on whether Orlando Pace can still play left tackle in the NFL. During the free-agent period, Baltimore heavily courted Pace but wanted him to move to right tackle so that youngster Jared Gaither could continue his development on the left side. Pace, however, wanted to maintain his traditional position and ultimately signed with Chicago. The Ravens have installed rookie Michael Oher as their new right tackle and suddenly have a raw set of tackles. We'll soon find out if Pace can give the Bears a full year at left tackle, or whether the Ravens were right to hold firm on youth.
I see now: The Ravens won on this decision. Pace was ineffective for most of the season before being sidelined by a leg injury. Even after he returned to health, the Bears respectfully left him on the bench. Oher, meanwhile, was one of the NFL’s best rookies this season.
I wrote then: To the extent that practicing against a 3-4 defense helps in game preparation, Green Bay should have a clear advantage over its NFC North rivals. The Packers' offense spent all spring practicing against its 3-4 scheme and won't face that choppy in-season transition when preparing for the Steelers, Ravens and Browns. This is becoming less of an issue every year as more NFL teams return to the 3-4 -- the total is expected to be 13 in 2009 -- but familiarity can only help the Packers in this vein.
I see now: The Packers finished 2-1 against AFC North teams that run a 3-4, beating the Ravens and Browns while losing to the Steelers.
I wrote then: The Bears, Packers and Lions all are working hard to improve their weak pass rush. Two AFC North teams -- Cincinnati and Pittsburgh -- are hoping to shore up their pass protection. Which teams can make quicker enhancements? You might know that the Bengals gave up the NFL's third-most sacks last season (51). But it might have escaped you that the Steelers were right behind them with 49 sacks allowed. It almost goes without saying that the best way to stop the Bengals' Carson Palmer and the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger is to keep them from throwing the ball.
I see now: The Bears had no sacks against the Bengals and two against the Steelers. The Packers had two and five, respectively. The Lions had two and three.
I wrote then: AFC North teams like to think of themselves the same way we do here in the Black and Blue, as hard-nosed, bad-weather running teams. Minnesota defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams are two of the best run-stoppers in the game, and there's a little stretch of the season where they would be particularly missed should their NFL suspensions kick in. (Such a scenario would require a prolonged but ultimately unsuccessful legal challenge to their NFL discipline.) The Vikings play Baltimore and Pittsburgh in consecutive October weeks (Oct. 18 against the Ravens and Oct. 25 at Pittsburgh). That makes for two old-fashioned football matchups -- if the Williams Wall is on the field.
I see now: With both members of the Williams Wall on the field, the Vikings gave up 81 rushing yards to the Ravens and 107 to the Steelers. Neither total figured in the outcome of either game.
I wrote then: Who benefits most? In some ways, this schedule ensures that each NFC North team will be playing 10 divisional games this season. There are many similarities between the general styles of the Black and Blue and AFC North. Minnesota's defense should match the intensity of the physical offenses of Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Green Bay's offense shouldn't be surprised by the 3-4 defense, but its own defense won't have the advantage of surprise, either. It's too early to make specific predictions, but it's safe to say that whoever has the divisional advantage in the NFC North will also fare best against the AFC North.
I see then: The Vikings won the NFC North and also had the best record against the AFC North. Ding-ding-ding!
Robert of Oostburg Wis., writes: Hello. Dom Capers was not the first choice for defensive coordinator for the Packers last offseason. Could you compare the job he got done this year with the few others that got away. I think the Packers got the steal of the year.
Kevin Seifert: You’re right. The Packers interviewed several candidates who ultimately went elsewhere, including Mike Nolan (Denver) and Gregg Williams (New Orleans). The Broncos defense finished the season ranked No. 7 in the NFL. The Saints finished No. 27, but Williams scheme did create the second-most turnovers in the NFL and played a big role in the Saints’ hot start.
That said, I don’t think there’s any doubt Capers’ defense had the best season of that group. Capers is well known for making an immediate impact, and that’s exactly what the Packers got this season.
