Every year I say it and every year I am flabbergasted by the lack of attention and notice that head coaches, coordinators and offensive & defensive systems get amongst fantasy football players. I will put it to you this way: Look at an NFL Team as you would a movie. A movie could have every famous actor and actress that you could imagine. But if the script is a piece of garbage then so too is that movie. Every team in the NFL uses a script. It is called a playbook. If the playbook is sound and it suits the personnel taking part in its development well, the chances for success are high. But if you try and take Adam Sandler and put him in The Kings Speech, chances are it is going to fail.
Head coaches are the directors of the film. They are the ones who build a staff, implement the systems and choose the actors who will bring their ideas to life. If a director doesn’t have a proper script, a vision of what they wish to see and a cast who will fulfill that prophecy, the film is doomed to fail.
Football is one of the only sports where it isn’t just about god given ability. Every player that steps out onto an NFL field is a historically amazing athlete. But if they don’t have a good script, good directors and aren’t a good fit with the rest of the cast, they just aren’t going to work out for the team or for your fantasy team.
With this in mind let’s take a closer look at each NFL team’s coaching staff and see which tickets we’ll be purchasing this season.
Head Coach – Bruce Arians (2nd Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Harold Goodwin (2nd Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Todd Bowles (2nd Year)
Summary: Arians runs the offense and has a pass heavy playbook that result in good numbers for his QBs. Legendary offensive coordinator is an assistant coach and basically the passing game coordinator. Harold Goodwin is more of an offensive line coach than true offensive coordinator. The Cardinals believe in a power run game to complement their wide-open passing attack. The good news for fantasy owners is that Arians has preferred to utilize one RB as the main ball carrier. However, he was incredibly reluctant to use Andre Ellington as the main guy last year. The Cardinals throw the ball so much that it comes at the direct expense of his RBs and puts a lot of pressure on the QB.
Defensively the Cardinals young secondary is in good hands with Todd Bowles. He has studied under some of the better blitz creators in the business and thus has created an attacking scheme that creates problems for pass heavy systems.
Players That Fit The System – Logan Thomas, Jonathan Dwyer, Patrick Peterson
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor
Head Coach – Mike Smith (7th Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Dirk Koetter (3rd Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Mike Nolan (3rd Year)
Summary: The Falcons coaching staff dropped the ball terribly last season. It started in training camp when they gave too many days off, especially to veteran players. They let Tony Gonzalez come and go as he pleased and then allowed Roddy White to get out of shape after his ankle injury. They assumed that the playoffs were a given for their young, talented team and they learned a very hard lesson. Mike Smith is a defensive minded head coach who studied under the likes of Rex Ryan and Jack Del Rio. Offensively, Dirk Koetter is a big believer in putting pressure on defensive backs via the passing game. He loves to use his RBs as pass catchers out of the backfield, which is perfect for Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rogers. Koetter’s style puts a lot of pressure on the offensive line, a place where the Falcons have taken some hits in recent years. This is a boom or bust system that will either score a lot of points or look completely lost depending on execution. We saw the latter in 2014.
Mike Nolan is an outstanding motivator and in game strategist. The Falcons defense is designed around well-disguised blitzes and pressure on the QB. You will not find a better prepared coach than Mike Nolan and his defenses usually mirror that image.
Players That Fit The System – Steven Jackson, Julio Jones, Roddy White
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Bear Pascoe, Osi Umenyiora, Dominique Davis
Head Coach – John Harbaugh (7th Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Gary Kubiak (1st Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Dean Pees (3rd Year)
Summary: John Harbaugh is a fine assessor of talent but does not have the game planning or in game recognition of his Brother Jim. Harbaugh has benefitted from an outstanding group of coordinators over the years including five who now have served as head coaches in Rex Ryan, Chuck Pagano, Cam Cameron, Hue Jackson and Jim Caldwell. The addition of Kubiak will transform the offense quite a bit. The Ravens will now employ one of the best running systems ever in the old Denver/Houston cut blocking system. Ray Rice ran in a zone blocking system in college, so this could be just what the doctor ordered to get him back on track.
Dean Pees is a turnover guru who insists on his defenses taking the ball away and scoring once they do. It was a difficult season for the Ravens defense last year after losing two of their leaders in Ray Lewis (retired) & Ed Reed (Texans). Now that they have had a season to adjust, this unit should be better organized and ready to take the ball away again in 2014.
Players That Fit The System – Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Dennis Pitta, Owen Daniels
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Steve Smith, Elvis Dumervil
Head Coach – Doug Marrone (2nd Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Nathaniel Hackett (2nd Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Jim Schwartz (1st Year)
Summary: Although Marrone has been associated with Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints offense, it was not his playbook nor did he call plays for the Saints during his time there. He found success at his Alma Mater in Syracuse University implementing an aggressive pass happy offense, however there is just no pedigree that suggests he can do it at the pro level. I hope that Marrone learned something from his failures last season because if he didn’t, there is a lot of young talent here in Buffalo that is going to rot on the shelf. Nathaniel Hackett is the son of one of the most overrated offensive coordinators of all time in Paul Hackett. Marrone and Hackett want to pass the ball 40+ times a game, but they don’t have the personnel to do so. This season I expect them to figure out ways to get a healthy C.J. Spiller the football in space and make use of first round pick Sammy Watkins. If they continue to try and fit square pegs in round holes, this entire staff could be out after the team is sold next spring.
