|Tim Heitman/US Presswire|
|Jim Schwartz and the Lions are off to a 2-0 start heading into Sunday's game in Minnesota.|
The NFL Network's "A Football Life: Bill Belichick" documentary that aired the past two Thursdays was as much of an inside look at the Patriots leader as a coach and person as anyone could ever hope to see. The show made me reminisce about our time together in Cleveland and how he tried to rebuild the Browns during his stint as head coach from 1991-95.
In Cleveland, we developed a system of building and developing a team, from players and coaches to scouts and anyone involved in football operations. We called this system "The Program" and spent five years working out every single detail. The end result was not what we wanted, but the lessons Belichick learned in Cleveland have clearly benefited the Patriots.
We were always looking for young talent on and off the field to develop in The Program. What we wanted throughout the entire organization were young, highly motivated, intelligent people, willing to work 20 hours a day, for little or no money.
At a coaching convention in Atlanta, we met a young coach from Catholic University named Jim Schwartz. He graduated in the top of his class at Georgetown, majoring in economics, and was not scared about the required workload. After a few minutes, we told Schwartz we would fly him to Cleveland to go through the formal interview but made no promises he would be hired. The formal interview was not typical. It required the applicant to take a serious of tests -- some football, some mental and some psychological. When Schwartz was done, his tests were sent off to be evaluated. When the results of the psychological part came back, the evaluator said: "Don't let him out of the building. He will be the best you ever hired." So we hired him, and those results ended up being completely accurate.
Schwartz was an incredible worker. He was curious, highly intelligent and willing to do whatever was needed to help the team. He also brought his own style to the job. He was not looking to be a clone, but rather learn from Belichick and develop his own style within that framework.
Schwartz first worked in personnel, then eventually went into coaching. He had great success as defensive coordinator in Tennessee and is now able to run his own program in Detroit. Three years after taking over a winless team, Schwartz now has a group that looks like a real playoff contender. The Lions score points at a rapid rate, they rush the passer extremely well and they dominate the line of scrimmage. Teams that do all three well usually make the playoffs.
Besides having a healthy Matthew Stafford, the difference between this year's group and any other Lions team is their speed on defense. The Lions play fast, they play hard, they tackle well and even if they make a mistake, they know their offense can score and overcome any deficit. And the Lions haven't come close to playing their best football yet. They are not overachieving at 2-0, but still have much more room to improve.
The Lions travel to Minnesota on Sunday for the 100th battle between these two teams. Detroit has not won in Minnesota in the past 13 years, but Schwartz's Lions are much different, because instead of hoping to win Sunday, they expect it. Schwartz has much in common with Belichick, from intelligence to preparation, to willingness to listen and grow, as well as his understanding of what it takes to win at the highest level. Sometime soon, Schwartz might have the same success as Belichick.
The First 15
1. As I mentioned in Monday's column, Seattle is hard for me to watch on tape because its talent level is poor and the team is in transition. In fairness to the Seahawks, their plan is to get younger, develop players and rebuild the foundation of the team. Part of that foundation won't include linebacker Aaron Curry, the fourth overall pick in 2009. He was demoted to the second team this week for poor play. If Curry can't start for this team, you have to wonder what team he could start for.
2. I keep saying and writing that the Ravens, even with Lee Evans, are a really slow offensive team. Watching them play the Titans, it appears to me when receiver Anquan Boldin is on the field with Evans, as well as two running backs, they are essentially in a two tight end set. Boldin cannot run well, and he needs to be matched up on smaller corners. The Ravens need to limit Boldin's time on the field in the base offense, or else the team will continue to be slow.
3. Cardinals running back Beanie Wells pulled his hamstring this week in practice and is iffy for the game this weekend in Seattle. Before the pull, Wells looked as good on tape as any back I have seen this year. He has great size, shows speed to get the edge and is now running with power. The Cards offense is limited up front in their offensive line, which makes it hard to be consistent on offense. But Wells has finally looked like the back they thought he would be when they drafted him in the first round.