Keith writes: Is there a more natural way to make Week 17 more competitive than to seed teams based on overall record? Arizona surely would've showed up last week.
Kevin Seifert: I wish there were, Keith. To date, I haven’t heard or thought of any that make sense.
Awarding teams draft picks to continue playing their starters seems counterintuitive. Would a sixth- or seventh-round pick be enough to risk the health of a key player? I don’t think so. And what would it say about the league that it must reward teams for competing?
Penalizing teams for sitting starters is also problematic. The decision can have too much gray area. How long would the player have to be on the field? What would prevent him from leaving because of “tightness?” or some other nebulous injury?
Weighing playoff seedings disproportionally based on late-season record doesn’t fly with me, either. Shouldn’t every game count the same?
Ultimately, I think the NFL should be patient and see what happens to Indianapolis, especially, this postseason. It’s a copycat league. If the Colts are bounced early from the playoffs, you can bet future coaches in the same position would think twice about benching starters.
Jonathan writes via Facebook: So....when do we find out that Woodson won DPOY?
Kevin Seifert: The Associated Press will announce the Defensive Player of the Year Award next Wednesday, Jan. 13. That’s when we’ll find out if Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson won it.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 11:
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers grew up a 49ers fan and once was deeply disappointed not to have been drafted to play for his hometown team. Sometimes you see players especially motivated to face teams that passed over them in the draft, but I don’t sense that from Rodgers. The primary people who made the decision to draft Smith over Rodgers in 2005, namely former coach Mike Nolan, are no longer with the organization. (Another was current Packers coach Mike McCarthy, then the 49ers offensive coordinator, but we’ll leave that for another day.) By the way, I wouldn’t expect a lot of blitzing Sunday from the 49ers. They’re sending added pressure on only 28.8 percent of their snaps, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That's the ninth-lowest total in the NFL.
If Minnesota beats Seattle on Sunday at the Metrodome, it would mark the seventh time in franchise history that the team would have made it through 10 games with one loss or fewer. Three of those previous seasons resulted in a Super Bowl appearance and a fourth in the NFC Championship Game. More important, it could leave the Vikings one week away from clinching the NFC North title this season. In order for that to happen, the Vikings would need to defeat Chicago on Nov. 29 and have Green Bay lose once during the next two weeks.
This is a bad week for Chicago to need its running game. You could make an argument for the Bears backing off their reliance on quarterback Jay Cutler, who threw five interceptions in his last game and has performed horridly in night games this season. But after nine games of brick walls, it’s hard to imagine tailback Matt Forte suddenly finding wide-open lanes here in Week 11. Philadelphia has done a pretty good job stopping the run this season anyway, ranking No. 8 overall in the NFL, and the Bears are still trying to settle the left side of their offensive line. But if/when they turn to Cutler, be advised of these figures calculated by Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune: Cutler is 4-9 in 13 career night games. He’s thrown an interception every 20.3 passes at night, compared to one for every 34.6 passes in day games.
Sunday’s game at Ford Field could be the NFL’s worst matchup since, well, St. Louis played there three weeks ago. About 40,000 fans are expected. The game is blacked out locally. Worst of all, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information, this is only the fifth matchup between 1-8 teams in the past 25 years. How bad are the Browns? The Lions are getting 3 1/2 points in the betting columns, and that might be a little stingy. Cleveland doesn’t have the offensive firepower to capitalize against the Lions’ undermanned defense. In case you’ve missed it, the Browns have only five offensive touchdowns in their past 15 regular season games. That’s the worst 15-game stretch for any NFL offense since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.
Here's a somewhat ominous sign if you're following the Minnesota Vikings' drive for a new stadium. Voters in the tiny town of Industry, Calif., approved $150 million in infrastructure improvements Tuesday to the site where a billionaire developer wants to build an $800 million privately-financed stadium.
The next step is for city officials to certify the plan. If they do, developer Ed Roski will have what he needs to begin building if and when a team agrees to move to the Los Angeles area. (The NFL is aware of the plan but has yet to endorse it.)