Last year’s defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz replaces Pettine, which is a nice fit for both Schwartz and the Bills. Schwartz was out of his element as a front man and can now concentrate on what he does best - developing young defensive backs. The Bills defense is going to be very underrated going into the 2014 season.
Players That Fit The System – Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Ross Cockrell
Players That Don’t Fit The System – C.J. Spiller, E.J. Manuel, Mike Williams
Head Coach – Ron Rivera (4th Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Mike Shula (2nd Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Sean McDermott (4th Year)
Summary: The Panthers should have hired back Rob Chudzinski because Mike Shula is one of the worst offensive coordinators in the league. He is so formulaic and simple minded it is retarding the growth of Cam Newton. When you have a weapon like Newton, you must build a system around him to allow his natural skills to fit the goal of the offense. What we have here in Carolina is a ball control offense that waits for the defense to put them in position to win. This crushes Cam Newton's fantasy value and is yet another example of why you must pay attention to the system in fantasy football.
Ron Rivera and Sean McDermott have built one of the best young defenses in the NFL. On top of the skill, they scheme as well as anybody and maximize the use of their linebackers like few other teams. They are going to be a very good unit in 2014.
Players That Fit The System – Luke Kuechly, Greg Hardy, Charles Johnson, Thomas Davis, Mike Tolbert
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams
Head Coach – Marc Trestman (2nd Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Aaron Kromer (2nd Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Mel Tucker (2nd Year)
Summary: Marc Trestman surprised me and much of the NFL last season by taking the same ingredients that Lovie Smith and his staff had and making it the second best offense in the NFL. Only the Denver Broncos scored more points than the Bears in 2014. Trestman calls the plays and is very much the QB coach in Chicago as well. Aaron Kromer rebuilt the offensive line last year and is essentially the run game coordinator. This crew stunned defenses last season by creating plays that had two or three real good options for Jay Cutler on every play. This lead to breakouts by Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett in 2013. The word on the street is that the Bears will be implementing more red zone plays for their TEs this season.
As good as the offense was in Chicago last year, the defense was perhaps the worst in Chicago Bears history. Mel Tucker was in a bad spot having to continue Lovie Smith’s cover-2 scheme while not having the defensive line presence to put pressure on the QB or stop the run. The Bears are hoping to get more pressure from offseason signings Jared Allen and Israel Idonije, but that is a stretch. They are not going to be able to stop the run again this year, which is great news for Adrian Peterson, Eddie Lacy and Reggie Bush.
Players That Fit The System – Matt Forte, Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Martellus Bennett
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Shaun Draughn, Jordan Palmer
Head Coach – Marvin Lewis (12th Season)
Offensive Coordinator – Hue Jackson (1st Season)
Defensive Coordinator – Paul Guenther (1st Season)
Summary: The Bengals lost both coordinators to head coaching jobs after last season. While many teams would suffer mightily from such a loss, my feeling is this will be only a one dimensional hit for Cincinnati. Hue Jackson is one of my favorite offensive minds in the NFL today. He is always on the cutting edge of new formations and personnel packages that keep defenses on their heels. Although I am not a big fan of Giovani Bernard, he will be on my radar in all PPR leagues this season because of Hue Jackson. Marvin Lewis has done a great job in recent years changing the culture around the locker-room by bringing in players with high work ethic and coachability. The one shortage in the Bengals playbook in the past few years has been a lack of an imagination in their running game. That will end this year with Hue Jackson calling the shots. With the force that this offensive line has up front, the Bengals should be able to run a much more successful running game.
Paul Guenther moves up from linebacker coach to run the defense with the loss of Mike Zimmer. Guenther is probably ready to handle this role, but the Bengals will miss Zimmer’s high level of offensive play recognition. This squad was always one of the most prepared for what offenses were trying to do and we will have to wait and see if that preparation continues here under Guenther.
Players That Fit The System – Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, A.J. Green
Players That Don’t Fit The System – BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Andy Dalton
Head Coach – Mike Pettine (1st Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Kyle Shanahan (1st Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Jim O’Neil (1st Year)
Summary: The Browns are a young, talented team on the field but are a complete tire fire in their front office. Firing Rob Chudzinski and his staff after just one season was as surprising as it was embarrassing. But hiring Mike Pettine, who was coaching in high school twelve years ago, is another problem altogether. Pettine is good at developing young defensive talent but there are many concerns about him running a football team. He brings in former Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and former Titans offensive coordinator Dowell Loggins to help run the offensive side of the football. The most intriguing aspect of the Shanahan hire would be the cut block running scheme, but without the other assistants to teach the scheme, I just don’t have much confidence in it. This coaching staff has a lot of issues to resolve including who their QB is going to be. Jordan Cameron’s value takes a major hit as he will no longer be the first read in many of the passing plays as he was in Rob Chudzinski’s system. I loved Cameron last year, but think he could lose 1/3 of his production in 2014 in the new Browns offense.
