Dave's post about predicting the records for our division this upcoming season allowed for a lot of debate in regard to who has improved their team this offseason, who has declined, who will surprise the league, who will disappoint, etc. One of the themes for the Falcons in that post, and really throughout this offseason, is that we are improving in our coordinators, and that will be enough to get us over the hump. I decided to take a closer look at the changes in coordinators from this past offseason and see what sort of effect these changes had on the teams. Follow me after the jump for some numbers and analysis.
I wanted to focus on the defense in this post, and if it sparks enough discussion, I can work on one for the offensive coordinators as well. In the NFL last season, there were twelve new defensive coordinators. Eight of them were paired up with new head coaches, just so that information is out their. Those teams were Baltimore, Cleveland*, Houston, Tennessee*, Denver* Oakland*, San Diego, Dallas*, Philadelphia, Minnesota*, Carolina*, and San Francisco*. Below, I have listed the change in team rankings for overall defense for each of these teams. (* denotes team had a new head coach)
|Baltimore +7||Oakland -18|
|Cleveland +12||San Diego -15|
|Houston +28||Minnesota -13|
|Tennessee +8||Carolina -10|
|San Francisco +9|
As you can see from this list, Houston was by far the biggest mover under a new coordinator, and Wade Phillips is considered one of the best, so that was not a huge surprise. Other high risers from the eight teams that improved included Cleveland and Denver. Four teams declined in overall defense, with Oakland having the worst decline. I follow that up with the team rankings for pass defense.
|Baltimore +17||Oakland -25|
|Cleveland +16||San Diego -12|
|Houston +29||Minnesota -16|
|Tennessee +15||Carolina -13|
|San Francisco +8|
Again, Houston was the big winner in the offseason coordinator derby, rising by an astounding 29 spots. Baltimore, Cleveland, and Tennessee all enjoyed large, double digit improvements as well. On the flip side, Oakland was the big loser, dropping 25 spots in the rankings. San Diego, Minnesota, and Carolina all fell by double digits though as well. Finally, we look at the run defense rankings and how these teams stack up.
|Baltimore +3||Cleveland -3|
|Houston +9||Tennessee -4|
|Denver +9||San Diego -16|
|Oakland +2||Minnesota -2|
|Dallas +5||Philadelphia -1|
|San Francisco +5||Carolina -2|
This was interesting to me because when it came to stopping the run, half of the teams improved, half of them declined. What was more interesting to me was none of the teams improved by double digits in the rankings, and only one team declined by more than four spots. Houston and Denver were the big winners here, and San Diego was the obvious loser.
Now, clearly there are other things that changed on these teams besides the coordinators. First, let's take a look at the changes during free agency to see if any of these teams took a similar approach to the Falcons in retaining most of their own players while looking at a few young guys and guys returning from injury to fill the needs. We can also see which teams attempted massive changes to go along with their new coordinators. Please note that this list is not perfect. If there is a pretty big game-changer that I accidentally omit from this list, please list below in the comments and I can add it in later.
Houston: Lost: Deljuan Robinson, DT; Zach Diles, LB; Bernard Pollard, S; Omobi Okoye, DT Gained: Jonathan Joseph, CB; Danieal Manning, S
Dallas: Lost: Stephen Bowen, DE Gained: Abram Elam, S; Kenyon Coleman, DE
Well, after you sort through all of that, it is no surprise that Philadelphia should be at the top of your mind. Their "Dream Team" offseason was well covered in the media. Other signings that stand out include Houston and San Francisco getting good corners in Jonathan Joseph and Carlos Rodgers, respectively. Other than that, these teams were all pretty quiet as far as going for the top shelf talent that was available. The other opportunity for them to acquire talent was through the draft, and you know I would be selling this post short if I didn't address that in here. Please note that I have no idea which of these players made the team, were injured, didn't sign or see the field, etc. That would require a ridiculous amount of research, and this is more of a discussion attempt.
Oakland: Demarcus Van Dyke, CB, 3rd; Chimdi Chekwa, CB, 4th
Dallas: Bruce Carter, LB, 2nd; Josh Thomas, CB, 5th
Some key takeaways from this: San Francisco, San Diego, Denver, Houston, Cleveland, and Baltimore all went defense in the first round, and most of those guys have turned out to be pretty good NFL players so far. Minnesota didn't address defense until the fourth round, the latest team to make a defensive selection on this list. Dallas and Oakland only used two picks on their defense. San Diego and Houston both used three picks on defense in the first two rounds.
So now I attempt to wrap all of this information up into a conclusion. I started with the twelve teams that began this season with a new defensive coordinator, and identified eight of which also had new head coaches. Since this is the Falcon's blog, I need to tie this all together and explain how it affects our team.
First, it appears that a new defensive coordinator can make solid improvements the defense, or it could have pretty disastrous effects if it goes poorly. Most of the teams showed improvement in the passing defense, which is great considering that is a major area of concern, but others had some pretty drastic drops. Run defense was another story, as half the teams improved, half declined, with no team having a double digit jump up in the rankings. With our run defense pretty stellar already, it really has nowhere to go but down, but I don't expect a major drop in run defense.
Second, it shows that we don't necessarily need to follow a certain model to succeed. Besides the Eagles, none of the teams really made a huge splash in free agency unless there was a key guy they were trying to get. Houston and San Diego invested the most value on defense in the draft, with Houston greatly improving overall and San Diego declining rapidly. Philadelphia had some massive signings and used three picks in the first four rounds on defense, yet their defensive rankings were nearly unchanged. I know a lot of people were looking for the Falcons to make a big signing, and without a first round pick in the draft, it will be tough to get a defensive stud.
My early impression, as free agency is not over and the draft is yet to come, is that Atlanta will improve in their pass and overall defense, but decline in run defense. I hope that we will have some less potent offenses in the beginning of our schedule, as I do anticipate a learning curve initially. But if all goes according to plan, the team adjusts well to Nolan's scheme, and the scheme succeeds in the NFL (which it has so far), I think the Falcons can make solid improvements and be a contender again in the NFC. If they struggle on defense, we could be in for a frustrating year, especially against some of the offenses on the schedule like New Orleans, New York, San Diego, and Detroit. That is my thoughts on the subject, and I will certainly clarify or continue them in the comments based on your thoughts as well. So, what say you. Are the Falcons doomed to a season similar to the Oakland fall from grace? Perhaps we pull a Texan and greatly improve our defense? Or we could just be like the Eagles, and remain relatively static in our rankings. Sound off, and let me hear what you think.