The Vikings are unlikely to get approval for a new stadium in Minnesota this year, leaving them with two years remaining on their lease at the Metrodome. Owner Zygi Wilf has pledged not to move, but his stadium point man suggested last month Wilf could "throw in the towel" and sell to someone who might move if a Minnesota stadium is not approved.
The big issue has always been whether the team will have legitimate leverage if it does eventually threaten to move. Tuesday's developments put them one step closer.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Green Bay cornerback Al Harris was named to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday as an injury replacement for Philadelphia's Asante Samuel, notes the Green Bay Press-Gazette. It will be Harris' second consecutive Pro Bowl and means that three members of the Packers' starting secondary -- Harris, cornerback Charles Woodson and safety Nick Collins -- were all named to the team. Woodson pulled out earlier this month because of an injury.
- Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Gregg Williams and Jim Haslett were both offered the Packers' defensive coordinator job before Dom Capers, who eventually took the job. It is not clear if Mike Nolan, the first man interviewed, was ever made an offer.
- Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said he has "coordinators in mind, but not in place" as he conducts interviews at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. John Niyo of the Detroit News caught up with Schwartz during a whirlwind week. Gunther Cunningham (defense) and Brian Schottenheimer (offense) are possibilities.
- One coach the Lions have interviewed, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times: Former Bears linebackers coach Lloyd Lee.
- Bears coach Lovie Smith doesn't believe the economic recession will strap the team's efforts to add players in free agency, according to Mike Mulligan of the Sun-Times.
- Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner wants to add a playmaker in the offseason, according to Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune. (Good idea!)
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- In wrapping up coverage of Sunday's NFC Championship Game, I wanted to point out that Philadelphia defensive backs coach Sean McDermott is now eligible to interview for defensive coordinator positions around the NFL following the Eagles' 32-25 loss to Arizona.
Several NFL teams are said to be interested in speaking with McDermott, including Green Bay. He would not fit the profile of candidates that Packers coach Mike McCarthy has previously interviewed, but McCarthy might need to lower his standards after losing out on long-time coordinators Mike Nolan and Gregg Williams.
It's not entirely clear whether the Eagles will permit McDermott to interview if teams request him.
Jim Haslett remains a possibility for the job, as does Dom Capers. But Capers also is receiving interest from the New York Giants. We'll keep you updated.
After losing out on his top two candidates, it appears Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy is casting a wider net to find his next defensive coordinator.
New England special assistant Dom Capers is in town Friday and interviewing with McCarthy, according to Adam Schefter of NFL.com. Capers has a long history of success as a defensive coordinator, having served in that role in Pittsburgh, Jacksonville and Miami in addition to his tenures as the head coach in Carolina and Houston.
It's obvious that McCarthy is seeking a highly experienced, if not high profile, replacement for the fired Bob Sanders. His first two candidates, Mike Nolan and Gregg Williams, are also longtime coordinators and former head coaches who ultimately took jobs elsewhere. Former St. Louis and New Orleans coach Jim Haslett also has interviewed.
Whoever is Green Bay's defensive coordinator in 2009 will be no less than its third choice for the job.
That's one way of looking at Thursday's news that Gregg Williams has agreed to join the New Orleans Saints. Williams and former San Francisco coach Mike Nolan were the first two known candidates for the Packers' open position and are believed to have been the first two interviewed. But Nolan decided to join new Denver coach Josh McDaniels, while Williams was long rumored to favor the Saints.
The Packers have also interviewed St. Louis interim coach Jim Haslett, who is a finalist for the Rams' permanent head coaching job. A fourth candidate could be Philadelphia defensive backs coach Sean McDermott, who won't be eligible to interview before next week at the earliest. There is also no guarantee that the Eagles will let McDermott out of his contract in order to join the Packers.
The Packers' ultimate fallback plan likely is assistant head coach/linebackers Winston Moss, whose agent has relayed his interest in the job. The Packers' decision to interview outside candidates could be viewed as due diligence, but more likely it is a sign that coach Mike McCarthy does not consider him a top option.
