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Coaches in the NFL Playoffs

   by Al McMordie - 01/08/2007

Last week I looked at the records of several NFL head coaches in the postseason. Given what took place over the weekend, it’s worth taking this a step further and analyzing what happens when the merits of difference head coaches square off in the postseason. It will be interesting to see what Saints coach Sean Payton has up his sleeve this weekend. He was voted Coach of the Year and deserved it for a masterful job, turning the Saints from 3-13 into the No. 2 seed in the NFC.

If you watched the Patriots/Jets game Sunday, you saw two above-average coaches. The book is still out on NY’s Eric Mangini, as this was his first year as a head coach. However, he could be AFC Coach of the Year considering what he had to work with and how well the Jets played. The Jets went 11-5 against the spread during the regular season, overachieving and winning a lot of close games. They were organized, innovative and disciplined.

Just as important, they did the unexpected. This is one of the most important things a head coach brings to the table. Against the Patriots, the Jets couldn’t run the ball effectively, 19th in the NFL this season. Yet, they compensated by throwing on first down often and running misdirections and draws when the Patriots weren’t expecting it. They finished with a strong 4.4 yards per carry against a Patriots front line that allowed just 3.9 ypc all season.

Despite the final score, the Jets made the game very competitive. The Patriots coaching staff was smart enough to make one huge adjustment from the last time they played. In the Jets’ 17-14 win at New England, New York changed its defense just as QB Tom Brady when under center, which confused the Patriots blocking schemes, causing havoc.

In the rematch Sunday, Bill Belichick came out with a spread formation and went no-huddle several times to prevent the Jets from repeating that. Above-average coaches make adjustments from game to game, at halftime and even during the game.

The Giants/Eagles game also found the better coaching staff triumphing. The Giants have been sloppy, penalty and turnover-prone all season and they exited the playoffs quickly. Andy Reid and the Eagles are anything but, always playing disciplined, intelligent football. Philadelphia plays up to and above its capabilities most of the time, and notice the Eagles are 3-1 SU/ATS this season as an underdog.

Contrast those examples with what you saw Saturday as the Chiefs lost 23-8 at Indianapolis, making the Colts defense look like the 2000 Ravens. The Kansas City game plan on offense was an embarrassment, with nothing unexpected. They did not have a single first down in the first half! Chiefs coach Herm Edwards had the same thing happen to him when he coached the Jets, getting outcoached often, especially in big games.

In the aftermath of the loss to the Colts, Edwards was asked to explain how one of the NFL’s worst defenses shut down an offense that had set records for five years under Dick Vermeil. “I have no idea,â€쳌 Edwards said. “I’m puzzled, too.â€쳌

Larry Johnson averaged 2.5 yards per carry against a defense that had been surrendering 5.3 yards per attempt. The Chiefs didn’t pick up a first down until three minutes, 34 seconds were left in the third quarter. They went three-and-out on seven straight possessions. At one point, the Colts had 22 first downs and the Chiefs had 21 yards! Even the Kansas City players see what’s happening. Said QB Trent Green, “Even though it’s the same system, it’s called quite differently.â€쳌

“That was ridiculous,â€쳌 said TE Tony Gonzalez, who complained that KC’s play-calling was far too predictable. “We can’t even get a first down. That was embarrassing. Ridiculous.â€쳌 The Jets never went far in the playoffs under Herm Edwards and neither will the Chiefs. Coaches make a big difference this time of the year!

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