Jim O’Neil follows Pettine over from Buffalo and will carry the same aggressive defensive approach. The Browns will mix & match their pressure and keep the offenses off balance in doing so. The Browns do not have a lot of talent on the defensive line currently, but the new regime will uncover a couple pass rushers right away during training camp.
Players That Fit The System – Ben Tate, Joe Haden, Justin Gilbert, Paul Kruger
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Johnny Manziel, Jordan Cameron
Head Coach – Jason Garrett (4th Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Scott Linehan (1st Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Rod Marinelli (1st Year)
Summary: The Cowboys entered the 2013 season with some serious in fighting about who was going to call the offensive plays between Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan. This offseason they brought in Scott Linehan to be the passing game coordinator and play caller on offense. With these issues resolved, the Cowboys can focus on creating more opportunities for the likes of Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray. Linehan has had a lot of success working with Calvin Johnson the past few seasons and should be able to help the Cowboys keep Bryant involved.
It was sad to watch Monte Kiffin’s cover two get destroyed on the regular last season. Although they have kept Kiffin around with a new title (assistant head coach/defense), Rod Marinelli will design much of the defemse in 2014. This means more rotations amongst the defensive line and a focus on getting to the QB early and often. The bottom line is there will be more sacks from the Cowboys this year but they will come from a wider variety of players.
Players That Fit The System – Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, DeMarcus Lawrence
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Morris Claiborne, Lance Dunbar
Head Coach – John Fox (4th Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Adam Gase (2nd Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Jack Del Rio (3rd Year)
Summary: The problem with evaluating the Broncos offensive system is that it is basically all Peyton Manning. Manning is the only player in NFL history to have unlimited input into the offensive playbook and the ability to call his own plays on every possession. Adam Gase’s biggest role will be in developing the new Broncos WRs in Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer. Be careful however in expecting too much from any of the newest Broncos on offense. As we learned last season with Montee Ball, if Peyton Manning isn’t comfortable with you, then you aren’t going to get playing time. Period.
Jack Del Rio runs a bulldog attacking defensive system that is perfect for the young hungry linebackers the Broncos have on defense. The additions of Aqib Talib and DeMarcus Ware give Del Rio more weapons than he has ever had running a defense. The key to a Broncos Super Bowl in 2014 will be the how good this defensive unit can be.
Players That Fit The System – Peyton Manning, Wes Welker, Aqib Talib
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Brock Osweiler, Zac Dysert, Ronnie Hillman
Head Coach – Jim Caldwell (1st Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Joe Lombardi (1st Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Teryl Austin (1st Year)
Summary: Jim Caldwell may be one of, if not the most, overrated coaches in all of sports. It’s not that he isn’t a strong, steady leader who identifies with his players, because he is exactly that. But he offers nothing more. If you are one of those people who give heaping amount of credit to former Indianapolis offensive coaches, then just stop reading here because you don’t understand football. Peyton Manning made those teams. Peyton Manning made that offense and for others to move up the coaching chain because of it is just ludicrous. Some may point to Caldwell’s run as the Ravens offensive coordinator during their Super Bowl run in 2012. Again, this guy got incredibly lucky to be promoted when he was and to witness everything from defensive backs falling down to the power going out at the Superdome. The positive aspect of Caldwell’s hiring is that he will bring in a calm, even demeanor to the Lions locker room. He will also gain control of players like Reggie Bush, Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and others who are constantly flapping their gums in the media and causing trouble off of the field. Joe Lombardi is another overrated coach in that everybody wants him to be some sort of genius because he happens to be Vince Lombardi’s grandson. The fact that Lombardi gets any credit for Drew Brees (and Sean Payton’s) success in New Orleans is downright ridiculous. The Lions offense is absolutely loaded with offensive talent - so much so that an iPhone could probably make them competitive. The best thing that this staff can do is to somehow motivate these players into finally living up to their true potential and maximizing their effort in ways that Jim Schwartz never could. But schematically the Lions offense will be as straightforward as can be.
Teryl Austin is a well-respected defensive backs coach and a very solid choice to develop what has been one of the worst secondaries in the NFL for quite some time. As nutty as Gunter Cunningham is, I like the move in keeping him around in a “senior advisor” role. Cunningham is a master strategist and a very good motivator too. The defense has a long way to come, but at least the Lions seem to be on the right path here finally.
Players That Fit The System – Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Darius Slay
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Mikel LeShoure, Brandon Pettigrew
Green Bay Packers
Head Coach – Mike McCarthy (8th Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Tom Clements (3rd Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Dom Capers (6th Year)
Summary: The Packers have a very good group of assistant coaches on staff. In fact, head coach Mike McCarthy may be the least accomplished member of his staff but much like on the field, he has a keen eye for talent. The Packers run a West Coast based offense but often spread the field in order to take advantage of Aaron Rodgers brilliant accuracy and a deep WR corps. This offense is all about the play of the QB and McCarthy, Clements and departed QB coach Ben McAdoo have done a tremendous job educating Aaron Rodgers. The secret to the Packers success is being able to find the vulnerabilities of the defense and exploiting them for big plays. The Packers use a different approach than most NFL Teams in employing former players as coaches of different positions. For example they use Edger Bennett (former RB) as the WR coach and Jerry Fontenot (former offensive lineman) as TE coach. This gives the coaching staff a unique approach and seems to work extremely well in the development of their personnel.
