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Football Personnel: Changing Strategies
by Team Del Genio - 11/21/2007
Football coaches get paid good money to make big decisions. One of the most important is being able to make adjustments, either in practice or during a game. Being flexible is essential to taking advantage of match-up differences and exploiting the opponentsâ€™ weak spots.
But sometimes the personnel isnâ€™t there. Thatâ€™s where coaches really earn their dough. A team like the Patriots has had a lot of injuries at running back. You might not have been aware of this, as the offense is No. 1 in the NFL, roaring through the league at a record pace. RB Sammy Morris was lost for the season against Dallas with a chest injury. Starting RB Laurence Maroney is talented by soft and always seems to be injured. Even RB Keith Faulk got taken out of last weekâ€™s win over Buffalo with a minor injury. However, even this isnâ€™t a great concern. The Pats passing attack is so devastating, they really donâ€™t need a strong ground game to balance things out.
This isnâ€™t the case with the Chiefs. Kansas City is a run-first offense behind coach Herm Edwards. He believes it takes pressure off his own defense by controlling the clock. However, RB Larry Johnson will miss a third straight game on Sunday with a foot injury that might sideline him the rest of season. Backup RB Priest Holmes announced his retirement, leaving the Chiefs thin at tailback.
The only other tailback on the roster is rookie Kolby Smith, a fifth-round draft choice from Louisville who has carried just 10 times for 19 yards. NOW whatâ€™s a coach to do? They donâ€™t have the passing game or QB experience to shift gears and become an aggressive spread offense, winging it down the field. But they are going to have to do something because of the RB shortage. For the Patriots, itâ€™s not such a big deal, for a team like the Chiefs, it is.
The Seattle Seahawks are another team that made a key in-season change. Coach Mike Holmgren was not happy with the offense, specifically the running game battling injuries on the offensive line and RB Shaun Alexander. Alexander is banged up with a broken left wrist, a twisted left knee and a sprained left ankle. So Holmgren admitted after the bye week they would throw the ball more, a roughly 60-40 ratio.
This is a stark contrast to what Holmgren prefers, but he is making the change based on personnel and production. It has also worked. QB Matt Hasselbeck completed 30-of-44 passes for 337 yards and two touchdowns Sunday, a 30-23 win over Chicago as the offense rolled up 424 yards. Thatâ€™s 24 and 30 points since Holmgren went to a pass-heavy attack. Holmgren has spread the field with the three-and four-receiver sets, and Sundayâ€™s game sailed over the total.
Tampa Bay has been very good at making adjustments this season under Jon Gruden, despite numerous injuries. The Ravens and 49ers have been busts. The 49ers were a running team last season behind Frank Gore, but the revamped offensive line has been poor and Gore has battled injuries. Theyâ€™ve been unable to do anything to adjust. This week they announced the hiring of veteran coach Ted Tollner as an offensive assistant. Tollner will work with offensive coordinator Jim Hostler to try to resuscitate a unit that has gone 11 quarters without scoring a touchdown and is on pace to establish a franchise record for fewest points in a 16-game season.
RB Frank Gore's rushing average has dropped from 5.4 yards per carry a year ago to 3.9 this season. Under Norv Turner, San Francisco's offensive coordinator in 2006, the 49ers ranked 26th in total offense, 6th in rushing offense and averaged 18.6 points per game. For Hostler, the corresponding numbers are 32nd, 27th and 11.3.
Brian Billick is under the gun in Baltimore. He used to be an offensive coordinator, but his Raven offense has been mostly awful. They tried the switch to QB Kyle Boller last week. After throwing for 24 yards in the first half, Boller rallied the Ravens in the fourth quarter, completing 11 of 18 passes for 160 yards in another loss. The Ravens head to San Diego this weekend and they are 1-4 SU, 0-5 ATS on the road averaging just 12 ppg. If nothing works, perhaps Billick will turn things over to rookie QB Troy Smith (Ohio State). They are also on a 5-2 run under the total, something to keep in mind if this offense still keeps sleepwalking.