With Williams officially out of the picture, this process could go in a few different directions. If McCarthy values Moss over Haslett and doesn't want to wait for McDermott, you can expect a quick resolution. But if the search extends into the weekend, it'll be reasonable to assume that McCarthy is waiting on Haslett and/or McDermott.
Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy apparently has taken an in important step in re-assembling his coaching staff, selecting Shawn Slocum as his next special teams coordinator. Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has the story.
Slocum was the assistant to former special teams coordinator Mike Stock, who announced his retirement earlier this month. At least two other outside candidates interviewed: Kansas City special teams coach Mike Priefer and former San Francisco special teams coach Larry MacDuff.
Now McCarthy can turn his full attention to hiring a defensive coordinator. Tuesday, Jim Haslett became the third known candidate to interview for the job. Following the decision of Mike Nolan to join Denver and the apparent desire of Gregg Williams to return to Tennessee or go to New Orleans, Haslett might be the Packers' top candidate at this point. He is also a finalist for the St. Louis Rams' head coaching job.
Another possibility is Philadelphia defensive backs coach Sean McDermott.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times believes Bears coach Lovie Smith is trying too hard to protect defensive coordinator Bob Babich. (Babich will retain his title while Smith will call the defensive signals.) Writes Mulligan: "Noble as his desire may be to cover up for his friend Babich, the loyalty he's showing one man is disloyal to all others in the organization. How did his bosses ever sign off on this idea? Are they looking to get rid of Smith?"
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune supports Smith's decision to take a more active role in the defense: "In putting defensive play-calling back on the table for himself, Smith did what good leaders do. He played to his staff's strengths while removing any doubt or ambiguity as to whom should be held accountable if the defense fails."
- During his Tuesday conference call, Smith also reiterated his support for Kyle Orton as the 2009 starter, according to Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald. Smith suggested that comments from general manager Jerry Angelo on the position were intended to address the need for a replacement to backup Rex Grossman, a pending free agent.
- During a news conference with Detroit reporters, Miami assistant head coach/defensive backs Todd Bowles said he would follow a structure set by longtime mentor Bill Parcells if the Lions hire him as head coach. That includes a desire for the 3-4 defense. Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press has details.
- Minnesota defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was in Los Angeles on Tuesday to continue interviews for the St. Louis head coaching job, according to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune. Frazier is scheduled to return to Detroit on Thursday for a second interview.
Green Bay assistant head coach/linebackers Winston Moss interviewed Monday for the Oakland Raiders' head coaching job, according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It was Moss' second interview of the offseason.
Moss is generally considered a young but promising candidate. He apparently did not make the final round for the St. Louis Rams' open job, but the unpredictability of Raiders owner Al Davis make Moss as likely as anyone else to get the Raiders job.
Oakland was initially interested in interviewing Moss to be their defensive coordinator. Moss' agent, Jack Bechta, told the Journal Sentinel that Moss is interested in the Packers' defensive coordinator job as well. But at the very least, it appears Moss is not the first choice of coach Mike McCarthy.
If he were, it's likely Moss would have been promoted already. Instead, the Packers have interviewed Mike Nolan and Gregg Williams for the job and might be waiting on Philadelphia defensive backs coach Sean McDermott, who is not eligible to take the job until after the Eagles' season is over. The Packers likely will reject overtures from other teams interested in Moss as their defensive coordinator, essentially making him their fallback choice.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Williams, who has received interest from Houston, New Orleans and the Packers, likely will wait to see if Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz leaves the Titans before making a decision. If Schwartz leaves, Williams could replace him, according to Tom Silverstein of the Journal Sentinel.
