NFL Handicapping: Analyzing New AFC Defensive Coordinators
by Robert Ferringo - 7/17/2013
We already took a look at the new defensive coordinators in the NFC. Today we’re going to look at the five fresh defensive coordinators patrolling AFC sidelines this season.
While most of the football-loving world keeps its focus on just the head coaching changes throughout the NFL, coordinators often go unnoticed except by fans of respective teams or football insiders. However, understanding the shifting schemes and systems that dictate the action on the field is a vital part of becoming a top NFL handicapper.
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For instance, in the NFC this year the Dallas Cowboys are shifting from a 3-4 base defense to a 4-3 scheme. They are also switching from Rob Ryan’s blitzing, attacking mode to Monte Kiffin’s famed Tampa-2 system. This is a complete overhaul. Not only will that have a big-time impact on how we handicap and bet on Dallas in the preseason as they learn these new schemes, but it will also influence how I approach the Cowboys against certain quarterbacks all season long.
For example, Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick has always hated facing the Cover-2 because it exposes his weaknesses in the medium passing game. However, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning has been very effective against the Cover-2 because he has no fear throwing over the middle of the field and because he can make a lot of different types of throws.
Manning and the Giants get to face Dallas in Week 1, before the Cowboys will have their new defense mastered. That should have a major impact on that game. And the G-Men will have a big advantage as a result, similar to the advantage that Dallas had back in the 2007 opener when it was the Giants breaking in a new defensive coordinator (Steve Spagnuolo). The Cowboys hung 45 points on the confused New York defense that day, so I wouldn’t expect any mercy out of the Giants this year in Week 1.
That is just one example of how a change in defensive coordinator can impact how I handicap an NFL team. Every year there are dozens of coaching changes, from head coaches to DCs to OCs, and every one of them is pertinent in how the NFL season plays out.
With that in mind, here is a look at the new defensive coordinators in the AFC heading into 2013:
Mike Pettine, Buffalo – Unlike their pick for offensive coordinator, I’m actually in favor of Buffalo’s new leader on the defensive side. Pettine has spent the last three years as the defensive coordinator for the Jets, learning at the feet of Rex Ryan. That means Pettine is not only a capable pupil, but it also means that he has intimate insight and familiarity with a division rival.
That invaluable information is a short-term benefit. The short-term drawback to Pettine is that he is trying to convert the Bills to a 3-4 system using 4-3 base personnel from the previous regime. Pettine likes versatile defenders that are capable of playing multiple positions. He won’t have that in Buffalo. Not yet. And as a result I expect a rocky transition early in the season. But I think that the long-term potential here could be worth some bumps.
Dennis Thurman, New York Jets – Rex Ryan is coaching for his job this season. And he’ll be doing it with a new coordinator working with his defense. The good news is that Ryan and Thurman, who was with Ryan in Baltimore and has been the defensive backs coach in New York since 2008, know each other well, and the system will remain intact. And the reality is that Ryan knows that this year is his last stand in New York. And as such, I expect him to be calling the shots with the defense regardless of who has the title of coordinator.
Ray Horton, Cleveland – Rumor has it that Horton was not happy about being passed over for the Arizona head coaching vacancy. And he may have a right to grumble after the job he did as the Cardinals defensive coordinator over the past two years. Prior to Horton’s units, the Cardinals hadn’t had a defense finish in the Top 20 in points and total yards in back-to-back years since 1975-76. But they accomplished that goal in each of the past two seasons despite being shackled with utterly incompetent offenses.
Horton honed his craft in Pittsburgh from 2004-2010 before a trip to the desert, and he will fit right in back in the AFC North. Horton will be shifting the Browns to a 3-4 base, but he plans to play a lot of 4-2 nickel to combat the pass-happy offenses that abound in the NFL. The pros are that Cleveland has been investing along the defensive line, and they have two studs in the backfield in Joe Haden and T.J. Ward. The cons are that the Browns don’t have the linebackers to make an impact. And even if the defense overachieves, it is still a distant fourth when ranking the stop units within this division.
Bob Babich, Jacksonville – While most teams are bragging about their shift to “attacking”, blitz-heavy defenses, it’s interesting to note that Jacksonville may be going the other way.
New Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley was the DC in Seattle, where he employed a 4-3 base. Babich has been in Chicago for nine years where the Bears also use a 4-3 scheme. But the Bears scheme was pure Cover-2, which, despite being one of the most successful defensive philosophies of the last 20 years, has seemingly fallen out of favor across the league. That said, Bradley was known for being somewhat conservative with his defensive calls in Seattle. So he stability of the Cover-2 may be appealing to him.
Babich was the Bears coordinator from 2007-09, and those were by far the worst three defenses that Chicago had in the nine years Babich was with the team. That’s an ominous sign. But I think he and Bradley will be on the same page, and this looks like a solid pairing.
Bob Sutton, Kansas City – Sutton is part of a complete overhaul in Kansas City with a new head coach and brand-new schemes on both sides of the ball.
Sutton worked for the Jets from 2000 to 2012, serving as defensive coordinator in 2006-2008. The 2007 and 2008 Jets defenses – the last before Ryan took over – were two of the worst of the last 15 years. Take that for what its worth. But overall New York has had consistent Top 20 and Top 10 defenses during Sutton’s tenure in The Big Apple.
Sutton inherits a Chiefs defense that is very young but stocked with talent. He has a more aggressive style than former coordinator Romeo Crennel. Which means that this is a Chiefs unit with a lot of boom-or-bust potential.
Robert Ferringo is a lead writer for Doc’s Sports and one of the best football handicappers in the nation. Robert has posted five of six winning Augusts and his football plays for the NFL Preseason are available right now for just $49. CLICK HERE to sign up and quit missing out!
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