NFL Coaching and Philosophy Changes

Posted by Steve on June, 27th 2013

FootballGuys

The staff at FootballGuys.com offers a detailed report on all of the NFL coaching changes for the upcoming 2013 season, and how the change in philosophies can effect player performance.

 

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There is only one constant in the NFL, and that’s change. For the third consecutive year, 25% of the league’s teams will enter the season with different head coaches — and that doesn’t include Sean Payton, who returns to the head coaching ranks after a one-year suspension. Seven of the eight new head coaching hires are from the offensive side of the ball, emphasizing the NFL’s continued transition to an offensive-friendly environment. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars opted to hire from the defensive side of the ball (Gus Bradley).

 

As if that weren’t enough change, consider that 27 of the league’s 64 offensive and defensive coordinators were replaced. Including the head coaching changes, 37% of the NFL’s most important coaching positions are different from a season ago. Thinking about this another way, there are only 13 teams that return the same head coach, offensive and defensive coordinators:

 

 

The NFL is both a cyclical league and one prone to copy cats. When something works for a team, you can be sure other teams will look to duplicate that success; and it doesn’t always work. Not every iteration of the West Coast offense enjoyed the success of the Bill Walsh 49ers. Not every version of Dick LeBeau’s zone-blitz stopped opposing quarterbacks. With that in mind, today’s trends including the zone-read, spread attacks and no huddle approaches will have a mix of successes and failures. That’s the very nature of the league as success only comes with the confluence of great coaching, great players and health.

 

Below we detail each team’s major coaching changes and the schematic implications of those hires. As always, we will continue to update our views throughout the year as more information is made available in training camp and the preseason.


 

Arizona Cardinals

 

  • Head Coach: Bruce Arians (replaces Ken Whisenhunt)
  • Offensive Coordinator: Harold Goodwin (replaces Mike Miller)
  • Defensive Coordinator: Todd Bowles (replaces Ray Horton)

 

What to expect on offense:

 

Bruce Arians parlayed an inspired season as the Colts interim head coach into his first NFL head coaching job, and will be tasked with improving an offense that ranked dead last in yards (4,209) and 31st in points (250). In an ironic twist, Arians (who will call the plays) is from the same coaching tree as Ken Whisenhunt — the man Arians is replacing. In fact, Arians coached under Whisenhunt in Pittsburgh before taking over as the Steelers OC when Whisenhunt took the Cardinals job.

 

Arians’ offensive philosophy is one defined by simplicity, this isn’t going to be an offense meant to fool opposing defenses. The Cardinals will try to win by executing the plays called and leveraging the mismatches Arians’ spread formations create. The passing attack is designed to spread out opposing defenses at the line of scrimmage and allow receivers a clean break. One of Arians’ strengths as a play-caller is his ability to break zone coverages by stretching defenses both vertically and horizontally (through crossing routes and comebacks). We’ll see the Cardinals line up in multiple formations, including empty backfield, 4-wide, 3-wide and 2-TE sets. Bunch formations (where a number of eligible receivers line up right next to each other) are a common part of Arians’ game plan. Expect the Cardinals to take a handful shots downfield each game, and new QB Carson Palmer seems well suited to execute the aggressive downfield approach. Larry Fitzgerald and the other wide receivers will see plenty of opportunities to make 20+ yard plays downfield.

 

The running game will only be as good as the offensive line and stable of backs allow, and Arians’ resume as a play-caller is far more accomplished in terms of the passing attack than it has been establishing the run. One thing is clear, the Cardinals backs will not be all-purpose fantasy producers. Arians expects his running backs to run and pass protect, and views throwing to the RBs as an outlet of last resort.

 

What to expect on defense:

 

Todd Bowles was a rising star after a strong showing as the interim head coach in Miami in the final weeks of 2011, but the wheels seemingly fell off last year in Philadelphia. Bowles joined the Eagles as the secondary coach, but replaced embattled Luis Castillo mid-year as defensive coordinator. The results were disastrous (the Eagles allowed 30+ points per game under his watch), but the Cardinals brass believe Bowles was a victim of circumstance, and eagerly named him defensive coordinator in place of Ray Horton.

 

Bowles will maintain a 3-4 defensive front, but wants the ends (Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell) to be more aggressive. Horton wanted his ends to focus on stopping the run and playing containment first and foremost, allowing the linebackers to flow to the ball. Bowles wants the ends to get upfield, and be playmakers in their own right. Bowles has spent most of his coaching career in charge of NFL secondaries, and favors aggressive man coverage, which should be possible in Arizona thanks to the emergence of CB Patrick Peterson.


 

Baltimore Ravens

 

  • Head Coach: John Harbaugh
  • Offensive Coordinator: Jim Caldwell (replaces Cam Cameron)
  • Defensive Coordinator: Dean Pees

 

What to expect on offense: 

 

The Ravens were on their way to another playoff run last year when head coach John Harbaugh fired OC Cam Cameron, and elevated Jim Caldwell to the position with just three weeks left in the regular season. The controversial move now looks like a stroke of genius as Caldwell’s approach unlocked the best in QB Joe Flacco and RBs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. It was the Ravens offensive turnaround that sparked their run to another Super Bowl title; a run that was personified by otherworldly numbers from Flacco. In the 13 games under Cam Cameron, the Ravens averaged just 344 yards but generated more than 400 yards under Caldwell.

