Another season in the books. More chaos for the rest of the AFC East, while the Patriots keep playing deep into January. I wonder if Bill Belichick and Ernie Adams sit around, crack open a bottle of something nice, put their feet up and just run through their “rivals’ ” changes each year.
The Bills started their 2013 rebuilding last week by naming former Syracuse coach Doug Marrone as the 16th head coach in franchise history. The Jets’ circus is gaining steam now that Rex Ryan finally got off a lounge chair and in front of a microphone (that public relations disaster was, as usual, owner Woody Johnson’s mistake). Ryan promoted Dennis Thurman and Ben Kotwica to defensive and special teams coordinator, respectively. Ryan is still looking for an offensive coordinator.
Exactly how much change has the rest of the AFC East undergone since Belichick arrived in 2000?
The Patriots have had one head coach, three offensive coordinators (Josh McDaniels twice), five defensive coordinators (Belichick in 2000), and two special teams coordinators (12 total managers).
Continuity. Stability. Success. And, oh yeah, one guy named Tom Brady.
The other three AFC East teams, not including interim coaches, since 2000 have averaged five head coaches, eight offensive coordinators, six defensive coordinators, and four on special teams (average of 23).
How it breaks down, in descending order of chaos:
Bills (26 different coaches/coordinators): six head coaches; nine offensive, six defensive, and five special teams coordinators.
Dolphins (24): five head coaches; nine offensive, six defensive, and four special teams coordinators.
Jets (19): four head coaches; six offensive, six defensive and three special teams coordinators.
And almost all of those new coordinators has his own playbook and a need for an installation period.
Not in New England. If the coordinator changes, they just continue the old scheme and add their own personality to it, in measured doses.
Back to the Bills. What can Patriots fans expect from the new regime? Well, if presence counts for anything, Marrone, 48, will bring something to the table. Marrone is a 6-foot-5 -inch Bronx native with the reputation for being a no-nonsense coach who stresses discipline and accountability. Marrone comes from the Bill Parcells tree.
“We wanted toughness, we wanted intellect, we wanted a culture change, a guy that will bring leadership, competitive leadership,” said Bills president Russ Brandon. “We wanted to hopefully have someone with an NFL pedigree and head coaching experience. Doug was a perfect candidate.”
Marrone certainly has an impressive résumé, both collegiately and in the pros. Even his 25-25 mark at Syracuse in five seasons shows that he knows how to build something from the ground up (the Orange were 26-57 in the seven seasons before Marrone).
“I’m sure some players are asking, ‘Is he going to take a college-football-coach mentality or a pro-football-coach mentality?’ ’’ Marrone said. “This is the NFL. This is the highest level. I’ve been a player in this league, I’ve coached in this league. So I have good insight into the NFL.”
Marrone played offensive line for two seasons in the NFL, and two more in NFL Europe. Marrone was the Jets offensive line coach from 2002-05, and coordinated Sean Payton’s Saints offense from 2006-08. He didn’t call plays for quarterback Drew Brees, and Marrone said he won’t with the Bills either.
“The main thing is when you’re the head football coach, you want to make sure that you’re truly the CEO of the program, that you know what’s going on on offense, know what’s going on on defense, and know what’s going on on special teams,” he said. “So from a management style, that’s who I am. I have to make sure we know how to win games, make sure I’m managing all three of those phases.”
He has tabbed Nate Hackett, his 33-year-old Syracuse assistant, as offensive coordinator. Hackett is the son of former University of Pittsburgh head coach, and Jets offensive coordinator, Paul Hackett. The Orange ran an uptempo offense that liked to use the shotgun.
Marrone tabbed former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to the same spot with the Bills. Pettine certainly knows the Patriots: he worked with Ryan for six years with the Ravens, and the last four with the Jets.
“His defenses are known for their relentless attacking style,” Marrone said. “They can be very difficult for offenses and create all kinds of mismatches. When I accepted the job, that’s exactly how I envisioned our defense.”
Former Jets special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff told WQAM in Miami that the Bills are going places with Pettine and Marrone.
