Coach ‘Em Up
Every offseason, there are 32 teams positioning themselves for the draft and free agency. Those that make the playoffs, created the opportunity to play for a Super Bowl and although it appears they would have less holes to fill, consider their front office personnel and coaching staffs being invaded by the teams that are rebuilding. That would include the business end of player contracts, and it happens every offseason where other teams snag good players by showing them the money. The teams at the top of the draft, are in rebuilding mode and about half of them have vacancies along the front office and/or coaching staffs.
The teams watching the postseason at home are interviewing coaches at the professional and collegiate levels, as well as requesting interviews with coordinators that are still coaching in the postseason. Their are coaches with specialties, such as Norv Turner and Lovie Smith, to coaches with a handle on both sides of the ball like Jon Gruden.
Whether it’s a gimmick offense or not, coaches like Oregon University’s Chip Kelly, is exactly what the current trend is in the NFL. Offensive Coordinators like Washington’s Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco’s Greg Roman, Denver’s Mike McCoy will be hot commodities, for their abilities to adjust and gear their gameplans towards the talent on the roster. Then there are the QB gurus, from Andy Reid to Bruce Arians.
That’s My Quarterback
The buzz for fan bases watching other teams play for a championship, comes from the coaching carousel, the draft, and free agency speculation. So when you focus on the several teams looking for new leaders, consider the current rosters and trends across the league. They say the NFL is a copycat league, and it is, but more-so than you would initially think. The league has gone from the pocket quarterback with accuracy, to game managers that have the dual threat to tuck the ball and run the football. This isn’t new by any means, you can refer to college football and some teams throughout the years have gone that route without the ultimate success.
I’m the last sports fanatic and analyst in the world to keep the east coast bias alive, but bear with me for a minute because this actually means something. When the New York Jets acquired quarterback Tim Tebow last offseason, I predicted the first two-quarterback system in the NFL to unfold. It makes sense to me, especially with the rapid trend of dual threat signal callers and the style of football their teams play. Tebow’s flaws are obviously in the public eye, and Mark Sanchez continues to be at the helm in the Big Apple. If the owner was on the same page with the GM and head coach, then the Tebow acquisition could have been positive for whoever got him rather than the drama and publicity stunt to remain relevant.
I’m still a fan of the two-QB system, yes in the National Football League, and since the New York situation didn’t pan out just look at the west coast in San Francisco. Alex Smith has been an excellent game manager under head coach Jim Harbaugh, and all it took was a concussion to bench his 104.1 rating in favor of Colin Kaepernick, whom Harbaugh had a part in selecting in the draft. While the scenario is understandable, it puts a world of pressure on a second-year QB to lead a team that was one game away from the Super Bowl last postseason. With a run-heavy offense and an elite defense, why not use the strengths of both signal callers to further your offensive advantage and keep the defense off-balance? Both guys have mobility, while one is more of a game manager (Smith) the other adds the dimension of an option offense (Kaepernick).
Know Your Personnel
The biggest issue for quarterback Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles, despite losing four of their 5 starting offensive linemen to injuries last season, is that they tried to fit a square peg into a round hole. It was noticeably years ago, when former head coach Andy Reid groomed Donovan McNabb for a west coast offense. McNabb was mobile and had a strong arm to go deep, similar to Vick, however it didn’t play the either of their strengths. The Eagles should look no further than their division rivals in Washington, the Redskins put rookies Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins (in limited playing time) in positions to succeed and they finally made a playoff appearance. Philadelphia could have used Vick with running back LeSean McCoy in the same fashion, as opposed to throwing 40-50 times per game with a backup offensive line (no disrespect, it is what it is).
There aren’t too many franchise quarterbacks out there, and although first round picks like Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III have expectations, guys like Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick are starting in the playoffs. It’s difficult to be a quarterback let alone draft one, not every guy pans out to be Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers. Plus, there’s different methods when throwing these players in the fire with the lights on. Manning, the future Hall of Famer, started from day one as the face of a franchise, and he certainly wasn’t the best rookie QB. Rodgers sat behind the veteran and also future Hall of Famer, Bret Favre, learning the ropes before taking the helm.
Teams would hit on more draft picks and more quarterbacks would succeed, regardless of their draft status, if everyone wasn’t looking for Eli Manning or Philip Rivers. There are players that were chosen in the middle to late rounds, or even undrafted, like Tom Brady and Tony Romo. Guys like Drew Brees and Andy Dalton were selected in the 2nd round. Pure pocket passers and leaders are few and far between, but there are proven winners like Ben Roethlisberger who moves around and gets the job done.