 

Nothing has changed in terms of base formations, terminology or cadence. What has changed is Caldwell’s approach; most importantly his willingness to trust Flacco to make plays and audible when the situation calls for it. Schematically the Ravens remain a power running team that looks to take shots downfield periodically while working short and intermediate routes off play-action. If the Ravens offensive explosion under Caldwell wasn’t a fluke — and why would it be — we should see a balanced attack that spreads the ball around, emphasizes the run, and tries to dictate time of possession.


 

Buffalo Bills

 

  • Head Coach: Doug Marrone (replaces Chan Gailey)
  • Offensive Coordinator: Nathaniel Hackett (replaces Curtis Modkins)
  • Defensive Coordinator: Mike Pettine (replaces Dave Wannstedt)

 

What to expect on offense:

 

New head coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett are looking to install an up-tempo offense that is more about pace and mismatches than any one overarching philosophy. At Syracuse, Marrone and Hackett implemented a fast paced (often no huddle) attack that asked the quarterback to make pre-snap reads and put the ball in the optimum playmaker’s hands based on what the defense was showing. That will be the same approach in Buffalo, although Marrone has made it clear his plan is to build an offense around the skills of the players, not force the players to fit into his scheme.

 

It’s difficult to pigeon hole Marrone’s scheme because he’s a student of the game that’s tried to take pieces from a variety of classic approaches. Ultimately, if things go well, Marrone’s offense will most closely resemble that of his former boss Sean Payton. We could see dozens of different formations and personnel groupings from the Bills in a given game, and the Bills will look to disguise their intentions by running the same plays out of different formations.

 

With a new quarterback under center (either veteran Kevin Kolb or rookie EJ Manuel), it’s unclear whether we’ll see the full implementation of Marrone’s long-term plans in 2013. We can be sure that Buffalo will make use of its running backs, particularly C.J. Spiller — as playmakers inside, outside and in the receiving game. At the risk of sounding redundant, the key expectations for the Bills this year will be variety, misdirection, and tempo.

 

What to expect on defense: 

 

Mike Pettine was Rex Ryan’s defensive coordinator in New York for the last four years, and will now have the opportunity to put his own stamp on his former division rival Bills. Versatility is the name of the game, as Pettine wants his players to be comfortable playing different roles. Schematically, the Bills are going to vary their looks more than anyone in the league. Pettine said the Bills will use a nickel formation as the baseline defense, but will move interchangeably from 4-3, 3-4 and even 5-2 defensive fronts. He’s also promised that his defensive backs will play both man and zone interchangeably. While versatility certainly has theoretical appeal, there is a concern that players will be overwhelmed by the complexities of such a diverse defensive approach. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if Buffalo’s defense struggles early only to build cohesion as the roster gains experience in Pettine’s unique approach.


 

Carolina Panthers

 

  • Head Coach: Ron Rivera
  • Offensive Coordinator: Mike Shula (replaces Rob Chudzinski)
  • Defensive Coordinator: Sean McDermott

 

What to expect on offense:

 

Mike Shula last called plays in the NFL in 1999, his final season coaching under Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay. Since then Shula is better known as the guy who preceded Nick Saban at the University of Alabama and less for his abilities as an NFL offensive difference maker. In spite of his limited recent experience, the Panthers quickly promoted Shula to offensive coordinator after Rob Chudzinski accepted the Cleveland Browns head coaching vacancy. Shula served as the Panthers QB coach in 2011-2012, and it was his relationship with and tutelage of Cam Newton that made him the obvious choice for the OC position.

 

Schematically Shula is keeping the foundation of Chudzinski’s offense in place, but in an effort to expedite the pace he has simplified the terminology. By doing so, Cam Newton can get in and out of the huddle far faster and the Panthers can try to dictate tempo in a way that was impossible a season ago. Cam Newton explained in a recent interview, “Twins Right, Key Left, 631 Smash M sounds completely different than Twins Right Tampa…It comes out of your mouth faster. You get in the huddle, it’s the same exact play.” Some worry that Shula will be too conservative for today’s NFL, but those criticisms tie back to his approach in the late 90s, and aren’t a fair representation of his approach almost 15 years later.


 

Chicago Bears

 

  • Head Coach: Marc Trestman (replaces Lovie Smith)
  • Offensive Coordinator: Aaron Kromer (replaces Mike Tice)
  • Defensive Coordinator: Mel Tucker (replaces Rod Marinelli)

 

What to expect on offense: 

 

Marc Trestman is one of the more interesting hires of the offseason, having spent the last five seasons in Canada coaching the Montreal Alouettes. In spite of his ‘Northern Exposure’, Trestman is hardly an NFL neophyte. He spent nearly 20 years coaching in the NFL including 8 seasons as an offensive coordinator. Widely regarded as a quarterback guru, Trestman will handle play-calling duties while new offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer will focus on in-week planning and rebuilding an offensive line that left QB Jay Cutler dizzy with pressure.

