32 to 1: Caldwell-Stafford relationship is key for No. 22 Lions

BY Peter Schrager • July 11, 2014

It was Week 15 of the 2012 season and the Baltimore Ravens were in the midst of their worst losing streak since John Harbaugh took over as head coach in 2008. Looking for a spark to an anemic offense, Harbaugh made the gutsy decision to fire his dear friend and longtime offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, and handed playcalling duties over to assistant Jim Caldwell.

The Ravens lost that first game with Caldwell calling the shots, a 34-17 defeat to the Broncos, but the spark was, indeed, lit. Baltimore went on to win four of its next five games en route to hoisting the franchise's second Lombardi Trophy in February. 

Quarterback Joe Flacco tossed 15 touchdown passes and just one interception after 

Caldwell took over the offense. Flacco outplayed Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick in consecutive games on Baltimore's Super Bowl run. 

Caldwell, Detroit's new head coach, might not be the league's most recognizable face, but he certainly has a way with quarterbacks. The Lions are hoping he can be the fixer-upper for Matt Stafford that he was with Flacco. Now entering his sixth NFL season, the Lions' franchise quarterback has provided both flashes of brilliance and moments of frustration during his time in Detroit. The Caldwell-Stafford relationship will be paramount to the success of the 2014 Lions.

Stafford will be aided by a host of additional offensive weapons. First-round pick Eric Ebron has the size of Jimmy Graham and the speed of a running back. He is an immediate upgrade at tight end. Free-agent acquisition Golden Tate joins Calvin Johnson in what should be the best wide receiver tandem of Stafford's career. Running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell are both healthy and coming off big offensive seasons. The offensive line was better than expected last year and should be even more improved in 2014. 

Defense, as it often is, will be the biggest question mark in Detroit. Both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are entering the final year of their current contract, and the expected starting cornerbacks are unproven youngsters Bill Bentley and Darius Slay. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin -- beloved by players in Baltimore -- has a big challenge ahead but could be just what was needed in the Motor City. 

There are both question marks and high hopes for the 2014 Lions. A group of fresh faces--on the field and on the sideline -- is expected to help the team reach its potential.

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