“I think Buffalo made a really good move,” Westhoff said. “Mike Pettine knows that defense exceptionally well, he took [defensive backs coach] Jimmy O’Neil with him, who helped him, as his righthand man. With that group of players that Buffalo has? I’m going to tell you what, look out on defense because he’ll be able to integrate it. I think Doug Marrone, who worked here with us, I think he made an excellent move. That football team will be a factor immediately.”
Bills fans will probably look at Marrone as another uninspired and on-the-cheap hire in the same mold as Chan Gailey, Dick Jauron, and Mike Mularkey. With Gailey and Jauron, the Bills weren’t fighting against anyone else — they were the only suitor. For the first coaching hire with Brandon in control, the Bills moved quickly to grab Marrone before the Browns, Eagles, and Chargers.
“I had some opportunities to make a choice, and I’ve chosen to be here,” Marrone said.
Time will tell if Marrone is a success in the AFC East, or just another statistic used to show how powerful the Patriots have been.
Unloading on the Jets
Use of Tebow ‘was a mess’
Speaking of the Jets’ three-ring circus, former special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff shed light on just how crazy the season was for Gang Green when he talked to former Dolphins tight end Joe Rose on WQAM in Miami last week.
The plight of quarterback Tim Tebow, whom Westhoff obviously thought highly of, was a popular topic.
“It was a mess. It was an absolute mess,” Westhoff said. “I was very, very disappointed. Tim Tebow, as an NFL quarterback, he’s very limited in some things.
“And if you throw him right into the middle of a drop-back passing offense, he will look very, very average at best.
“But, if you incorporate him in different facets of your offense, I think he can be a factor. That’s what I felt we were going to do, but we never did it. I was expecting to see him line up as an H-back, a tight end and all of a sudden you have [former Dolphins do-everything player] Jim Jensen, a halfback, a fullback and then he’s lined up at quarterback. That’s what I was expecting to see, and we didn’t do it.
“Can you use him in a lot of different facets? In my opinion, I think he’s outstanding if you do that. But we didn’t do it. It was a distraction and really a shame, because that’s a hard-working young man if you’ve ever saw one, believe me.”
Westhoff also talked about Mark Sanchez.
“Mark, in my opinion, was a manageable quarterback, part of a good football team,” Westhoff said. “Then all of a sudden the burden was thrown on Mark, and that’s just too much for him in my opinion.
“I think a whole offense needs to be designed around Mark. I’d like to see him get out of the pocket more.
“Plus, you still need a very good running game, defense, special teams to complement him. And we all lost that. We weren’t near as good.”
That included special teams, as well.
“So much of the money is directed at the very top that sometimes if you don’t budget your team well, you can destroy the middle and the bottom of your football team,” Westhoff said. “And that’s kind of what happened to us. It’s tough when you’re paying a handful of guys 40 percent of your cap, well what the hell are you going to do with the rest of it?”
Penn State’s O’Brien to stay
Former Patriots offensive coordinator and Andover native Bill O’Brien raised a few eyebrows when he danced with a few NFL teams after his first season at Penn State, including the Browns and Eagles. He was not offered a job by either team.
It is believed that O’Brien has or will receive a raise from Penn State.
O’Brien said last week he doesn’t foresee having an annual flirtation with the NFL.
“No, I don’t think so. I plan to be the head football coach here,” O’Brien said. “I love coaching here, love living here, really enjoy the kids that I coach here. And no, no, I don’t see it that way. Again, I’m not a genie; I don’t have a crystal ball. I have a lot of respect for that league. I love that league. Again, this is my profession. I’m a coach. And that’s the highest level, but at the same time, like I’ve said, I really, really love coaching these kids. I enjoy being the head football coach at Penn State, and I enjoy the people I work for, the people I work with, all the people I’ve met. The student body is incredible here, and I enjoy being here. And I plan to be here.”
O’Brien took some flak for even talking to the NFL. But he didn’t get a big deal to go to the school, and his power was a bit limited. That has likely changed once O’Brien was in demand. He talked about wanting to make a few tweaks to the way things are done.
