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NFL Coaching Changes Provide Impact
by Jim Feist - 08/14/2012
Preseason is off and running, with players trying to make rosters, starters trying to stay healthy and coaching staffs trying to evaluate depth and talent. One aspect of football that is so important, yet often overlooked, is coaching changes. Some coaches can try new things from season to season, such as the Jets last year going from a running team to a more balanced offense asking QB Mark Sanchez to throw the football more.
In that example, things didn’t work out. Sanchez was responsible for too many turnovers, the Jets failed to make the playoffs and the offensive coordinator was let go. For 2012 Rex Ryan and new OC Tony Sporano (“Mr. Wildcat”) want to get back to running the pigskin more.
Other times assistant coaches are brought in to bring a fundamental shift in philsopohy and style which can be evident even in preseason. It takes hours of time, patience and talent to organize players into an effective group, so here are some teams that made coaching changes to try and upgrade weak areas.
Jaguars: The organization overhauled everything. Mike Mularkey is the new head coach replacing Jack Del Rio. He was the OC last year for Falcons, and has been with the Dolphins (2006-7), Bills (2004-06) and Steelers (2000-03). Mularkey has a reputation for being an offense-oriented head coach with a penchant for trick plays and his nickname is "Inspector Gadget".
Bruce Bratkowski is the OC after being QB Coach in Atlanta alongside Mularkey. But the QB situation is poor with second-year Blaine Gabbert (12 TDs, 11 INTs, 50.8% in 2011), Chad Henne, Jordan Palmer, Nathan Enderle. Good luck trying to jumpstart the passing offense, one that averaged an anemic 136 passing yards per contest. They moved up to take Oklahoma State product WR Justin Blackmon and overpaid for 27-year old WR Laurent Robinson (858 yards), after his breakout season with the Cowboys last season.
Dolphins: Miami might be a team to look at under the total again (they were 2-4 under last fall). New Coach Joe Philbin comes from Green Bay and he and new OC Mike Sherman will miss Aaron Rodgers, stuck with QBs Matt Moore, David Garrard, Pat Devlin and rookie Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M). Miami went 6-10 last year ranked 23rd in passing offense. With a key piece gone (WR Brandon Marshall), they add WR Chad Ochocinco, who was a bust with Tom Brady, so good luck with these QBs!
Steelers: The Steelers have won more than 10 games five times in the last decade. They have tremendous balance on offense and were tops in total defense allowing 271.8 yards per game. Pittsburgh was 10th in passing offense, 14th in rushing despite injuries, but they big change is at offensive coordinator where Bruce Arians gives way to Todd Haley. Haley plans to design plays to keep Roethlisberger in the pocket as much as possible and a more vertical approach. You can do that with WRs Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown (both over 1,000 yds).
The Steelers averaged 4.4 yards per rush in 2011, their best average since '01. But they stalled too many times in short yardage and at the goal line, one of the reasons they finished 21st in the league in scoring. We may not see this new look in preseason, however, as Rashard Mendenhall is on the physically-unable-to-perform list while he recovers from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and WR Mike Wallace is holding out.
Raiders: Oakland won 8 games in 2011…but how? QB Carson Palmer and Jason Campbell combined for 20 TDs, 23 picks. Palmer tossed 10 of his 16 picks last year when under pressure. They lose Campbell, lack a pass catching tight end, RB Darren McFadden is often injured and WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (975) faded after October. Other than that…! The Raiders surrendered just 25 sacks in 2011 (third fewest in the NFL), but left guard and right tackle are a concern with 35-year old Cooper Carlisle and rookie Tony Bergstrom.
They have a new head coach in 39-year-old Dennis Allen saying he wants the Raiders to be a "tough, smart, disciplined football team." The Raiders set NFL records with 163 penalties for 1,358 yards. He had just one year of experience as a defensive coordinator in Denver and had never been a head coach at any level. The new OC is Gregg Knapp and the new DC is Jason Tarver, inheriting a unit on defense that ranked 29th in yards allowed, 27th vs the rush (136 yds rushing pg) and had to deal with a lot of defensive losses (Stanford Routt, Chris Johnson, John Henderson, DE Kamerion Wimbley). Some coaching challenges are more difficult than others!