This isn’t just about the QB position. They get most of the credit of criticism in general, but you don’t need the first pick in the draft to compete for a ring. The point is, your coach has to get the right quarterback for his system, or he has to adjust to the strengths for the benefit of the team. While Philadelphia appears to be moving on from Vick to a tall pocket passer in rookie Nick Foles, they have to decide if that’s the guy they are going to ride. The next head coach has to orchestrate the offense to cater speed wide receivers, an elusive running back, and a defense that struggled to get off the field.
The Jets could have imitated what the Broncos did a year ago with Tebow, perhaps the ground game would have been top-notch while depending on the defense and special teams like coach Rex Ryan normally gameplans for anyway. During the last week of the season, the Oakland Raiders let Terrelle Pryor showcase his talents, as did the Cleveland Browns with Thaddeus Lewis. Copycat league, why not follow a trend that’s working for teams without an elite quarterback, especially if you have a running back like Darren McFadden or Trent Richardson with a receiving core that needs improvement.
Run the ball, let the quarterback run the option or be a game manager, control the clock, keep the opposing defense on the field while yours is on the sidelines…better yet, keep opposing offenses on the sidelines. Sounds like the 49ers, Seahawks, Redskins, Bengals, Texans, Ravens, and Vikings. That’s seven of the dozen teams in the postseason, all with a game manager or running the option. They’re probably not favored by you or the media to win it all, but if you’re in the tournament you have as good a chance as anyone. If you’re a fan, you would much rather make the playoffs.
Hand It Off
Another thing is, if you’re going to run the ball by committee, then do so by allocating the proper talent. What the New Orleans Saints have in their backfield is a golden recipe for success, which is why they won the championship. Most don’t recall the Saints having a top-10 ground game during their Super bowl season. They currently have Darren Sproles, he’s their speed guy that plays a critical role in the passing game as well. But between the tackles, they have similar styles in Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, and Christopher Ivory. Sure they don’t run much and they lean on the aerial assault featuring Drew Brees and company, but they’ll be better with the return of coach Sean Payton.
It took an injury to Jonathan Stewart for the Carolina Panthers to figure things out offensively. They finished the season winning four in a row, and five of their last six games. They featured one running back, it takes time for the offense to get in unison, including the guys up front in the trenches. They need to keep it that way and bring the next guy in to spell, much like the Buffalo Bills with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. It worked this year for the Bills by ranking second in rushing, but once upon a time that was the Panthers. I’m rooting for a two-QB system, partly because I think it’s only a matter of time until we see it come to fruition. Two signal callers is not implemented because it’s supposedly too complicated, and I have that same feeling in terms having one carrier in the backfield. In the postseason alone, primary ball-carriers: Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch, Alfred Morris, Frank Gore, and Ben Jarvis
While we’re on the topic, I sure hope Jamaal Charles continues to get a bulk of the carries. With Andy Reid heading to Kansas City, maybe Charles wants to watch some film of LeSean McCoy to maximize his touches. On the other hand, that’s part of the reason Reid is coaching a different team, maybe a change of scenery is what he needed to improve, that remains to be seen.
In the Slot
The consensus feeling around league circles and fan bases, is that the slot receiver should be guys like Wes Welker and Victor Cruz. You know what I say to that, Brandon Stokely and Austin Collie. Yes, the talent levels are different, but more players are closer to the Stokely spectrum than they are Welker and the caliber of a star. I’m not sure how long it will take, but bigger receivers or even tight ends should be running routes from the slot and across the middle. They can take the hits and the beating throughout the season, and of course you can mix it up I’m just speaking in general terms. The Detroit used Calvin Johnson more in the slot this season, compared to others years.
By the way, it disgusts me how many rules have been changed to protect receivers for getting rocked. I get the point of diminishing the hits, but if fines are going to be raised and suspension handed out, give them to the players at fault. I’m referring to Peyton Manning and the other quarterbacks that put their teammates on the collision. It’s impressive zipping the ball between a couple defenders, but those defenders are penalized for being in the right place to make a hit and play the ball. Manning isn’t the only one threading the needle and getting guys injured, but he’s notorious for it and should be the player getting fined for putting the receiver in a bad position.
Alright, alright, well thanks for joining me that will do it for this edition. Happy New Year to you and may this year be better than the last! Take care, stay tuned amigos, I am out!