“The best organizations in pro football are always the ones that are thinking about ways to do things differently, from year to year,” O’Brien said. “Every year is different. I just met with the team here at 7 a.m., and I said, ‘Look, 2012 has been over for a couple months now and we’ve got to create a new identity.’ ’’
Baseball leads — in testing
Major League Baseball became the first major sport to adopt random HGH testing. MLB, which made millions while steroids ran roughshod over the sacred record book, is light years ahead of where the NFL is in terms of the next fight against performance-enhancing drugs, which absolutely is a player health issue. You’d think this would be embarrassing to the NFL and the players’ union. It should be. Instead, the bickering just continues. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith sent a letter to agents saying “if the NFL had adopted the same positions that Major League Baseball has, the NFL could have been the first to implement HGH testing.” The NFLPA has demanded a population study, which the NFL has agreed to, but the sides can’t agree on how to do it. In an oped piece for USA Today, NFLPA assistant executive director of external affairs George Atallah pointed to the World Anti-Doping Agency not providing the studies the NFLPA has requested, and that Olympians have to be subjected to the testing because they have “no union to demand transparency and due process,” as some of the reasons for the delay. Well, MLBPA is OK with WADA, and is likely being diligent for its members since it’s the most powerful sports union in this country. The NFL has its opinion on the delay“This is a continuation of the union’s strategy to delay, deny, and distract,” said Adolpho Birch, the NFL’s senior vice president of law and labor policy. “What is missing from the MLB agreement is a population study. “Apparently, baseball players know that the test for HGH is reliable, valid, and scientifically sound. If the NFLPA had adopted the same position as the MLB players, we would already be well on our way to eliminating the threat of HGH from our game.”
1. With all due respect to my esteemed colleague, Dan Shaughnessy, the Texans absolutely have a chance to win Sunday (didn’t say it was a good chance). Among the quarterbacks to beat or play the Patriots tough this season: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Mark Sanchez, Kevin Kolb, Joe Flacco, Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill, Colin Kaepernick and Chad Henne. Their plaques aren’t being readied in Canton quite yet.
2. The most important matchup is the Texans’ offensive line against the Patriots’ defensive line. Houston executed its zone running scheme poorly in the first matchup. If the Texans can get Vince Wilfork on the ground with more regularity, and sustain better at offensive tackle (Rob Ninkovich killed them at the point), the running game will be better.
3. If I’m coach Gary Kubiak and quarterback Matt Schaub, I’m setting up some early play-action to take advantage of the aggression of the Patriots’ linebackers we saw the first time around. They’re sure to be even more jacked.
4. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has to find a few good early wrinkles to throw Tom Brady off. Why not put J.J. Watt at nose tackle for a spell? That would surely cause some confusion. Above all else, Brady can’t be hit just once in the first 16:57 of the game like last time. He has to be hit hard on the very first series, and hope that speeds him up.
5. Houston has to be physical and re-route Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, and Rob Gronkowski. Hope that some of the playoff rookies are jittery, and do whatever you can to get it into the fourth quarter. The Patriots have shown better there of late, but they are far from a juggernaut finishing teams off. That’s how the Texans can win. No, I don’t think it will happen.
Own up to it
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is never going to get it. First of all, fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was not the problem. It’s amazing how much better you can be on defense when the offense doesn’t turn it over 29 times. And now Jones has hired Monte Kiffin to replace Ryan. The Cowboys have invested a boatload in money (Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick) and picks (Morris Claiborne) to get press corners, and are now going to go with a system in which the corners play more zone with their heads in the backfield. It makes little sense. The cap is now tilted on defense to cornerbacks, where in the Tampa Cover 2 scheme, those guys are replaceable. It’s going to take the Cowboys time to really adjust to this scheme..
View fom the Outside
Aaron Schatz and the people at FootballOutsiders.com think Aaron Hernandez will be a key vs. the Texans. “The Patriots are more likely to use Hernandez split out rather than keep things tight with two or three players in standard tight end positions: the Texans actually were the best defense in the league against personnel packages with two tight ends, allowing just 4.2 yards per play. However, they allowed a middle-of-the-pack 6.1 yards per play against personnel packages with three or more receivers.”
Greg A. Bedard can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.