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NFL Clubhouse & On-Field Chemistry

   by Bryan Leonard - 08/04/2006

Statistics are a major part of football handicapping analysis. Other factors are important, too such as home/field differentials and coaching. A less discussed factor is team chemistry, something which can’t be quantified. You hear players, coaches and general managers speak all the time about having good “chemistryâ€쳌 on the team. One example of good chemistry is on the field between two players that need each other to be productive. A quarterback needs good chemistry with his receivers, for example. Joe Montana and Jerry Rice had timing and reliability down to a tee when they played together.

As far as clubhouse chemistry, the Oakland Raiders have been the team to watch the last two seasons. Team chemistry was clearly a factor in the biggest NFL offseason trade a year ago, with WR Randy Moss going to Oakland. Moss has enormous talent and is a productive player on the field, but off the field he’s constantly surrounded by controversy. He wasn’t a problem in his first year with the Raiders, but the team still had all kinds of chemistry deficiencies. So they shipped out Kerry Collins and bring in Aaron Brooks and new coach Art Shell.

However, Shell had been working as the senior vice president of football operations and development for the NFL, and hasn't been a head coach since the Raiders fired him following the 1994 season. That was a long time ago! Remember how much trouble Joe Gibbs had ever returning to the NFL 13 years later? Gibbs installed an offense in 2004 that was predicated on maximum quarterback protection, something that had been highly effective during the 1980s. But the offense was flat in 2004 with no one ever open. Today’s speedy cover-2 defensive schemes short-circuited his max protection plan, until he changed last season, opening things up more. So how will Shell, Moss and Brooks all mesh in Oakland? If I had to make a guess now, I’d say don’t expect to see the Black and Silver playing in January’s postseason.

Other times chemistry is something that takes place in the clubhouse. This is not something that you can find in box scores, either. Players need to get along and coaches need to ask for loyalty and respect from players, but also have to be smart enough to return the favor, as loyalty is not a one-way street.

I’ve wondered about the team chemistry of the New Orlean Saints the last few years. They were never a happy or productive team under Jim Haslett. But he’s gone and a new coach takes over in Sean Payton. Payton was with Dallas in 2005 where he coached the quarterbacks and also held the title of assistant head coach. He learned from one of the best in Bill Parcells so it will be interesting to see if he has the talents that Parcells has of getting the most out of players. The Saints certainly have a new look in the backfield, with QB Drew Brees, and RBs Deuce McAllister and rookie Reggie Bush.

And speaking of Parcells and the Cowboys, clubhouse chemistry is going to be a hot spot all season because of the addition of WR Terrell Owens. Like Moss, Owens has enormous talent on the field, but it is a lightening rod of controversy with his super-ego and big mouth, often an off-field distraction. The Eagles were so sick of Owens they let him go early last season, just to jettison the garbage early, he was that much of a problem. And now he has to play for Parcells, a respected leader who won’t hesitate to get tough with Owens.

Don’t underestimate team chemistry. Clubhouse chemistry was a major story during the 2001 NFL season when Patriots WR Terry Glenn was a nuisance and coach Bill Belichick laid down the law and released him. At the time it was a surprising move, as New England lacked for speed at wideout, yet they went on to win the Super Bowl without Glenn. Many NFL general managers and coaches took note and chemistry has since become more of a factor to pay attention to. Clubhouse harmony can be just as important as talent.

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