 

Trestman has a reputation for being meticulous to a fault, as his exacting knowledge requires a similar commitment to detail from his players, particularly the quarterback. The Bears will only succeed if Jay Cutler truly commits to Trestman’s intense approach to game preparation. Schematically Trestman’s system most closely resembles the West Coast offense, and will emphasize accuracy, quick reads and a high completion rate above all else. Paramount to the plan will be keeping Cutler better protected, and that will come in several ways. One, OC Aaron Kromer is bringing the ‘inside out’ blocking approach that works so well in New Orleans. Essentially the onus will be on protecting the interior of the offensive line and relying on the receivers, tight ends and running backs to protect the edges in blitz situations. Two, Jay Cutler will be asked to use more 3- and 5-step drops and get rid of the ball quickly. Three, Cutler will have defined outlet receivers (usually the running backs) to check down if his progressions don’t yield downfield results. That bodes well for Matt Forte, particularly in PPR leagues.

 

What to expect on defense:

 

As much as the Bears are going to gain offensively from the Trestman hiring, they risk losing with the firing of Lovie Smith and his defensive assistants. Smith was a master of the Tampa Cover-2 scheme, and the Bears defense was championship caliber for most of Smith’s coaching tenure. Chicago didn’t come up empty though, hiring Mel Tucker as the new defensive coordinator. While Tucker’s defenses haven’t always been statistically impressive, he’s widely respected around the league and someone that other coaches believe gets the most out of his personnel.

 

Schematically Tucker has opted to maintain the existing system, believing that it’s effective and will allow the players to execute immediately. Initially, expect the same one-gap, 4-3 defensive front with primarily a Cover-2 in the defensive backfield. Over time, Tucker may incorporate other wrinkles including occasional 3-4 fronts, but that will only come as Tucker and his assistants get a better handle on the individual strengths and weaknesses of the players on the roster.


 

Cleveland Browns

 

  • Head Coach: Rob Chudzinski (replaces Pat Shurmur)
  • Offensive Coordinator: Norv Turner (replaces Brad Childress)
  • Defensive Coordinator: Ray Horton (replaces Dick Jauron)

 

What to expect on offense:

 

All due respect to outgoing coaches Pat Shurmur and Brad Childress, but the Browns may have hit the offensive jackpot with the additions of Rob Chudzinksi and Norv Turner. The third time is apparently the charm for Chudzinski, who returns to Cleveland for his third coaching stint, spending a year (2004) as the tight ends coach and then two seasons (2007-2008) as offensive coordinator. Most recently Chudzinksi was credited with Cam Newton’s meteoric rise in his first two seasons in Carolina. The Browns were smart to add a seasoned offensive coordinator in Norv Turner, who should provide a perfect complement to Chudzinski as he faces the challenges of his first season as an NFL head coach. Turner is one of the most respected offensive minds in the league, and many believe he’s far more effective as a coordinator than head coach.

 

Chudzinski is ceding play-calling duties to Turner, although the young head coach plans on having significant input on game day. Both Turner and Chudzinski are from the Don Coryell school of offense, which espouses an aggressive, downfield passing attack (yards in bunches) coupled with a committed, power rushing game. Turner has coached some of the best running backs in modern history, and should be a boon for RB Trent Richardson. QB Brandon Weeden has a lot to prove, but Browns fans are hoping that this system can do for Weeden what it did for journeyman Derek Anderson in 2007. Under Chudzinski’s tutelage, Anderson threw for nearly 4,000 yards and 29 touchdowns, leading the Browns to 10 wins.

 

What to expect on defense:

 

Ray Horton is perceived as a future NFL head coach, and could go a long way in cementing that perception if he can turn around a Browns defense that ranked 19th in points and 23rd in yards allowed. Horton served as the Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator in 2011-2012, and will transfer the same scheme and approach to the Browns. Horton, a former Steelers assistant, is an unabashed disciple of Dick LeBeau’s attacking 3-4 defensive front, using zone blitzes to confuse and harass opposing quarterbacks. There may be growing pains early in the season as the Browns defensive players are being asked to play the polar opposite approach than they were under former DC Dick Jauron; but long-term, Horton’s intensity and style should serve the organization well.


 

Dallas Cowboys

 

  • Head Coach: Jason Garrett
  • Offensive Coordinator: Bill Callahan
  • Defensive Coordinator: Monte Kiffin (replaces Rob Ryan)

 

What to expect on offense:

 

On the surface, little has changed offensively for the Cowboys as Jason Garrett remains the head coach and Bill Callahan remains in place as offensive coordinator. Yet owner Jerry Jones has turned what should be an area of consistency into an area of controversy by publicly naming Callahan as the 2013 play-caller, essentially neutering his team’s head coach in the process. While Jason Garrett has been magnanimous about the whole thing, we’re nervous that Callahan’s newfound power will create divisiveness in a clubhouse that won’t be sure who it’s supposed to follow.

 

In terms of personnel, the Cowboys’ key players all return including QB Tony Romo — who was rewarded with one of the largest contract extensions in NFL history. The system and terminology won’t be any different, but how Callahan approaches the game in terms of in-game adjustments will no doubt run counter to some of the things Garrett espoused. Callahan hasn’t called plays in a decade, but his tenure as the Raiders play-caller led to a Super Bowl appearance and MVP for journeyman Rich Gannon. Callahan has always valued the running back as an offensive conduit, both as a runner and receiver. That bodes well for DeMarco Murray if he can stay healthy. Ultimately whether Callahan is perceived as a better play-caller than Garrett may come down to whether the offensive line can improve on a subpar few seasons.

