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OC History: NFC North

Rotoworld

For this set of articles I’ll be looking at NFL teams, their offensive coordinators and how their coordinating has or might impact their team’s offense and in turn our fantasy expectations. I’ll be using the info compiled by Mr. Jeff Brubach, which tries to look at the last three seasons of a coordinator’s offensive output.

Other divisions so far: NFC West | NFC East | NFC South

Green Bay Packers

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Tom Clements was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator in 2012. Not a bad job to have when Aaron Rodgers is your quarterback. They run a west coast style offense with Rodgers and when Rodgers is healthy they pass around 57% of the time. Last season when Rodgers was hurt, they ran the ball more with their rookie Eddie Lacy and finished ranked 7th in total rushing yards whereas they had finished 20th and 27th the two seasons before. Last season was a convergence of them finally getting a somewhat healthy go to running back and also losing their star quarterback for seven games. In a perfect world they hope to move the ball with Rodgers as their focal point and let Lacy feast on defenses more worried about getting beat through the air unlike last season when teams knew Lacy was going to get the ball, a lot.

Rodgers has been an elite quarterback for a while now and that isn’t going to change this season, especially if Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Jarrett Boykin can stay healthy. When healthy Rodgers is a top three fantasy quarterback without fail.

Of course the problem recently has been injuries to receivers and Rodgers himself. Nelson was injured in 2012 and Rodgers, Cobb and Jermichael Finley were injured much of 2013.  And this offense easily allows for three receivers to put up good fantasy numbers on a weekly basis. In ’11 there were four receivers that topped five touchdown receptions while the tight end Finley had eight. In ’12 the top three receivers topped seven touchdowns each and 745 yards each. And last season, even with Rodgers out for a big chunk, the top three receivers topped 681 yards, with Nelson going over 1300. Of course the touchdowns declined without Rodgers, but thankfully he is back. Assuming health this gives high ceilings to Nelson, Cobb and Boykin, especially without a dynamic tight end to take away many looks.

Eddie Lacy rushed for 11 touchdowns last season, which is more than the total amount of rushing touchdowns Packers’ running backs had total in the two previous seasons. They had TWO in ’11. TWO. And that came with Lacy facing stacked boxes for many of those games. This season we can expect a bit more passing from Green Bay, but that shouldn’t stifle Lacy much as he’ll have more room to run and plenty of goal line chances. He also had 35 receptions last season and that number should rise with a healthy Rodgers. Health really is the only thing that could derail this offense in 2014.

Chicago Bears

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Like the Packers, the Bears lost their star quarterback for a decent amount of time, but backup Josh McCown didn’t miss a beat as far as offensive output. This was Marc Trestman’s first season back in the NFL since he was with the Raiders in 2003, where he had mixed results, but when his offense was on, like it was in 2002, it led the league in passing. And last season he, like McCown, didn’t miss a beat as the Bears finished second in total points scored and fifth in passing touchdowns and total yards.

If you add Josh McCown and Jay Cutler’s stats together you get 4,281 yards, 32 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. That would put Jay McCown squarely in the top five fantasy quarterbacks for last year.  If Cutler could have done that on his own, we would have had ourselves a guy going in the top 10 of ADP rather than 14th.  Of course injuries have been a big problem for Cutler, so that is factored into his ADP somewhat, but we can see the upside is there in this offense.

In 2012 we saw Brandon Marshall get an insane number of targets in what was an extremely telegraphed offense in that regard. Trestman kept up the passing, but the emergence of Alshon Jeffrey allowed both Marshall and Jeffrey to shine, with both gaining over 1294 yards and scoring a total of 19 touchdowns. There wasn’t much room for a third wide receiver with tight end Martellus Bennett and running back Matt Forte combining for over 1350 yards receiving.

