After three NFL seasons of kicking off from the 35-yard line, what has been the impact on touchbacks, returns, field position, scoring and injuries? Also, is this rule responsible for a record number of big comebacks?
23 Jul 2012
by Sean McCormick
To this point, our Coaching All-Stars series has focused on some of the most successful coaches of the modern era, guys like Bill Parcells, Dick Vermeil, and Tom Coughlin. For this installment, we’ll look at a coach who understood that you play to win the game, even if he wasn’t so sure how to translate that into, you know, actual wins. Herm Edwards was a coordinator on Tony Dungy’s staff in Tampa Bay, and he tried to bring the patented Buc Cover-2 defense to New York and, later, Kansas City. What makes Edwards interesting is that he had a clear idea of what he wanted his teams to look like, and occasionally had good success with his blueprint. So what would an ideal Herm Edwards team look like? Let’s examine it.
The Jets had a quietly efficient offense during the Edwards years, posting a top-10 DVOA four times from 2001-2005, and it’s no surprise to see them monopolizing the skill positions. Chad Pennington was a revelation when he was inserted into the lineup three games into the 2002 season. His DYAR was second behind only MVP Rich Gannon, while his 40.5% DVOA was easily tops in the league. Pennington’s favorite target that year was Laveranues Coles, who cashed in on his career season with a big contract from Daniel Snyder. Santana Moss would also wind up in Washington (traded for Coles, who returned to New York) in the wake of an efficient 2004 season where he averaged 18.6 yards per reception and had a DVOA of 28.5%. Curtis Martin topped our advanced stat charts in 2004, which gets him the nod over Larry Johnson’s 1,789-yard, 17-touchdown 2006 campaign. When Richie Anderson wasn’t paving the way for Martin, he was a legitimate receiving threat. Tony Gonzalez led all tight ends in DYAR in both 2006 and 2008, but we’ll go with the year when he did it as the lone offensive weapon on a 2-14 team with Tyler Thigpen, Damon Huard and Brodie Croyle throwing him the passes.
A conservative coach like Edwards lives and dies with his offensive line, and it’s no surprise that Edwards’ fall in both New York and Kansas City were precipitated by massive injuries and/or decline in the play up front. The interior lineman are all Canton-worthy, though Will Shields was 35 and running on fumes by this point. Kevin Mawae was at the top of his game in 2004, earning a sixth-consecutive Pro Bowl berth while anchoring a group that topped the league in Adjusted Line Yards. Fabini was a holdover from the Bill Parcells drafts, a mid-round mauler who compensated for less than elite athleticism with a nasty attitude, while McKenzie came aboard with Edwards in 2001.
DE: John Abraham, 2001 Jets
DE: Jared Allen, 2007 Chiefs
DT: Jason Ferguson, 2004 Jets
DT: James Reed, 2007 Chiefs
MLB: Jonathan Vilma, 2005 Jets
OLB: Derrick Johnson, 2007 Chiefs
OLB: Eric Barton, 2004 Jets
As a Tony Dungy disciple, you would expect Edwards to put more emphasis on pass rush than run defense, and it comes through in the front seven personnel. Edwards' own personal Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis were the tandem of John Abraham and Jared Allen. If you were using these particular years, they would combine for 28.5 sacks, nine forced fumbles, and one defensive touchdown. With the combination of Tamba Hali and Shaun Ellis on the bench, you have the makings of a very solid group. The interior line is a different matter. Aside from 2004, when the Jets rush defense was fifth in DVOA, Herm’s coaching tenure was marked by run defenses that ranged from mediocre to truly pitiful. We’ll go with a tandem of Jason Ferguson and James Reed: low-round plug-and-play types who could be counted on to do their jobs. The linebackers are also nothing to write home about. Vilma was Rookie of the Year in 2004, but we’ll go with his 2005 season when he made 102 Stops and made the Pro Bowl while toiling on an injury-ravaged unit. Johnson was a solid-but-unspectacular first-round pick, while Barton was a journeyman linebacker who ended up playing for three different teams.
Part of the charm of the Cover-2 concept is that it is supposed to allow teams to economize in the secondary. With a nasty pass rush coming from the front four, press corners who can run a 4.3 40-yard-dash are a luxury; all you really need is a heady zone corner who can keep the play in front of him and vacuum up errant throws generated by the pressure. Edwards inherited a good cornerback tandem in Aaron Glenn and Marcus Coleman before signing off on a scheme to free up cap space by dumping both to the Houston Texans in the expansion draft. Edwards, a former corner, relied increasingly on aging veterans as time went on. We’ll go with 2005 vintage Ty Law over 2007 vintage Patrick Surtain, based mostly on Law’s 10 interceptions. The safety picks are essentially random, as Edwards never coached a Pro Bowler. Bernard Pollard knows how to sweep the leg, Kobra Kai-style, so we’ll keep him on the team in case we run into New England at any point. Erik Coleman had a nice rookie season that he failed to build on, and he becomes the free safety by the two sweetest words in the English language: default.
Chad Morton returned two kicks for touchdowns in the 2002 season opener against Buffalo, and he averaged 26 yards on kickoff returns, generating 1560 combined return yards. Morton became the third player on this list to travel down the New York-to-Washington pipeline, signing a five-year offer with the Redskins immediately after the season that New York declined to match. Doug Brien connected on 27-of-32 attempts, and four of his five misses were beyond 50 yards. Dustin Colquitt averaged 44.3 yards a punt and benefited from a good coverage team.
Despite Herm’s fairly modest success as a coach, his specific blueprint generates an All-Star team that could probably hold its own against those of some of the bigger name coaches. Herm valued field position football, as exemplified by a combination of strong special teams and an offense that could control the ball with a dominant interior running game and efficient passing attack. His offenses were consistently among the best in avoiding turnovers, and they were infrequently penalized, thus maxing out their yardage potential. His defenses usually struggled with the run but had strong pass rushers who could close out games in the fourth quarter.
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