 

What to expect on defense:

 

Larger changes are afoot defensiveliy for ‘America’s Team’ as the Cowboys jettisoned boisterous Rob Ryan in favor of the venerable Monte Kiffin. Kiffin, widely credited as the architect of the ubiquitous Tampa Cover-2 defensive scheme, returned to the NFL after a number of years coaching alongside his son Lane in the college ranks. Kiffin is joined by Rod Marinelli, his former right hand man in Tampa Bay and now a respected defensive mind in his own right — many believe Marinelli will assume the DC duties in a season or two (Kiffin is 73 years old).

 

The Cowboys defense (24th in points allowed last year) will look completely different this year, starting with the approach up front. Ryan ran a 3-4 defense whereas Kiffin and Marinelli will use a 4-3 front. The Cowboys coaches will expect the defensive line to set the tone, and will rely on pressure from the front four versus consistent blitzing. In the secondary, Kiffin’s hallmark, the Cover-2 will be the baseline approach; calling for the corners to be aggressive at the line of scrimmage while the safeties play deep and control huge chunks of the open field. Kiffin believes in mixing coverages, and will ask the Cowboys corners to play press man coverage as often as they play zone schemes. Sometimes transitioning from a 3-4 to a 4-3 (or vice versa) can take a season or two given the different personnel needs, but the Cowboys have the roster in place to excel in Kiffin’s 4-3 base right from the outset.


 

Denver Broncos

 

  • Head Coach: John Fox
  • Offensive Coordinator: Adam Gase (replaces Mike McCoy)
  • Defensive Coordinator: Jack Del Rio

 

What to expect on offense:

 

The Broncos are coming off a 13-3 season as Peyton Manning led the league completing 69% of his passes for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns against just 11 interceptions. In other words, Peyton Manning was his usual self. In all seriousness, there is much to be said for Manning being the de facto offensive coordinator in Denver, which makes the changeover from Mike McCoy (who took the Chargers head coaching job) to Adam Gase (promoted from quarterbacks coach) seemingly unimportant. Yet, that would be selling Gase short.

 

Gase, just 34 years old (two years Manning’s junior), wants to ride the wave of innovation that started in New England and is also being followed by Chip Kelly and Doug Marrone in Philadelphia and Buffalo, respectively — which is to say Gase believes that the best way to improve on the already-elite offense is through increasing the pace. Gase wants the Broncos to lead the league in plays per game, and that has shown in the Broncos practices throughout the preseason. If successful, it could transform a Top 5 offense into the league’s best.


 

Indianapolis Colts

 

  • Head Coach: Chuck Pagano
  • Offensive Coordinator: Pep Hamilton (replaces Bruce Arians)
  • Defensive Coordinator: Greg Manusky

 

What to expect on offense:

 

One would think that the Colts would be in no rush to change what worked for them in 2012. After all, a team most people thought was rebuilding rallied to 11 wins, a playoff berth, and a coming out party for 1st overall pick Andrew Luck. Yet, underneath the wins were metrics that showed plenty of room for improvement. Indianapolis only ranked 18th in points scored (357) and Luck completed just 54% of his passes under interim head coach Bruce Arians.

 

New offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton is going to implement a very different offense this year, although it will be unmistakably familiar for Andrew Luck as Hamilton was Luck’s play-caller and offensive coordinator at Stanford University. Hamilton is a West Coast offense disciple, and his schemes will call for more efficient short- and intermediate throws with an eye toward dramatically improving Luck’s completion rate and TD-to-INT ratio. Hamilton refers to this offense as the ‘No Coast’ offense, implying that he isn’t beholden to a traditional West Coast approach, yet his history at Stanford says otherwise. Few teams could see as dramatic a shift this year as Indianapolis, and that includes a much bigger role for the running backs, both in terms of carries (the Colts will run more) and receptions (Bruce Arians didn’t believe in throwing to the backs). It also raises the question of whether T.Y. Hilton is going to break out the way many predict, yet argues in favor of continued growth from 2nd year tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener.


 

Jacksonville Jaguars

 

  • Head Coach: Gus Bradley (replaces Mike Mularkey)
  • Offensive Coordinator: Jedd Fisch (replaces Bob Bratkowski)
  • Defensive Coordinator: Bob Babich (replaces Mel Tucker)

 

What to expect on offense:

 

When Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne are your team’s quarterbacks, it might not matter who calls the plays. Of all the coaching changes this offseason, the Jaguars’ hiring of Jedd Fisch is the hardest to handicap. Fisch spent the last two seasons as the offensive coordinator at the University of Miami, but worked together with Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley in Seattle back in 2010. Fisch, only 37 years old, doesn’t have an identifiable philosophy that defines his offensive approach. He’s worked under a variety of coaches ranging from Steve Spurrier to Mike Shanahan to Brian Billick to Pete Carroll.

 

If Fisch’s tenure in Miami is any indication, expect the Jaguars to be a zone-blocking team that wants to run both inside and outside with equal aplomb. Fisch used a variety of personnel groupings, and loves to combine deep vertical routes with crossing routes; usually from bunched formations. Ultimately Fisch will need time to get the offensive line back in shape, find a quarterback, and establish a RB pecking order (which will be much easier if Maurice Jones-Drew is healthy) before we can truly evaluate Fisch’s abilities as an NFL play-caller.