Going into last season the talk about Trestman’s offense from the good old days was his proclivity of passing to running backs. So the PPR hype for Matt Forte was out of this world, and amazingly he ended up catching 74 passes for 594 yards and three touchdowns, while also rushing 289 times for 1339 yards and nine touchdowns. Trestman’s offense is perfect for the multi-talented Forte and it looks like age or injury or both will be the only things that could slow him down in this offense now.

Bennett saw 89 targets last season, which puts him around eighth for tight ends. That’s a respectable number when you consider the huge volume Forte, Marshall and Jeffery get in this offense.  He finished as the tenth best fantasy tight end and it’s pretty safe to put him in that 8-10 area this season.

Detroit Lions

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The Lions hired head coach Jim Caldwell, who was the offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens the last two seasons and the Saints quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi to be their offensive coordinator. Lombardi was also the “offensive assistant” before becoming the quarterbacks coach, so has an intimate knowledge of Sean Payton’s system, a system that set many passing records.

In many ways the transition from the Saints to the Lions will be smooth(ish), with running backs who can catch the ball and an offense used to passing a lot, but there will also be a big drop off from Drew Brees to Matthew Stafford, especially in the realm of accuracy. Brees has a career 66% completion percentage compared to Stafford’s 59.5%, and this is where Lombardi should be able to help Stafford. A more spread out offense and a focus on fundamentals should allow Stafford to have his best completion percentage season to date.

Over the last three seasons the Saints have been first or second in passing yardage and have thrown an average of 63% of the time. Matthew Stafford has plenty of experience throwing the ball many, many times, but a large percentage of those passes went to one Mr. Calvin Johnson. Lombardi should help him spread the ball around much more effectively. Last year Brees completed 446 passes; 86 to Jimmy Graham, 77 Pierre Thomas, 75 Marques Colston, 71 to Darren Sproles, 37 to Lance Moore and 32 to Kenny Stills.  And you will see this from Drew Brees in every game. Even with Jimmy Graham as his main target, he never will focus in on him as much as Stafford has focused on Calvin Johnson throughout his career. Does this mean Johnson will see less targets? I can’t really see how not, but he surely will see less defenders, plus the acquisition of Golden Tate and rookie tight end Eric Ebron added to Joique Bell and Reggie Bush, should fit Lombardi’s scheme well, which will help production, as in scoring touchdowns.

The Lions put up quite a few yards, but the Saints have been much more productive. Over the last three seasons the Lions had 43 more rushing/passing attempts than the Saints, but 29 less touchdowns. Lombardi should be able to make them a more efficient offense.

Of course that efficiency starts with Stafford. I’ve already talked about his completion percentage, but he has shown us, at least in 2011, that he does have the ability to be extremely productive and he completed 63.5% of his passes for over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns. Those are getting mighty close to Breesian. Of course, the last two seasons were fall-offs in every category.  And that’s where Lombardi comes in.  We know Stafford will still get his 650 attempts, which sets him up for good fantasy numbers even if he’s not playing great, but the new offense gives him an upside that harkens back to his 2011 season.

Right now the top two wide receivers are strong, with the superhero Calvin Johnson and the versatile Golden Tate, but the third receiver has yet to step up. That spot may be somewhat of a rotating position, so unless someone really manhandles the job, it looks like Tate and Johnson will get the most wide receiver targets funneled their way. Lance Moore, as the #2 WR in New Orleans put up good numbers in his only 16 game season with 1041 yards and six touchdowns. Of course, this was with Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham ahead of him in the pecking order. With rookie Eric Ebron at tight end, Tate could be in line for a higher ceiling than Moore’s.

Ebron of course isn’t Jimmy Graham, but wherever the talent lies is where this offense accentuates. If Ebron were to prove his ability, he has a shot in this offense. Of course they also have Brandon Pettigrew and Big Joe Fauria, but Ebron has more tools and a higher upside. We know the offense didn’t make Jimmy Graham. It was a combination of his amazing ability and an extremely productive offense that keeps teams on their heels.