Dom Capers is one of the best defensive minds in the league and handles everything from personnel decisions to play calling on the defensive side. Capers likes to put pressure on the QB and his defense is always in constant attack mode. This leads to plenty of sacks and turnovers, which make the Packers a pretty consistent fantasy defense. The additions of Ha Ha Clinton Dix and Khyri Thornton are perfect for this scheme and both figure to be productive right from the start.
Players That Fit The System – Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Davante Adams, Ha Ha Clinton Dix
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Andrew Quarless, Datone Jones
Head Coach – Bill O’Brien (1st Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Bill O’Brien
Defensive Coordinator – Romeo Crennel (1st Year)
Summary: One of the truly great fantasy football schemes has fallen. The Texans cut blocking running system under Gary Kubiak & Rick Dennison was the best running system in football. So the days of starting anybody who is running the football for the Texans is done as is Arian Foster’s days as a top overall pick. Bill O’Brien is also a guy who likes to run the football though, just with a different style. O’Brien’s offense uses a fullback as a lead blocker much of the time and will often spread the field out to isolate the RB one on one with approaching linebackers. The exciting part of O’Brien’s system in Houston is that he is big on using the TE. He’ll often line up multiple TEs and have them split out wide to create mismatches on linebackers or nickel cornerbacks. He is a very aggressive play caller and should help out the fantasy numbers of Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins. Give this offense a year and it very likely will be a perennial top ten in the NFL.
Romeo Crennel was a great choice to run the defense here in Houston. Obviously he brings a lot of experience and familiarity to the table which will be easy for the players. The outcry of the Texans selection of JaDeveon Clowney first overall is unfounded. Everybody thinks that because Crennel will run a 3-4 scheme in Houston that Clowney will have to play on his feet more. That is just not true. Anybody who has watched what Crennel and his mentor Bill Belichick have done on defense over the past ten years knows that the 3-4 is just a base model for their defense. The fact is that they run an awful lot of 4-3 to matchup up with the ever-increasing passing formations across the NFL these days. With Clowney, J.J. Watt and a healthy Brian Cushing, this defense is going to be scary good as soon as this year.
Players That Fit The System – Tom Savage, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Garrett Graham, DeAndre Hopkins, J.J. Watt
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Ryan Fitzpatrick, Arian Foster, Dennis Johnson
Head Coach – Chuck Pagano (3rd Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Pep Hamilton (2nd Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Greg Manusky (3rd Year)
Summary: Losing Bruce Arians really hurt this Colts offense last season. While it was wise to bring in Pep Hamilton whom Andrew Luck is comfortable with from his days at Stanford, he just doesn’t provide a proven offensive system right now. Hamilton likes to spread out the field though and put a lot of pressure on the defensive backs by using downfield speed to create opportunities underneath. While this sounds great for players like T.Y. Hilton, defenses also recognized this and wouldn’t let him get out of the blocks last year. Hamilton also wants to utilize a power running game that they thought would be prefect for Trent Richardson. But without a good offensive line, there was little room for Richardson or any of the Colts RBs last season. Richardson won’t be much better in 2014 either, but he will benefit from a high volume of carries, which makes him at least fantasy relevant in this system.
Chuck Pagano and Greg Manusky are very strong defensive minds who share a belief in bringing constant pressure via blitz packages. The linebackers in this defense will rack up sacks as well as high volume tackle numbers.
Players That Fit The System – Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton, Jerrell Freeman, Robert Mathis
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Coby Fleener, Trent Richardson
Kansas City Chiefs
Head Coach – Andy Reid (2nd Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Doug Pederson (2nd Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Bob Sutton (2nd Year)
Summary: Andy Reid’s offense has ranked in the top half of the NFL in all but 4 of his 15 seasons as a head coach in the NFL. Reid turned around the Chiefs offense quickly by implementing his balanced west coast system. His system is built around a dynamic all purpose RB and a QB that limits mistakes and moves the chains. With those two elements in place and an offensive line that creates room, the Chiefs offense is going to move the ball. JaMaal Charles is the focus of this offense and as long as he stays healthy, he’ll be a top five RB in fantasy football. Reid will continue to call the plays in 2014 as Doug Pederson will continue to serve as more of a passing game coordinator.
The defense is lead by former Army head coach Bob Sutton, who was a long time assistant for the Jets. This unit was one of the best in football during the first half of the regular season but wet the bed miserably down the stretch. As much as the Chiefs try and blame injuries they know that Sutton and his staff have got to acquire depth and find a way to generate more of a pass rush with their defensive line.
Players That Fit The System – JaMaal Charles, Alex Smith, Tamba Hali, Justin Houston
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Joe McKnight, Anthony Fasano
Head Coach – Joe Philbin (3rd Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Bill Lazor (1st Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Kevin Coyle (3rd Year)
Summary: The strength of the Miami Dolphins isn’t in either their offensive or defensive system. This coaching staff is more about the development of the individual player than they are about strategizing opponents. Ultimately it will be their undoing but in the meantime, we could see positive development out of Ryan Tannehill amongst others. A local radio station in Miami refers to Joe Philbin as “Mr. Personality” and anybody who has ever tried to get anything out of him would smile at that remark. The departure of Mike Sherman opens the door for Bill Lazor, who served as the QB coach of the Eagles last season. Lazor is going to clean up the running game and create an environment of small successes for Ryan Tannehill to build his confidence. The Dolphins use a zone blocking system along the offensive line and have greatly improved that unit this offseason. They are going to be much improved on offense this season.