 

What to expect on defense:

 

Jaguars fans are hoping new head coach Gus Bradley will parlay his success in Seattle into a renaissance for the Jacksonville franchise. Bradley is a creative defensive play-caller, but the core of his defense is rooted in a 4-3 front that puts a lot of pressure on the weak side end (called the Leo), most recently defined by Chris Clemons in Seattle. Essentially the Leo lines up far outside, while the other defensive linemen are tight against the interior of the offensive line. Since that formation creates a perception of a wide hole to run through, it’s incumbent on the linebackers to be free to flow to the ball. It also requires a safety to come in and help, thus making it highly unlikely the Jaguars will use much Cover-2 in spite of DC Bob Babich’s long history coaching under Lovie Smith. It’s unclear whether the Jaguars have a natural ‘Leo’ on the roster, but Bradley will try to find one from the likes of Jason Babin and Andre Branch. Bradley was not an overly aggressive blitzer in Seattle, in spite of having talented cornerbacks that could handle single coverage. Bob Babich coached with Lovie Smith for ten years, including several seasons as defensive coordinator, but has deep personal and professional ties to Bradley dating back to their time coaching North Dakota State.


 

Kansas City Chiefs

 

  • Head Coach: Andy Reid (replaces Romeo Crennel)
  • Offensive Coordinator: Doug Pederson (replaces Brian Daboll)
  • Defensive Coordinator: Bob Sutton (replaces Romeo Crennel)

 

What to expect on offense:

 

Andy Reid spent 14 seasons at the helm of the Philadelphia Eagles, and in that time established himself as one of the league’s premier disciples of the West Coast offense associated with the Bill Walsh coaching tree. For the Chiefs, this offense will be a big departure from recent attempts to match the New England Patriots offense under the former regime. While the basic tenets of the West Coast offense are well understood, every coach brings his own nuances to the system. In Reid’s case, the hallmark is a propensity to throw the ball more than most NFL coaches, in any down and distance. Reid also calls more downfield plays than a traditional WCO play-caller, and perhaps most importantly, Reid loves to move his quarterback around in and out of the pocket. New quarterback Alex Smith is a good fit in the system, having come into the league in a traditional WCO but also having impressive mobility as he ran Urban Meyer’s spread offense at Utah. It’s notable that Reid hired Brad Childress (his former OC in Philadelphia years ago) to serve as a consultant focused on the spread attack. Expect the Chiefs offense to mix in some of the spread concepts that served Smith well in college and have crept into NFL playbooks with greater frequency in the last few seasons.

 

In spite of being pass happy, Reid’s offenses have always been gold mines for running backs, and there is every reason to expect Jamaal Charles to flourish provided the offensive line is up to the task. Reid will call the plays, relying on offensive assistants Brad Childress and Doug Pederson to implement the game scripts during the week.

 

What to expect on defense:

 

Philadelphia Eagles fans know that Andy Reid’s greatest weakness as a head coach was the inability to find a suitable successor for Jim Johnson — the dynamic defensive coordinator who helped Reid to early success before passing away in 2009. The Chiefs success may only be as good as Reid’s choice for defensive coordinator, which puts a lot of pressure on Bob Sutton. Sutton spent thirteen years with the Jets, coaching linebackers for three different head coaches (Herm Edwards, Eric Mangini and Rex Ryan). The fact Mangini and Ryan opted to retain Sutton from prior coaching regimes speaks volumes about his ability as a teacher, and in the process Sutton has gained experience coaching in everything from the Monte Kiffin Tampa Cover-2 to Rex Ryan’s aggressive 3-4. Based on what we’ve seen in the preseason, Sutton is implementing an aggressive, attacking 3-4 front with the Chiefs that will mix up man and zone coverage in the secondary. In essence, Sutton is keeping a lot of the terminology and structure in place from the Romeo Crennel years, but Sutton plans to bring consistent pressure from all directions (zone blitz) which runs counter to Crennel’s bend-but-don’t-break approach.


 

New Orleans Saints

 

  • Head Coach: Sean Payton
  • Offensive Coordinator: Pete Carmichael
  • Defensive Coordinator: Rob Ryan (replaces Steve Spagnuolo)

 

What to expect on defense:

 

The Steve Spagnuolo Experiment was an abject failure. Spagnuolo, once a promising defensive mind who parlayed success as the Giants DC into a head coaching job in St. Louis, joined the Saints as the replacement for disgraced DC Gregg Williams. Sadly, the Saints failed to jell under their new coordinator and finished a league-worst 32nd in yards allowed and 31st in points allowed. It was the defensive struggles that led to the Saints disappointing 7-9 finish (the Saints offense ranked 3rd in points scored in spite of Sean Payton’s absence). So it’s now Rob Ryan’s turn to try and improve a defense that has finished in the bottom third of the league in five of the last six seasons. Ryan, twin brother of Rex and son to Buddy, has been an NFL defensive coordinator for nine consecutive seasons, with stints in Oakland, Cleveland and most recently Dallas. Ryan’s first order of business will be transitioning the Saints from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense. Ryan is an aggressive play-caller, and tries to create mismatches through deception and shifting fronts.