Last, but certainly not least are the running backs. Last season Detroit put together great running back numbers with the duo of Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, especially in the receiving game, where each topped 50 receptions and 500 yards. But amazingly the Saints topped even those numbers with Sproles and Thomas who topped 70 receptions each, 1100 total yards and five touchdowns. Over the last three seasons the Saints lead the league in running back targets while the Lions rank fourth. That doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but the Saints targeted running backs 591 times to the Lions’ 416 times and had close to 1000 more yards and 15 more receiving touchdowns. The Saints also had 36 more rushing attempts during that period and 587 more rushing yards. This is all very good news for Bush and Bell, who should once again both have plenty of overall opportunities to put up numbers.

Will the Lions be able to match the Saints’ numbers? That would be a tough task for any team, but they are in a better position with Lombardi to be much more efficient and in turn more consistent. In yearlong leagues that is a key piece of the puzzle.

Minnesota Vikings

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Welcome Mr. Norval Turner to team number three in the last three years. Does that mean he’s no good? Nah, he has his deficiencies as a head coach, but as an offensive coordinator he can get the job done. Just think, we were all streaming Brian Hoyer last season and Josh Gordon was putting up insane numbers when he had absolutely nobody to take coverage away from him. Turner now gets one of the greatest running backs of all time to work with and we know what he’s done in the past with one Mr. Emmitt Smith and Mr. LaDainian Tomlinson. He even got Terry Allen to 1353 yards and 21 touchdowns with Gus Frerotte at quarterback in Washington. So yes, he knows how to get the best out of his running backs (unless they are 75 year old Willis McGahee).

This Vikings team is all over the map. They have Peterson, who is still a top back, Greg Jennings, who is past his prime, Cordarrelle Patterson, who is a playmaker to be sure, but still raw, Kyle Rudolph, who should be primed for a big year, but has had little help in the quarterback department so far and a quarterback to be named later with Matt Cassel probably the starter Week one, but first round pick Terry Bridgewater more than likely starting sooner than later. That truly makes Adrian Peterson the only stable player on the team.

Peterson is 29 years old and coming off a year where he wasn’t quite as good as he’s raised our expectations.  But if you are going to bet on him to put together another huge season, then Turner is the coordinator to bet on. He’s already said he wants to pass the ball more to Peterson. Peterson’s biggest reception total was 43 in 2009 and he has averaged just 22.9 each season. In the meantime in ’11 Turner gave Ryan Mathews, Mike Tolbert and Curtis Brinkley 111 receptions, with Tolbert and Mathews topping 50. In ’12 Ronnie Brown had 49, Mathews had 39 and Jackie Battle had 15. And last year with a dearth of running backs in Cleveland, Chris Ogbonnaya still managed 48 receptions. Peterson may not be the great Ronnie Brown, but I think he can manage his high in receptions this season without any trouble.

The passing game beyond Peterson will be tougher to get a handle on. We saw what he did with Gordon last year, even with a so-so quarterback, so I’m not completely dismissing Jennings or Patterson, we just know that there will be trouble at the quarterback position and that usually means inconsistency for the outside wide receivers. If Patterson were a more seasoned route runner I would be much more willing to believe Turner could turn him into Gordon 2.0, but that has yet to be seen and unlike in Cleveland where Gordon and Jordan Cameron were the only offense, the Vikings have Peterson and Kyle Rudolph, two positions Turner has used well in his day.

Rudolph is talented and it showed in 2012 when he scored nine touchdowns on 53 receptions. And then last year he was on pace for 60 receptions and six touchdowns when he was injured. Not great numbers, but okay. This year we will look for a big jump for Rudolph based on Turner’s presence. We’ve seen what he did with Antonio Gates and then Jordan Cameron last year. Gates led the Chargers in receptions every year he wasn’t injured and some years when he was. With a question mark at quarterback it’s hard not to believe Peterson and Rudolph will be the workhorses of the offense, while Jennings will be the reliable outside receiver and Patterson the wildcard to keep teams off balance.

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