Defensive Coordinator Kevin Coyle is a whiz at teaching defensive backs how to jump routes and intercept the ball. He trains his secondary on what routes the offense wants to run and is well versed on the other side of the ball. Another offseason should help this unit be better prepared for playing the likes of Josh McDaniels, Doug Marrone and the AFC East offenses.
Players That Fit The System – Ryan Tannehill, Knowshon Moreno, Cortland Finnegan
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Daniel Thomas, Mike Wallace, Dion Jordan
Head Coach – Mike Zimmer (1st Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Norv Turner (1st Year)
Defensive Coordinator – George Edwards (1st Year)
Summary: The Vikings swap out one defensive minded head coach for another here with Mike Zimmer. Zimmer is far more modern and innovative though than Leslie Frazier was. Zimmer is going to bring a strong emphasis on the fundamentals to Minnesota, something that is desperately needed on both sides of the football. Of all the RBs that Norv Turner has worked with, he just might have the best one yet in Adrian Peterson. Turner is going to lean heavily on the star RB as he grooms his young QB in Teddy Bridgewater. Turner runs a west coast system passing style along with a power running game. Adrian Peterson will be the center of the offense without question in 2014.
The George Edwards hiring definitely came out of the blue though as I would have thought Zimmer would have tapped someone from his Bengals coaching staff for the job. Edwards has been successful in developing linebackers and that will be his primary job in year one in Minnesota. Zimmer is going to handle the defensive setup and play calling at least in 2014. He will use variations of both a 4-3 and 3-4 system depending on the situation. Without Bill Parcells or Marvin Lewis to override him, we may finally see the full extent of what a Mike Zimmer defense is capable of.
Players That Fit The System – Adrian Peterson, Teddy Bridgewater, Kyle Rudolph, Anthony Barr
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Cordarrelle Patterson, Matt Asiata
New England Patriots
Head Coach – Bill Belichick (15th Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Josh McDaniels (3rd Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Matt Patricia (3rd Year)
Summary: The Patriots coaching staff is a very misunderstood bunch. Sure Bill Belichick is a genius and an amazing strategist. But offensively people need to go back and realize that Tom Brady wasn’t an elite QB until Josh McDaniels took over and began implementing spread formations. When the Pats were winning Super Bowls, they were doing it in a west coast bland offense. Today they are among the most innovative offensive systems in the NFL. McDaniels will create personnel mismatches on offense much like Belichick has made a career out of on defense. The greatness here is that the Patriots can and will line up in anything from a five wide spread formation to a two TE jumbo package. Bill Belichick won’t allow his system to get stale. He is continuously changing schemes in order to adjust to personnel and to how the opposition is matching up. The one major difference these days is that Belichick realizes that they need to run the ball more in order to save Tom Brady from getting hit and most importantly to give his defense time to adjust on the sideline. Don’t sleep on the New England backfield again this year because there will be plenty of fantasy points to be gained by this group.
Belichick is one of the all time great defensive strategists. He gets more out of less than any other coach in the NFL. Over the past few seasons though the Patriots have lost quite a bit of players to free agency causing them to have to reload year after year which really tests the greatness of coaches. The Pats will be very good on defense once again in 2014.
Players That Fit The System – Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Darrelle Revis
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Michael Hoomanawanui, Danny Amendola
New Orleans Saints
Head Coach – Sean Payton (9th Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Pete Carmichael (6th Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Rob Ryan (2nd Year)
Summary: Sean Payton is one of the brightest offensive minds in the NFL and he continues to be on the forefront of the latest innovations in formations and play calling in the NFL. The Saints utilize a timing based system in which Drew Brees basically picks an open spot on the field to throw to and the receiver’s job is to get there without breaking stride. This system can look impeccable when run correctly or lead to a ton of turnovers if the QB & receivers are not on the same page. Hence the WR production from the burners will rise and fall dramatically from week to week. This is one of the reasons we see the Saints loading up on WRs the past couple of years. It will take them a year or two to get on the same page as Drew Brees, but once they connect, magic happens both on the field and in fantasy football.
The addition of Rob Ryan to run the defense was huge for the Saints last season. Although the defense bent and broke far more than Ryan would have liked last year, it isn’t easy when the offense scores as frequently as the Saints do. The good news from a fantasy perspective is that the more point the Saints put up, the more passing opposing offenses have to do against the Saints secondary. This leads to more sacks, interceptions and points for the defensive unit as a whole.
Players That Fit The System – Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham, Brandin Cooks, Cameron Jordan, Junior Galette
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Luke McCown, Pierre Thomas, Nick Toon
New York Giants
Head Coach – Tom Coughlin (11th Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Ben McAdoo (1st Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Perry Fewell (5th Year)
Summary: The Giants offense hit rock bottom in 2013 and it essentially cost Kevin Gilbride his career. Gilbride retired after last season and the Giants brought in Packers long time assistant coach Ben McAdoo to run the offense. McAdoo insists that his system in New York will be suited to the talent he has to work with. It will be a west coast blend but will offer a power running game as well. I would expect a lot of shorter routes run by the Giants receivers and far more catches for the RBs out of the backfield. Eli Manning is going to really enjoy this system and may enjoy a big rebound this season.