- Former Chicago special teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo, now with Baltimore, had some interesting comments on WMVP-AM in Chicago on Monday, according to Carol Slezak of the Chicago-Sun-Times. Among them: "We had a great team when I was in Chicago. I loved, loved, loved my teammates in Chicago, but something was missing. Maybe we were a bit too cool in Chicago. Or we just didn't give it our hearts and soul. Whereas here, with [middle linebacker] Ray Lewis being that emotional leader and as spiritual as he is, it takes us over the top with that emotional advantage we have over every other team on Sundays.''
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune argues that the Bears would be wrong to base their 2009 season upon upgrading at quarterback. Defense, not quarterback play, have been the key to the 2008 playoffs, Haugh writes.
- Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com recounts Schwartz's day in Detroit. The Lions are expected to conduct at least three more interviews before making a final decision on their next head coach.
- Minnesota defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will be in Los Angeles on Tuesday to meet with the Rams' ownership group. Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune sets up the day. Frazier is one of five finalists for the Rams' job.
Green Bay apparently has missed out on its top candidate to replace defensive coordinator Bob Sanders.
Mike Nolan, the first known candidate to interview for the job last week, will be hired as Denver's defensive coordinator under new coach Josh McDaniels, according to Adam Schefter of NFL.com. That means that Packers will shift their attention to former Jacksonville defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who also interviewed with Packers coach Mike McCarthy and likely is weighing offers from other teams as well.
According to Greg A. Bedard and Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Packers are also considering Philadelphia defensive backs coach Sean McDermott, who cannot be hired until after the Eagles' season ends.
No one is commenting yet on the Nolan situation. Did he turn down an offer from the Packers? Did McCarthy's interest cool after the interview? The answers to those questions are unknown. All we know for sure is that Nolan won't be the Packers' next defensive coordinator.
Continuing around the NFC North on a manic Monday:
- Interesting bit of speculation from Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune: The Vikings are not only at risk of losing defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who is a finalist for the head coaching job in St. Louis and also a candidate in Detroit. Special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro is close friends with New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, and Zulgad reports there are many people associated with the Vikings who believe Spagnuolo will try to hire Ferraro if he gets a head coaching job.
- Frazier was the runner-up to McDaniels for the Broncos' job, according to Chris Mortensen of ESPN.
- Detroit linebacker Jordon Dizon will not have a bench warrant issued against him stemming from a drunken driving case in Colorado, according to Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
- Pittsburgh backup quarterback Byron Leftwich has interest in signing with Chicago this offseason, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Welcome to the NFC North's first game-less weekend in five months. (Sniff, sniff.) There are four great playoff matchups scheduled for this weekend, but none involve a Black and Blue team.
As we head into the offseason, we'll maintain a policy of regular blog postings during the week and over the weekend as necessary. NFL offseason news ebbs and flows, so be sure to check regularly for the latest updates on your favorite four teams.
With that in mind, let's take a peek at the morning headlines:
- Former Jacksonville defensive coordinator Gregg Williams interviewed Friday with Green Bay, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Williams' primary competition for the job is former San Francisco coach Mike Nolan. A decision could come as early as this weekend, unless the Packers decide to wait on Philadelphia defensive backs coach Sean McDermott -- who won't be eligible to interview until after the Eagles' season is over.
- The Packers haven't had a first-team All-Pro player in four years, notes Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- A Boulder County (Colorado) judge might issue a bench warrant for Detroit linebacker Jordon Dizon, who might not have shown proof that he completed his required community service as part of a September plea agreement following a drunken driving incident. Here's an Associated Press blurb on the topic.
- John Niyo of the Detroit News speculates Minnesota defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier could be the top candidate for the Lions' head-coaching job.
- It's a two-team race for former Detroit coach Rod Marinelli, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. The Seattle Seahawks have apparently moved on, leaving Houston and Chicago as Marinelli's top suitors.
- Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune wonders if former USC quarterback John David Booty, whom the Vikings drafted in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, could be the next Matt Cassel.
Sorry for the late start here Friday morning. Circumstances prevailed. Such is life.
Topping the NFC North storylines is a piece from Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who reports that Green Bay assistant head coach/linebackers Winston Moss is scheduled to interview with Oakland owner Al Davis for the Raiders' open head coaching job. The meeting, expected to occur in person, likely will happen this weekend.
