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Lesson of Wild Card Weekend: Offensive Head Coaches Thrive with Strong Defensive Leader

| January 7th, 2014

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Presented without comment…

The top four defenses in the NFC in terms of yards allowed per game: Seattle, Carolina, New Orleans, San Francisco.

The top four defenses in the NFC in terms of points allowed per game: Seattle, Carolina, San Francisco, New Orleans

The four teams still alive in the NFC title race: Seattle, Carolina, San Francisco, New Orleans.

Okay, I guess I should make a comment…

Now before we start making the argument that defense is more important than offense, it is important to look at the offensive production numbers as well. Five of the top seven scoring teams in the NFC made the postseason tournament and making the postseason is the only way to contend for a Super Bowl title. The other two teams – Dallas and Chicago – each had a division title game in Week 17 and featured perhaps the two worst defenses in the league. You have to score to make the tournament.

But the relevance of the top four defenses in the conference being the final four teams standing can’t be understated. You have to score to make the tournament but you have to stop the opponent to advance. (Indianapolis would have had no chance to complete their comeback against Kansas City without a series of pivotal second-half stops.) The days of shutting down an opponent are most likely over. But if your defense can’t make a few key stops in the fourth quarter and pressure the quarterback, you’ll have little chance of finding yourself in the season’s final game.

The two most surprising performances of the NFC Wild Card round came from the two weakest defensive units on that side of the bracket: Green Bay and New Orleans. And their success should provide a template for the Chicago Bears moving forward.

In Philadelphia, against one of the most dynamic attacks in the sport, Rob Ryan’s game plan was spectacular. He removed LeSean McCoy from the proceedings. He muscled DeSean Jackson at the line of scrimmage and took him away until his best cover corner was forced out with a concussion. He attacked Nick Foles on first down and then settled into an 8-deep zone on obvious passing downs. It was Ryan’s masterpiece; the reason New Orleans finds themselves in Seattle this week.

Green Bay’s defense isn’t very good. Sunday they were brilliant, a lost containment on third-and-eight from forcing a far better team into no worse than overtime. All the credit belongs to their maligned defensive coordinator Dom Capers, operating without the only defender who seemed to produce against San Francisco in the past, Clay Matthews. Did the weather help? Sure. But it was only a year ago Colin Kaepernick embarrassed a better Packers unit in the division round. This year Capers gave the Packers a shot.

The Bears hired an offensive head coach. He’s still the head coach, of course, and he’s done a wonderful job assuming responsibility for the entirety of each Bears performance. (Hearing him speak about run fits each Monday afternoon was enough for me.) But Marc Trestman is never going to approach the Xs & Os on the defensive side of the ball with the same expertise and details he approaches the offensive side. Sean Payton and Mike McCarthy are the same. Sean Payton and Mike McCarthy have Super Bowl rings. But they won those rings with strong-willed, former head coach defensive coordinators.

If Trestman and Phil Emery decide to move on from Mel Tucker (no guarantee), they need to bring in a man to run the room. They need a man with a successful track record. They need a man to control the tone and tenor of a defensive locker that, if one is to believe the quotes from Lance Briggs, lacks an identity. (I take the Briggs comments seriously to a point. He could always, you know, PROVIDE that identity.)

And I don’t care about the potential coach’s schematic proclivities. 4-3, 3-4, blah blah blah. Watch these playoff games and identify how often these defenses are in EITHER alignment. (Answer: not often.) In this spread offense NFL the defense is going to spend 75% of the game in nickel and dime defenses, attempting to keep backs and tight ends from wrecking the game. And the Bears don’t have enough talent on the defensive side to cater a scheme in any direction. They should bring in the type of defensive coordinator who will mold a unit in his image.

That means a Wade Phillips – released from his contract in Houston. That means a Gregg Williams – orphaned by the Munchak firing in Tennessee. Both men enter the room with a pedigree of success. Both men have reputations for versatility and developing young talent. Both men have discernible identities on that side of the ball – something Mel Tucker seems to lack. If the Bears move on from Tucker they should move in the direction of an established leader. And they should move quickly.

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