On the defensive side Perry Fewell runs a cover-2 hybrid that keeps the big plays to a minimum. But when the Giants defense isn’t creating turnovers, they tend to let the offense pick up chunks of yardage and grind out the clock. The cover two is becoming obsolete nowadays with teams spreading the field out so much. Fewell is going to have to devise a better way of protecting the easy catches and yards for opposing offenses.
Players That Fit The System – Eli Manning, Rashad Jennings, Jason Pierre-Paul
Players That Don’t Fit The System – David Wilson, Josh Freeman
New York Jets
Head Coach – Rex Ryan (6th Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Marty Mornhinweg (2nd Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Dennis Thurman (2nd Year)
Summary: Rex Ryan is an outstanding motivator and defensive strategist. But his gimmick is running thin here in New York and he could be on his last legs in 2014. Marty Mornhinweg is an experienced mind who has served under many great offensive minds, including Andy Reid. He runs a similar system to Reid in that it’s a west coast blend that ideally would lean heavily on the RB out of the backfield. The Jets went out and made huge improvements to their talent on offense this offseason in order to give Mornhinweg what he needs to move the football. If Chris Johnson has anything left, he could be a huge playmaker in this offense. I get the feeling that the coaches weren’t impressed with Geno Smith last season and that Michael Vick will be given a legitimate shot to win the QB1 job. If he does, there will be a lot more big plays downfield for the Jets this season.
Rex Ryan will always be the leader of the Jets defense. He is a very good strategist that always has his units prepared and able to adjust very quickly. The reason why the Jets had no problem getting rid of Darrelle Revis is because this style of defense doesn’t need star players to flourish. Rex Ryan’s defense makes players great. Dennis Thurman is a very good instructor and developer of young defensive talent. These two work very well together.
Players That Fit The System – Chris Johnson, Eric Decker, Muhammad Wilkerson
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Geno Smith, Bilal Powell, Dee Millner
Head Coach – Dennis Allen (3rd Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Greg Olsen (2nd Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Jason Tarver (3rd Year)
Summary: The Raiders coaching staff are pieces that they hope fit together well enough to turn the talent on the roster into a winning football team. Sadly, they don’t fit and the Raiders won’t benefit from this staff. On the offensive side, they have the experienced veteran in Greg Olsen. However, Olsen has proven himself to be nothing more than a mediocre QB caretaker at the NFL level. His offensive game plans are generic, repetitive and honestly just plain sad. There is no aggressiveness to Olsen’s west coast based system. The Raiders roster just doesn’t fit the type of playbook that they want to run on either side of the football. They will certainly try and run the football more this year than in previous seasons but the offensive line just can’t support that. This is a team and a system that is going nowhere fast.
Dennis Allen is a sound defensive mind who has learned behind some of the best defensive minds in the game including Dan Reeves, Wade Phillips and John Fox. He employs a cover two type system which focuses on not giving up big plays. Allen and Jason Tarver also believe in putting pressure on the QB through constant blitz packages. But the Raiders just don’t have the LB corps to fulfill this type of system right now.
Players That Fit The System – Matt Schaub, Derek Carr, James Jones, LaMarr Woodley
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Darren McFadden, Denarius Moore, D.J. Hayden
Head Coach – Chip Kelly (2nd Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Pat Shurmur (2nd Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Bill Davis (2nd Year)
Summary: I was very skeptical of Chip Kelly and how his offense would work at the NFL level. Having Pat Shurmur as offensive coordinator confused me even more because of his history as a generic west coast strategist. But Kelly showed us last year that he could build a professional offense that uses newer innovations in formation and personnel packages. The basis of Kelly’s read-option offensive system is finding where the defensive weakness is and exploiting it. The ball is always in the hands of a player who has a mathematical advantage against the defense. This system is all about leverage and knowing how to not just take what the defense gives you but go for the throat every time. The Eagles will use a variety of players to accomplish this feat and thus, there is a lot of fantasy impact in Philadelphia these days.
The defensive side of the ball is no different. Bill Davis has learned under some of the best defensive minds in the history of football, including Bill Cowher, Dom Capers and Dick LeBeau. The Eagles defense confused itself at times in 2013, but this is a system that is really just getting started. They seem to really have a real knack for getting pressure on the QB.