Moss will be the third known candidate for the Raiders' job, along with New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and Oakland interim coach Tom Cable. (Gilbride interviewed by phone.) Moss played for the Raiders from 1991-94 and is considered a future head coach by many in the NFL. He also has interviewed for St. Louis' vacant head coaching job and is one of two defensive assistants the Packers didn't fire after a 6-10 season.
While Moss is highly regarded, it appears he does not have a strong chance to be the Packers' next defensive coordinator. Coach Mike McCarthy interviewed former San Francisco coach Mike Nolan on Thursday and is also giving consideration to former Jacksonville defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
Continuing around the division:
- If the Packers are serious about Williams, they likely will need to interview him over the weekend, notes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Williams already has interviewed with New Orleans and is being pursued by Houston as well.
- Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com articulates what some in the Bears organization have not: "Moving forward, the Bears need to resuscitate their pass rush and get better play from their secondary."
- Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press writes that it's too early for naming front-runners for the Lions' head coaching job. There are some who believe Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has emerged from the pack, but the Lions haven't finished their first round of interviews yet.
- David Birkett of the Oakland Press believes it's more likely the Lions will hire a coach with a defensive background.
- Minnesota coach Brad Childress and two of his players downplayed a Yahoo.com report that the Vikings' sideline was in "total disarray" during Sunday's wild-card playoff loss to Philadelphia. Chip Scoggins and Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune have their reactions.
- Childress is poised to retain his entire coaching staff unless one of his assistants is offered a promotion elsewhere, writes Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Another prominent former head coach has moved into Green Bay's sights for its open defensive coordinator position. According to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, former Buffalo head coach Gregg Williams -- who spent 2008 as the defensive coordinator in Jacksonville -- is under strong consideration as well.
While Nolan remains the leading candidate for the job, Williams has the résumé and schematic experience the Packers apparently are looking for; he has employed various schemes during his stops in Tennessee, Buffalo, Washington and Jacksonville.
UPDATE (10:30 a.m. ET): ESPN's John Clayton reports Nolan will interview Thursday. No interview with Williams is scheduled as of yet. However, the Packers have set up an interview with at least one other candidate to join their defensive staff: Denver defensive line coach Bill Johnson, who would serve in the same capacity in Green Bay.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- The Packers fired offensive quality control coach Ty Knott, according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Knott is the eighth, and perhaps last, Packers coach to depart this offseason.
- Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press on the decision of Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford to enter the NFL draft: "Stafford didn't realize it when he sat before television cameras in Athens, Ga., Wednesday, but he sadly endorsed his professional football death warrant. When the junior Georgia quarterback declared for the NFL draft, he basically told the Lions, "Take me, I'm yours" -- a submission that, if history serves as an accurate barometer, might cost him his sanity as well as his self-confidence." The Lions hold the draft's No. 1 pick.
- Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News begs the Lions not to take a quarterback with the first pick: "The Lions need a quarterback, sure. They always need a quarterback, although Daunte Culpepper and Dan Orlovsky (if re-signed) are not horrible options. But they do not need to draft one with their hard-earned No. 1 pick. Let me repeat that for the world's most competitively impaired franchise: Do not cave to the oldest crave and gamble on a quarterback at No. 1."
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune believes the Bears offseason overhaul of their defensive position coaches misdirects blame: "As long as the Bears remain committed to [defensive coordinator Bob] Babich and the Cover-2 scheme, and indications are they will continue to be, change will be the enemy. If the Bears report to [training camp] with three new position coaches but Babich still in his current role, even if calling signals becomes a more collaborative effort, then what will be so different really?"
- Minnesota safety Darren Sharper, a pending free agent, believes there is a 50-50 chance he will return to the Vikings in 2009, according to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
- Vikings receiver Sidney Rice caught 15 passes in 2008, down from 31 as a rookie in 2007. Rice blames the drop on a knee injury he suffered in Week 2, according to Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.