In a recent article written by Ross Tucker on SI.com, Greg Cosell was asked several questions, including two that are very relevant to the Detroit Lions. Cosell is an NFL Films senior producer, the executive producer of the State Farm NFL Matchup Show, and he has been with NFL Films for over 30 years.
You can view the interview in it's entirety here: Ross Tucker Inside the NFL
The first question was about the Matthew Stafford versus Mark Sanchez debate. When asked for his thoughts, he had this to say.
"Stafford. He is a 'wow' thrower, which doesn't automatically mean you are going to be a great NFL quarterback, but that is a nice talent level to start with. He has shown the ability to throw with timing and anticipation.
"His offensive line at Georgia was poor and he showed the ability to make throws with bodies around him. He certainly needs some technique work with his footwork but that is correctable.
"As far as Sanchez is concerned, I like that he plays at a quick tempo but not fast. He has really good feet. But I get really uncomfortable when I keep hearing that a quarterback has 'it' and that is the focus of the discussion surrounding that player. If people are talking about the 'it' factor, they aren't discussing what he actually does on the field.
"Ultimately, I think Sanchez will be a fine NFL quarterback, but I thought Stafford was far and away the best quarterback available."
These comments are refreshing and insightful from someone that is very skilled at breaking down film. Many experts have been caught up with Mark Sanchez and much more time has been spent looking at his pro prospects than Stafford's.
Stafford is a better prospect than Sanchez and there is a very good chance we will see him start early on in his career.
Stafford has the talent and tools to succeed, I don't know if anyone would question that, and he is much smarter than people would like to give him credit for. Perhaps us Lion's fans are better at looking for the reasons a player will fail, since they almost all have?
The next point Cosell makes could be very significant to the Detroit Lions as well. Cosell was asked about schematics and their impact. Essentially, how does a coach influence a team and how important is it?
This is what he had to say:
"I am a big believer that coaching plays a significant role in wins and losses in the NFL. Talent-wise, teams are not that different. Outside of the quarterback position, it very often comes down to coaching, which is primarily playing to your strengths and minimizing your limitations. Some organizations are better than others at utilizing their players and really diagnosing what makes the other team successful. Bill Belichick is really good at that. He has a great feel for the strengths of his own players and taking away the one or two things that the other team does well."
This is a topic that coach Jim Schwartz has addressed multiple times. I have two quotes from Jim Schwartz that go hand in hand with what Cosell is saying.
Here Schwartz is referring to his style:
"You know, that's interesting to hear you say that because that's the way that we approached our defense over the last years. You know, we never said, 'Hey, this is going to be the system,' whether it's a 3-4 or a 4-3 or 'This is the coverage that we're going to play.'
"We never really pigeon-holed ourselves that way because we said, 'We're going to do what the players do best. We're going to try to custom-build this every year and every year it's going to be a little bit different.' It's given us the flexibility to adjust.
"In the division we played in we had Indianapolis, which was a great passing team, a finesse so-to-speak run game; Jacksonville, which was a giant, power-running team; we had to have the ability to be able to change during the season.
"I think the same principles apply here. I've been very fortunate, like I said, to have seen the way that a Bill Belichick has done things, Jeff Fisher, Marvin Lewis when I was in Baltimore, and what it's done is, I'm not ... I've developed my own style so-to-speak and am not married to a quote-blueprint."
Here Schwartz is speaking specifically about the type of defensive schemes he plans to run:
"Whatever the players can do the best, most likely a 4-3. But I think too much is made when people hire head coaches; too much is made of scheme.
"I think the whole idea with coaching in the NFL is: put your players in the best position for them to be successful and it may change a little bit. I'd like to point out one example of that would be Mike Tomlin (who) is going to play for a Super Bowl.
"Mike was a Tampa Two guy. He had come up in Tampa Bay with Monte Kiffin; he had learned that defense (and) he went to Minnesota and he ran that defense. When he became the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, they had a really good 3-4, they had a good defensive coordinator and they had good defensive players that fit that scheme and Mike was smart enough to say, 'You know, this fits them best.' I'd keep that in mind."
Getting the most out players is key. If Schwartz can find a way to maximize the players he has, it should make a major difference on the field. Last year's team was often over matched, out of position, or just generally not able to perform their task at hand.
The defensive linemen were not quick enough to penetrate gaps so they tried to slim down and become quicker. That is a big reason Cory Redding was able to move inside. His quickness was an asset in that defensive scheme.
The new scheme that will be employed by Schwartz is based off of power and size up front. From what we are hearing, the defensive ends will be used to set the edge and funnel things back into the middle while the tackles will be used to collapse the pocket, take on multiple blockers, and fill gaps.
This form of defense leaves holes that are easier to distinguish by the line backing core and they should be free to read and attack the open gap.
With the upgraded line backing core the Lions should be able to use this scheme to play to the strength of the defense. Control gaps and the edge to funnel the action to the strongest part of your defense. Hopefully this puts everyone in a position to succeed.
One adjustment Schwartz is requiring of the defensive linemen is to get bigger and stronger. Many players, like Jared Devries and Ikaika Alama-Francis have been looking to add as much as 20 pounds or more to fit their responsibility more effectively.
This may seem contrary to the idea of fitting them where they fit, as opposed to fitting them where you want them to be regardless, however, neither possess blazing speed so the added pounds are more likely to benefit them. Neither can turn the corner effectively so why not bulk up and be run stoppers and edge setters?
Cliff Avril, the speediest defensive end on the roster has bulked up some too, about six pounds though. He is adding lean mass and strength without the extra bulk. The goal is maintain his speed while getting stronger at the point of attack.
It will be interesting to see how the players respond to the new style, schemes, and weight this season. It will be even more interesting to see if Jim Schwartz can make this team better with his coaching and be Bill Belichick like, using the strengths of his players to get the most from them.
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