By Kevin Braig
The Quant Coach
When former New England Patriots head coach Bill Parcells said a coach had to pick the groceries in order to prepare a winning team, he probably never anticipated the frenzied shopping dash that was the NFL’s truncated 2011 off-season.
But the Tuna did know that, no matter how fresh the ingredients, in order to create a tasty pigskin dish, an NFL chef must have a good recipe for combining the ingredients.
The recipes of the NFL are the plays that offensive coordinators and defensive coordinators design for their teams. Like demanding food critics, the QuantCoach and the Cold, Hard Footballl Facts will review the recipes and presentation of the following five coordinators very closely this year.
1. Juan Castillo – Philadelphia Defensive Coordinator
No team brought in more highly regarded ingredients in the off-season than the Eagles, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Every defensive play designer in the league would love to create recipes for Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rogers-Cromartie, Jason Babin, and Cullen Jenkins.
Castillo, who Andy Reid promoted from offensive line coach despite the fact that he has never coached defense in the NFL, is a bit of neophyte in his role as the authority over the defensive side of Philadelphia’s kitchen. He has a lot of work ahead of him: Philly surrendered 377 point last year. Only five teams in franchise history gave up more.
Master defensive chef Dom Capers’ contribution was one of the critical ingredients in Green Bay’s Super Bowl triumph last year: Green Bay finished No. 2 in scoring defense, No. 1 in Bendability
and No. 1 in Defensive Passer Rating
Philadelphia president Joe Banner saw the writing on the wall from Green Bay's Super Bowl run: He already has said that that the critics will judge his team’s 2011 season on whether the Eagles duplicate that accomplishment. Clearly, Castillo’s recipes will be subject to as much scrutiny as the recipes of any other designer in the league.
2. Mike Mularkey – Atlanta Offensive Coordinator
Mularkey has proven that he is quite capable of designing a quality meat-and-potatoes menu that minimizes the potential for turnover heartburn by featuring safe passes from quarterback Matt Ryan to wide receiver Roddy White and pounding runs from Michael Turner.
In 2010, the Falcons were among the league leaders in sustained scoring drives, but the attack was bereft of zang.The Falcons ranked a meager No. 19th in Passing YPA (5.95 YPA)
. On draft day, GM Thomas Dimitroff traded a bushel basket of picks to move up and grab zesty Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones. It is now up to Mularkey (and Ryan) to use Jones to spice up the attack while still avoiding turnover heartburn.
3. Greg Manusky – San Diego Defensive Coordinator
Ron Rivera beat out Manusky for the top chef position in Carolina, but he left the former San Francisco defensive coordinator with more than fish tacos
in San Diego. It’s a given that head coach Norv Turner’s offensive designs will be among the best in the NFL and the special teams, which cost the Chargers several games in 2010, cannot help but be improved under new coordinator Rich Bisaccia.
That means that the success of Bolts’ Café may be determined to a large extent by Manusky’s ability to duplicate Rivera’s successful defensive menu (No. 4 in Defensive Passer Rating
, No. 1 in Defensive Passing YPA
), which featured frequent servings of heavy pass rush (No. 2 in Negative Pass Plays
) and generous hits of safety Eric Weddle (Bam!).
4. Wade Phillips – Houston Defensive Coordinator
When Jerry Jones shook up the kitchen in his brand new Dallas BBQ joint by firing Phillips as head coach after Green Bay smoked the Cowboys, several Dallas waiters (who dressed up as defenders against the Packers) suggested that part of the reason for their 1-7 start was that Phillips’ defensive menu had become too familiar to the competition.
Meanwhile, in Houston, ingredient spoilage in the form of free agent defections (Dunta Robinson), suspensions (Brian Cushing), and injuries (Mario Williams and Connor Barwin) resulted in a pass defense that couldn’t pass the gag reflex and the dismissal of defensive coordinator Frank Bush. Phillips still knows how to design pressure and with Williams, Barwin, and first-round pick J.J. Watt he has some peppers (albeit not Julius Peppers) to toss into the cooker. If free-agent additions Jonathan Joseph and Danieal Manning improve the secondary ingredients as expected, Phillips could be the comeback coach of the year.
5. Kyle Shanahan – Washington Offensive Coordinator
Head coach Mike Shanahan has stated that he will “put his reputation” as an NFL chef on one of his quarterbacks, John Beck or Rex Grossman, emerging as an acquired taste. That is as bold a proclamation as the QuantCoach has ever heard in the NFL restaurant district given that chefs in Miami, Baltimore, Chicago, and Houston have already rejected Beck and Grossman as potential ingredients.
If Shanahan is to prove them (and the rest of the world) wrong and win over the critics, he is going to need his son Kyle to create some winning recipes for whichever quarterback the head coach ultimately deems to be more than mere scrap.