 

The good news for Saints fans is that the bar is set quite low right now. When you finish dead last in team defense, it’s safe to say ANY improvement will be welcomed. Yet, Rob Ryan’s resume is not as polished as his reputation would suggest. In nine seasons as a defensive coordinator, Ryan’s teams have never had a winning record, and have never ranked higher than 13th in points allowed. Shouldn’t a difference-making coordinator have at least one Top 10 finish in a decade as a play-caller? Part of the disconnect between Ryan’s results and his reputation may come down to complexity. Ryan’s system is demanding, as he expects his players to handle a huge playbook. When defensive players have to think versus react, it’s rarely a recipe for success.


 

New York Jets

 

  • Head Coach: Rex Ryan
  • Offensive Coordinator: Marty Mornhinweg (replaces Tony Sparano)
  • Defensive Coordinator: Dennis Thurman (replaces Mike Pettine)

 

What to expect on offense:

 

Marty Mornhinweg is courageous. How else do you explain the decision to take the offensive coordinator job for a team with major question marks at quarterback and receiver? Not to mention coming to work under a head coach that many believe is a lame duck playing out the season? Ultimately only Mornhinweg knows his reasoning, but the reality is he will try to re-shape an inept Jets offense by leveraging the principles of the classic West Coast offense. Mornhinweg spent the last decade as an assistant under Andy Reid, including the last seven seasons as offensive coordinator. Although Reid was the primary play-caller, Mornhinweg was given play-calling duties for periods of time (usually when Reid felt his own play-calling was stagnating), and the Eagles offense flourished.

 

How Mornhinweg’s coaching tendencies translate to the Jets remains to be seen, mainly because neither Mark Sanchez nor Geno Smith appear well suited for the high completion rate, precision-based passing attack that’s the hallmark of the traditional WCO. On the other hand, Mornhinweg has a long history coaching mobile quarterbacks (Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb, and Michael Vick) and understands the value of moving his quarterback outside the pocket. Mornhinweg will also stay committed to the running game, particularly if the Jets defense provides the team with a lead in the second half. There is little question Mornhinweg has the pedigree to be an effective NFL play-caller, but it’s next to impossible to predict success for the Jets given their current personnel.

 

What to expect on defense:

 

Dennis Thurman was promoted to defensive coordinator in place of Mike Pettine (who opted to join the Bills staff as defensive coordinator), but the Jets defense will still be controlled lock, stock and barrel by head coach Rex Ryan. The real question will be how the Jets perform without Darrelle Revis on the roster, but in truth that question has already been answered last season (Revis missed 14 games). The Jets have ranked in the top 10 in yards allowed in each of Ryan’s seasons, but have lost their ability to keep opposing teams out of the end zone. In 2009 the Jets ranked 1st in points allowed but have fallen to 20th in each of the last two seasons.


 

Oakland Raiders

 

  • Head Coach: Dennis Allen
  • Offensive Coordinator: Greg Olson (replaces Greg Knapp)
  • Defensive Coordinator: Jason Tarver

 

What to expect on offense: 

 

Greg Olson may strike some as an odd choice as head coach Dennis Allen’s second offensive coordinator. After all, Olson was the quarterbacks coach in Jacksonville last year where Blaine Gabbert failed to show any growth on route to a 2-14 finish. As if that weren’t reason enough for skepticism, Olson’s offenses finished 27th or worse in four of his six seasons an an NFL offensive coordinator (Lions, Buccaneers and Rams). In other words, there’s very little in Olson’s resume for Raiders fans to view optimistically. But Coach Allen believes that Olson will be a good fit for a Raiders team in need of an identity after failing to thrive in a traditional West Coast offense a year ago.

 

Olson espouses variety in his schemes, but the principal foundation of his passing attack is rooted in the Air Coryell school. Olson believes in taking shots downfield off play-action. That kind of offense only works well if you have a strong armed quarterback, an offensive line that can give the quarterback time in the pocket, and most importantly — a strong running attack. Darren McFadden struggled in OC Greg Knapp’s zone-blocking scheme last year, and Olson has made it clear he will primarily use a power (man) blocking scheme, allowing McFadden to run downhill. There’s little doubt Olson’s scheme is a better fit for the Raiders roster than the WCO was, but don’t expect miracles given the uncertain quarterback and offensive line situations.


 

Philadelphia Eagles

 

  • Head Coach: Chip Kelly (replaces Andy Reid)
  • Offensive Coordinator: Pat Shurmur (replaces Marty Mornhinweg)
  • Defensive Coordinator: Billy Davis (replaces Juan Castillo and Todd Bowles)

 

What to expect on offense:

 

There is no offseason hire bearing more scrutiny than the Eagles choice of Chip Kelly to replace Andy Reid. Kelly joins the NFL ranks after a record-setting run at the University of Oregon which helped define Kelly as one of the most innovative minds in football. Many have questioned whether Kelly’s college offense can translate to the pros, but that question shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes Kelly an offensive mastermind. Sure, the read option and spread formations were a big part of the Oregon attack, but the key underpinnings of Kelly’s approach are TEMPO and ADAPTABILITY. Kelly and his assistants will install a playbook that leverages ‘concepts’ and allows for seamless and lightning fast substitutions and play-calling. Expect the Eagles to be at or near the top of the league in plays per game; Kelly’s goal is to run a play every 12 seconds. Kelly believes in practicing fast, teaching fast and playing faster.