4. The Rams are 8-26 since the start of the 2009 season, but with Sam Bradford at quarterback they have a chance to turn it around quickly. It starts, however, with the Rams needing to do a better job of protecting him, especially from the right tackle position. Jason Smith, the second overall pick in 2009, has not played well and needs to step up his game. In Steven Jackson's absence, Cadillac Williams has not been able to carry the load. The good thing for the Rams is that the division has no good teams and 7-9 might win it again, but they need to get it turned around soon.
5. The Redskins offense has looked really good, and tight end Fred Davis has been playing at a Pro Bowl level. He has 11 catches already (after just 21 last season) and has made really clutch plays. His talents include being able to block at the point of attack, but he really shines running down the field and challenging the defense. With Davis and receivers Anthony Armstrong, Jabar Gaffney, and Santana Moss, the Redskins have some serious weapons. But...
6. ... The Redskins are still an elite running back away from being a dominant offense. Tim Hightower and Roy Helu have had some success, but some of the holes they have had to run through should produce much more. Both get the yards that the play is blocked for, but not much after.
7. The Patriots dynamic tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez reminds me of what Bill Parcells once told Phil Simms about Mark Bavaro: "Even when he is covered he is open." Gronkowski is a faster Bavaro, and Hernandez is playing like a better Dallas Clark. Both players are tough matchups for defenses, not because of their speed but more for their size and ability to catch the ball in a crowd. Don't forget: covered is open.
8. Bill Walsh hated drafting receivers high unless he felt his team had no weaknesses. That has stuck with me, and I also hate drafting them in the first round because too often teams can find gems in the later rounds. Look at the Raiders. They draft Darrius Heyward-Bey in the top 10, yet their two best receivers are Jacoby Ford (fourth round) and Denarius Moore (fifth). Both are fast, explosive and can make plays all over field.
9. The ball may never hit the ground in New Orleans this week, as two of the most accurate passers in the league -- Matt Schaub and Drew Brees -- face off. These teams met in the preseason and neither did anything complicated with their scheme, so this will be a true chess match. This is a game the Texans need to win if they are going to be considered an elite team in the league.
10. One reason for all the passing yards this year is wide receivers are no longer worried about coming inside to make a catch. Receivers are protected from being hit inside on the seams, so they are more willing than ever. Jack Tatum might not have been able to play today.
11. Eagles spent big money to sign Nnamdi Asomugha at corner and traded for Dominique Rogers-Cromartie to play with Asante Samuel. All three are really good, but the Eagles are so bad at linebacker and safety that opposing offenses don't have to worry about making a play on the outside, as there are enough yards to gain attacking the middle of the field. The Eagles need to address both areas of concern before they turn their defense around. The Giants must control the ball Sunday to break the six-game losing streak to the Birds.
12. The Jets have struggled to run the ball to start 2011. They're tied for 27th in yards per attempt and are 28th with just 146 total rushing yards. So much for running to win. With Wayne Hunter not playing well at right tackle and new center Colin Baxter at center, the Jets offensive line is not playing at the highest level. They will have a hard time handling the Raiders front.
13. Browns quarterback Colt McCoy is only 9 of 33 for his career in throws over 20 yards. McCoy lives on short passes and eventually will have to be able to drive the ball down the field at a better percentage. Teams will clamp down on his short throws and make him prove he can win outside the numbers down the field.
14. The early returns are decent for the Falcons, who drafted receiver Julio Jones to help improve their offense with more explosive plays. After two games, the Falcons are tied for 20th this year with seven plays over 20 yards, an improvement over last season's 32nd ranking. But they have allowed 61 points already, which indicates their defense is not as good as they think. In 2010, they only allowed 30 points twice; this year, it has happened in both games.
15. Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert loves to be in shotgun, scanning the field and making throws. The Jaguars are at their best on offense when the quarterback is under center and they run the ball with Maurice Jones-Drew. It will take time for Gabbert to be successful, unless the Jags do what the Panthers have done for Cam Newton -- allow him to be in an offense that matches his talent level. The Jaguars-Panthers game will be fun to watch.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi