The Detroit Lions have hired Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell as their new head coach. Caldwell is a two-time Super Bowl winning assistant coach for the Indianapolis Colts in 2006 and for the Ravens in 2012. He also was the head coach of the Colts in 2009 when they lost to the New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl.
The Lions’ position was left vacant due to the firing of Jim Schwartz, who was let go earlier this month after five seasons with the club. The Schwartz-led Lions had nine games with multiple turnovers in 2013, and in eight of those nine games the Lions had at least three turnovers. Schwartz’s team was a reflection of himself: immature and undisciplined. That is what led to his firing.
In the five-year span that Schwartz was the head coach, the Lions were third in the league in penalty yardage, fifth in giveaways and had only two seasons with less than 30 turnovers. It’s hard to win games when you are beating yourself, but if this team can clean up the blunders the nation has become accustomed to seeing then they are a playoff team.
In Caldwell the Lions have a guy who will clean up all of the careless mistakes. In Caldwell’s three seasons as the Colts head coach, his teams never had more than 30 turnovers in a season. The most turnovers the Colts had was 29, which happened in 2011 when Peyton Manning was sidelined due to a neck injury and the Colts went 2-14.
Caldwell is also a “QB Whisperer,” meaning that he makes quarterbacks better. This is exactly what Detroit needs as Matthew Stafford, the former No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft, needs some work before he is considered a franchise QB. Luckily he has Jim Caldwell who, on top of turning Joe Flacco into a Super Bowl winning quarterback, turned a turnover machine in Peyton Manning into one of the greatest quarterbacks in league history.
When Jim Caldwell arrived in Indianapolis in 2002 to become the quarterbacks coach under Tony Dungy, Manning had already thrown 81 interceptions entering his fifth season in the NFL. In his next season, Peyton threw another 19 to amass his total to an even 100 through his first five years. After a full year with Caldwell, Manning never threw more than 15 interceptions in a season until Caldwell was promoted to head coach in 2009.
Stafford, who just completed his fifth year in the NFL, is considered a turnover machine much like a young Peyton. Stafford’s percentage of interceptions per throw is nearly identical to Manning’s through five years, 2.8 for Stafford and 2.9 for Manning.
The similarities don’t end there, as both of these former No. 1 overall picks from the south seemed to regress after a stellar third season in the NFL. Both experienced drop-offs in QB Rating of more than ten points in their fourth seasons, and both bounced back to have better seasons in their fifth year — though both still had problems with turnovers.
It was in Peyton’s sixth year after a full year of working with Caldwell that he started to finally cut down on his turnovers, throwing only ten in each of the next two years while breaking all sorts of passing records. This is where Stafford will need the most improvement as well. Everyone knows he can throw the ball — he is one of five quarterbacks to amass 5,000 passing yards in a season — but can he be the reason the team wins instead of the reason it loses?
This Lions team has so much talent. Only nine of the 22 starters on last year’s team were not selected in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft. If Caldwell can teach Stafford and the Lions team as a whole to limit turnovers and play smart, sound football, then this team will soon have a shot at bringing its first Lombardi Trophy home to Detroit.