Players That Fit The System – LeSean McCoy, Nick Foles, Jordan Matthews
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Brent Celek
Head Coach – Mike Tomlin (8th Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Todd Haley (3rd Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Dick LeBeau (11th Year)
Summary: This is an outstanding coaching staff except for one glaring weakness and that is Todd Haley. Haley is one of the toughest people in the NFL to get along with and quite frankly a coach who few players respect. Conversely, both Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau are men who get the absolute most out of their players and who the majority of players admire. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley is a guy who often rubs his players the wrong way. He has had confrontations with players and fellow coaches everywhere he has been, including a disagreement with Ben Roethlisberger each of the past two seasons. Haley likes to throw the football and relies on his QB to throw the ball down the field more than the running game. Ideally his system relies on bigger, stronger WRs who can go up and make plays since the patterns they run are of very generic design. I am surprised that Mike Tomlin continues to support Haley in this rebuild of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The defensive side of the football is in great shape. LeBeau is an NFL Hall Of Famer who is credited with creating the Zone Blitz scheme. In this system, the defense uses a variety of different pass coverages along with pressure from different areas in order to confuse the QB. This defensive style works especially well against today’s pass heavy offenses in which they can greatly confuse the pass protectors and disturb the QBs rhythm.
Players That Fit The System – Ike Taylor, Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Ben Roethlisberger, Darrius Heyward-Bey
San Diego Chargers
Head Coach – Mike McCoy (2nd Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Frank Reich (1st Year)
Defensive Coordinator – John Pagano (3rd Year)
Summary: The Chargers offense overachieved in 2013 and much of that credit should go to offensive coordinator and new Tennessee Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt finally got Phillip Rivers to calm down in the pocket and throw the ball away instead of forcing plays that wind up as turnovers. Former Buffalo Bills QB Frank Reich takes over for Whisenhunt and is going to run a similar system. Reich believes in simplicity to the plays so that each player has an easy grasp on their roles. His focus is on the players and especially the QB to be calm under pressure and trust the system. Reich did this in his career and credits that mindset to his biggest successes.
The one constant in San Diego is longtime Charger assistant John Pagano who will continue to run the defense. John is the Brother of Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano and a very wise defensive strategist himself. Much like his Brother, John Pagano’s defensive scheme is all about stopping the run first and attacking the receivers second. The Chargers are often among the leaders in defensive scoring which is a key to Pagano’s philosophy. This obviously makes for a real good fantasy defensive unit.
Players That Fit The System – Phillip Rivers, Keenan Allen, LaDarius Green, Eric Weddle
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Danny Woodhead, Dwight Freeney
Head Coach – Pete Carroll (5th Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Darrell Bevell (4th Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Dan Quinn (2nd Year)
Summary: This is by far the most player friendly and overall likeable coaching staff in the NFL. Pete Carroll is both a keen identifier of talent and head cheerleader. System wise, the Seahawks do nothing special on either side of the ball. The obvious mistake so many will do this year is over value the Seahawks players based on them winning the Super Bowl last season. As good of a pal Pete Carroll and crew are, there isn’t anything innovative about how they play football. The Seahawks offense is as simple as it gets in the NFL. They don’t throw the football unless absolutely necessary, making Russell Wilson and receiving crew barely usable in fantasy. Darrell Bevell (AKA Brett Favre’s best friend) has added more running plays to his west coast arsenal because of workhorse RB Marshawn Lynch. The focus of the offense is high percentage plays, which don’t make a lot of sense for the likes of Percy Harvin or Christine Michael. The coaches will get the most out of their players but they also won’t outcoach many other teams either. Carroll runs the squad much like he did with his college programs at USC where it was all about recruiting.
Before last season, the Seahawks brought back Dan Quinn to be defensive coordinator and the world wondered how he would ever replace Gus Bradley. I doubt there are many concerns this year after Quinn’s defense lead the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl Title. Quinn is a risk taker and loves to put pressure on the QB. He has the perfect secondary here in Seattle to turn ordinary linebackers into super sack masters. It’s that aggression that put the Seahawks over the top in 2013 and should make this unit highly sought after now in 2014.
Players Who Fit The System – Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson, Michael Bennett
Players Who Don’t Fit The System – Percy Harvin, Terrelle Pryor
San Francisco 49ers
Head Coach – Jim Harbaugh (4th Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Greg Roman (4th Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Vic Fangio (4th Year)
Summary: Jim Harbaugh is quite possible the most arrogant, narcissistic and most difficult coach to get along with in the NFL. He is also one of the best talent evaluators and motivators in the league. While Harbaugh gets a lot of the credit, the offensive philosophy is really the brainchild of coordinator Greg Roman. Roman has developed his own offensive style that basically takes the best parts of the power/counter/trap running game along with a spread offenses passing game and combines them into a zone read option. This system creates headaches for defensive coordinators and personnel alike. The 49ers are almost impossible to plan for because they will line up in a jumbo package and in a matter of seconds they are in a shotgun pistol type set as they snap the ball. This makes Colin Kaepernick and his unique blend of talent downright scary from a fantasy perspective because now the 49ers can run the ball from any angle with the RB or the QB. They can also throw the football from anywhere on the field which makes defending this system pretty much impossible.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is the most experienced coach on the staff and he has been able to install his trademark pressure system here in San Francisco. Fangio is all about limiting the big play and pressuring the QB. Although most teams say that is their goal on defense, Fangio actually finds a way to get it done down after down despite injuries and suspensions.