 

Adaptability is the true hallmark of Kelly’s approach. That’s evident in the hiring of Pat Shurmur as offensive coordinator. Shurmur is an unabashed disciple of the West Coast offense, and Kelly values the integration of those concepts into his own play-calling preferences. There will be uncertainty until Kelly decides on his starting quarterback, which won’t happen until training camp is underway, but regardless of who is under center, you can bet on a commitment to the run game. Kelly’s Oregon offenses ran the ball more than 600 times per season, which argues for a career number of touches by LeSean McCoy. We can also be sure that Philadelphia won’t use a traditional fullback and will frequently have two and three tight ends (with one playing the H-back role) on the field.

 

What to expect on defense:

 

It’s easy to be excited about Chip Kelly and his approach to offense, it’s entirely another to put a positive spin on the hiring of Billy Davis as defensive coordinator. In two seasons as the 49ers defensive coordinator, the defense ranked 32nd and 26th. A few years later Davis got another DC position in Arizona, and fared no better — finishing 20th and 29th in two seasons. In spite of a lackluster resume, Chip Kelly believes Davis is a good fit for his staff for two reasons: 1) Davis tailors his defense to match the strengths of opposing offenses, and 2) Davis is well liked by players and has a reputation for being a good teacher. After years of using a 4-3 defensive front exclusively, the Eagles will run a hybrid front that shows 3-4 at times while rolling back into a 4-3 (but NOT the Wide 9) when the situation calls. Davis will blitz at times, but will just as often try to fool opposing quarterbacks by showing blitz and then backing off into coverage.


 

St. Louis Rams

 

  • Head Coach: Jeff Fisher
  • Offensive Coordinator: Brian Schottenheimer
  • Defensive Coordinator: Tim Walton (position was vacant last year)

 

What to expect on defense:

 

The Rams didn’t have a defensive coordinator last year, and head coach Jeff Fisher acknowledged that it was a daunting challenge to effectively manage the entire team while also serving as his own coordinator. In spite of the lack of a DC, the Rams showed marked improvement defensively finishing 14th in points and yards allowed. Credit goes to Fisher and a group of seasoned defensive assistants led by Dave McGinnis. This season Tim Walton will fill the coordinator position after serving as the secondary coach in Detroit under Jim Schwartz. Fisher tried to hire Walton last year to no avail, but they were able to find common ground this offseason. Schematically Walton will maintain the status quo including an attacking 4-3 front and zone coverage. The Rams tied for the league lead with 52 sacks last year, so Walton inherits a play-making unit. The key will be improving the run defense (28th in rushing TDs allowed, 19th in yards per attempt) without losing the potency of the pass rush.


 

San Diego Chargers

 

  • Head Coach: Mike McCoy (replaces Norv Turner)
  • Offensive Coordinator: Ken Whisenhunt (replaces Hal Hunter)
  • Defensive Coordinator: John Pagano

 

What to expect on offense:

 

Mike McCoy and Ken Whisenhunt are cut from the same coaching cloth. Both are disciples of the Ron Erhardt-Ray Perkins school, which is the same coaching lineage that drives some of the NFL’s most successful offenses including the Saints and Patriots. At the heart of the offense is concept-based play-calling, which greatly simplifies the calls and allows the quarterback to get plays distributed with incredible efficiency. Rather than calling out a string of alpha-numeric code words, the offense uses one and two word designations.

 

Adaptability is a core tenet of the McCoy and Whisenhunt’s approach. McCoy adapted his playbook in Denver to suit an inaccurate but mobile quarterback in Tim Tebow one season and then the complex, precision passing attack of Peyton Manning the next. Meanwhile Whisenhunt took a Steelers team to the Super Bowl with an offense that led the league in carries, and then a few years later took a pass-happy Arizona Cardinals unit to the Super Bowl. Whisenhunt will call the plays, and the only certainty will be an air of unpredictability from week to week. Ideally McCoy and Whisenhunt will feel confident enough in the players’ versatility to call a run heavy attack against porous defensive lines and then execute a wide open, spread passing attack when facing questionable secondaries. In some ways the fate of this offense lies in the hands of QB Philip Rivers, who has to make better decisions with the football than we’ve seen in the last two seasons.

 

What to expect on defense:

 

In a testament to his coaching prowess, incumbent defensive coordinator John Pagano was retained by Mike McCoy. Pagano took over the Chargers defense last season and led them to a 9th place finish in yards allowed (16th in points allowed) by stopping the run (5th in yards per attempt) and creating turnovers (11th). Pagano will build off of last year’s success and run an attacking 3-4 front but will incorporate more 4-3 looks this year, particularly a 4-3 ‘under’ look that treats the weakside linebacker as a hybrid player (sometimes as a stand-up linebacker and other times with his hand on the ground). If last year is any indication, the Chargers won’t blitz much and when they do it’ll generally involve just one additional pass rusher. In the secondary, Pagano likes to use zone concepts as a baseline but expects his defenders to be able to handle man coverage concepts, too.


 

Seattle Seahawks

 

  • Head Coach: Pete Carroll
  • Offensive Coordinator: Darrell Bevell
  • Defensive Coordinator: Dan Quinn (replaces Gus Bradley)

 

What to expect on defense: 

 

When the Seahawks lost Gus Bradley to Jacksonville (he was named head coach), it would’ve been understandable and justifiable for head coach Pete Carroll to promote from within. After all, the Seahawks fielded one of the best defenses in the league, and all the key personnel returns for another playoff run this year. Yet Pete Carroll rarely takes the safe route, and instead hired Dan Quinn — who had excelled in two seasons as the University of Florida’s defensive coordinator. Quinn isn’t a complete stranger to Carroll or the defensive terminology (he coached for Carroll in 2010), but he’s bringing a substantially different approach with him after fielding aggressive Top 10 collegiate defenses at Florida.

 

The biggest change is going to be the approach toward attacking the quarterback. Bradley was not a risk taker, eschewing blitzes in favor of establishing containment and letting his secondary make the big plays. Quinn believes in blitzing frequently, from all positions, and creating an air of unpredictability. The Seahawks are expected to primarily use a 4-3 front versus the 3-4 Quinn used at Florida. That said, the front seven will show multiple fronts depending on the game plan. Whereas Bradley was from the Monte Kiffin Tampa Cover-2 school, Quinn isn’t going to be afraid to let his talented cornerbacks play singled up in man coverage. This defense will take more chances, which may mean more big plays both for and against them.


 

Tennessee Titans

 

  • Head Coach: Mike Munchak
  • Offensive Coordinator: Dowell Loggains (replaces Chris Palmer)
  • Defensive Coordinator: Jerry Gray

 

What to expect on offense:

 

Dowell Loggains replaced Chris Palmer late last season but those final games are hardly a blueprint for what we should expect in 2013. Loggains, one of the youngest coordinators in the league, has reportedly torn up the entire playbook and is implementing his own system, which will be a run-heavy offense predicated on winning time of possession, keeping turnovers to a minimum, and using the run to set up play-action passes. Expect to see lots of motion in the offense, and the Titans are going to mix up their blocking schemes this year, eschewing the pure zone-blocking preferences of former OC Palmer. If there’s any question this offense will be run through the RB stable, consider that Loggains was recently quoted as saying, “The general manager and head coach believe that when you throw the ball only three things can happen, and two of them are bad.” That explains why the Titans made improving the run blocking an offseason priority, including the additions of OGs Andy Levitre and Chance Warmack, C Brian Schwenke and TE Delanie Walker.

 

Loggains’ inexperience as a play-caller makes handicapping the new system difficult, but it’s safe to assume that QB Jake Locker will be asked not to lose games versus win them. Loggains credits Bill Parcells, the late Mike Heimerdinger, Norm Chow and Sean Payton as his coaching influences; that’s a diverse collection of play-callers but they all share an affinity for a strong ground attack and controlled, mistake free football.


 

Other Notable Coaching Hires:

 

  • Bobby April, Special Teams — Oakland Raiders
  • Jack Bicknell Jr., Offensive Line — Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Eric Bieniemy, Running Backs — Kansas City Chiefs
  • Rich Bisaccia, Special Teams — Dallas Cowboys
  • John Bonamego, Special Teams — Detroit Lions
  • Gary Brown, Running Backs — Dallas Cowboys
  • Juan Castillo, Offensive Line — Baltimore Ravens
  • Matt Cavanaugh, Quarterbacks — Chicago Bears
  • Brad Childress, Senior Analyst (Spread Game) — Kansas City Chiefs
  • Danny Crossman, Special Teams — Buffalo Bills
  • Brian Daboll, Senior Assistant (Offense) — New England Patriots
  • Joe DeCamillis, Special Teams — Chicago Bears
  • Ken Dorsey, Quarterbacks — Carolina Panthers
  • Dave Fipp, Special Teams — Philadelphia Eagles
  • Alex Gibbs, Consultant (Offensive Line) — Denver Broncos
  • Hal Hunter, Offensive Line — Indianapolis Colts
  • Amos Jones, Special Teams — Arizona Cardinals
  • Nate Kaczor, Special Teams — Tennessee Titans
  • Greg Knapp, Quarterbacks — Oakland Raiders
  • Ben Kotwica, Special Teams — New York Jets
  • Eric Mangini, Consultant — San Francisco 49ers
  • Rod Marinelli, Defensive Line — Dallas Cowboys
  • Tom McMahon, Special Teams — Indianapolis Colts
  • Curtis Modkins, Running Backs — Detroit Lions
  • Tom Moore, Assistant Head Coach (Offense) — Arizona Cardinals
  • Frank Reich, Quarterbacks — San Diego Chargers
  • Steve Spagnuolo, Senior Assistant (Defense) — Baltimore Ravens
  • Tony Sparano, Offensive Line — Oakland Raiders
  • Kevin Spencer, Special Teams — San Diego Chargers
  • Dave Toub, Special Teams — Kansas City Chiefs
  • Tyrone Wheatley, Running Backs — Buffalo Bills
  • Gregg Williams, Assistant Head Coach (Defense) — Tennessee Titans

 

 

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