Players That Fit The System – Colin Kaepernick, Carlos Hyde
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Vernon Davis, LaMichael James
St. Louis Rams
Head Coach – Jeff Fisher (3rd Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Brian Schottenheimer (3rd Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Gregg Williams (1st Year)
Summary: The Rams have an interesting assortment of coaches. Jeff Fisher is a guy who knows how to build and lead a football team. Brian Schottenheimer seems like a guy who is a big fan of the pistol type spread offense but just doesn’t know how to run it himself. Last year, the Rams tried loading up on offensive players with speed and lateral quickness. But midway through the season it was obvious that the coaching staff just wasn’t comfortable taking the risks that accompany a spread type offense. So, the Rams decided to go back to basics and the offense got much better. Fisher has had great success in this league with a power running offense to complement his attack style defense. So when he installed Zac Stacy into the lead RB role and gave him the football over and over again, it put the offense in much better spots to succeed. It also allowed their young, aggressive defense time to catch their breath. Heading into season three of their regime, the Rams coaches have found their identity and spent the entire offseason acquiring players that fit. This is going to be a big year for the St. Louis Rams.
Jeff Fisher is a defensive minded coach who, along with new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, will use a variety of blitz packages and role changes to confuse the offense. Williams is back in the spotlight after being run out of New Orleans as a part of the “bounty-gate” debacle. He is a very good defensive strategist though and will be motivated to make a statement with his defense this year. Fisher still uses the old 4-6 defense in which the defensive linemen will occasionally drop back into coverage while the linebackers rush. This could be the best fantasy defense in the NFL in 2014.
Players That Fit The System – Zac Stacy, Chris Long, Robert Quinn
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Kenny Britt
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Head Coach – Lovie Smith (1st Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Jeff Tedford (1st Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Leslie Frazier (1st Year)
Summary: Lovie Smith is a very good head coach. He relates well to his players and always has them ready to play on Sundays. The one downfall of his time in Chicago was not having reliable assistant coaches to lean on. This time around Smith has hired two real good assistants to coordinate both sides of the ball. Jeff Tedford, the longtime head coach of the University of California is a well-respected developer of quarterbacks. His system was extremely complicated for college but will be much easier for pros to pick up. It is a volume-based system that has the QB making a lot of reads and checks at the line of scrimmage. This scheme requires a highly intelligent QB who can make quick high percentage decisions. Mike Glennon seems like a natural fit here, but the Bucs brought in Josh McCown seemingly to be their starter in 2014. Lovie Smith has always been a ball control type of coach so it may get interesting if Tedford’s offense starts turning the ball over early on this season.
To run the defense, Lovie Smith brought in friend and former NFC North rival Leslie Frazier. The two share a love for the cover-2 defense, which is all about limiting big plays. What the Bucs are going to do well under Smith and Frazier is take the football away. This is something that I have personally witnessed Lovie Smith emphasize in every training camp he has ever run. Stripping the football will be taught right along with tackling drills in Tampa this year.
Players That Fit The System – Mike Glennon, Vincent Jackson, Gerald McCoy
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Lavelle Hawkins, Brandon Myers, William Gholston
Head Coach – Ken Whisenhunt (1st Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Jason Michael (1st Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Ray Horton (1st Year)
Summary: Whisenhunt comes to Tennessee after a successful season in San Diego where he worked alongside Jason Michael. These two will implement a timing based offense that spreads the field out in both the run and passing games. This requires a QB with a strong arm and RBs who can catch the football out of the backfield. It requires receivers who can run clean routes, get open quickly and make plays after the catch. The Titans have the receivers to fit this style but not the QB or RBs. This is why Ken Whisenhunt isn’t supporting Jake Locker as his future QB right now. I also expect another very solid showing from the TEs in Tennessee this season.
Ray Horton is reunited with Ken Whisenhunt after being his defensive coordinator for two seasons (2011-2012). Horton describes his defensive style as a “multi-front, attacking defense” which basically means there will be many different setups. Horton will devise and attack offenses by disguising his front seven and his blitz packages.
Players That Fit The System – Kendall Wright, Delanie Walker, Bishop Sankey
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Jake Locker, Shonn Greene, Derrick Morgan
Head Coach – Jay Gruden (1st Year)
Offensive Coordinator – Sean McVay (1st Year)
Defensive Coordinator – Jim Haslett (5th Year)
Summary: Jay Gruden is all about teaching and preaching the fundamentals. His offense centers on the play of the Quarterback. It is a west coast offense but plays off the run game far more than other west coast systems. Gruden and McVay will work with RG III to learn a three-step drop in a short, controlled passing game. Gruden wants the ball to be delivered quickly and wants the receivers to be able to make plays after the catch. This is why they jumped on the opportunity to sign DeSean Jackson after he hit the open market. The best part of this offense is that RG III will not have to be the hero or subject himself to punishment by running the ball so much. Instead the Redskins will use more rollouts and moving pockets to help their franchise QB make plays with his arm down the field. Gruden did retain offensive line coach Chris Foerster who will continue the Shanahan cut blocking system. This is good news for Alfred Morris, who wouldn’t survive in a power running scheme.
The Redskins retained defensive coordinator Jim Haslett who is one of the more aggressive coaches in the league. Haslett runs a 3-4 scheme in which the LB’s can rush the edge or drift back into coverage. This allows them to blitz from all over the field and interrupt the passer’s timing routes.
Players That Fit The System – Robert Griffin III, DeSean Jackson, Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan
Players That Don’t Fit The System – Pierre Garcon, Brandon Meriweather