View Full Version : Aikmen: These defensive coordinators make a difference

11-17-2004, 04:43 PM
These defensive coordinators make a difference

By Troy Aikman
Special to NFL.com

(Nov. 16, 2004) -- I'm not sure I completely agree with the cliché that defense wins championships. Most of the Super Bowl winners have had excellent offensive units. There's also no question that those championship teams have had stingy defensive play too. Which one is most important is always a great topic for debate. One thing is clear; a great defense will always give a team a chance to win, regardless of how inefficient its offense might be.

This year, there are some defensive coordinators around the league that have done just that ... give their teams a chance to win. And a few of them are doing it for the first time with new teams.

Some of these coaches are:

Tim Lewis, who was not asked back in Pittsburgh but has done a solid job with a Giants defense that allowed 24 points per game last season (down to 17.6 this season). The unit is also now doing it without its best defensive player, Michael Strahan, and Keith Washington.
Ed Donatell, who got fired from Green Bay last season -- basically the scapegoat for the playoff loss in Philadelphia when Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb completed the fourth-and-26 pass that led to the Packers' defeat. It was the players' execution, not Donatell's scheme, that cost Green Bay that game. Donatell went to Atlanta, and he's turned around a defense that allowed the third-most points in the NFL last year -- and he's done it without much change in the personnel. Michael Vick grabs the headlines and gets much of the credit for the Falcons' success, but the defense has been terrific too.
Gregg Williams is an interesting one. He did an outstanding job as defensive coordinator in Tennessee before going to Buffalo as head coach of the Bills. His defenses played well in Buffalo as well; the problems the Bills had were on the offensive side. Now, in Washington as defensive coordinator, he's done a heck of a job. Those guys play hard -- and that's not easy to do when you're talking about a team that has struggled like the Redskins have on the offensive side of the ball and lost games. Brett Favre, who faced the Redskins three weeks ago, said he thought it was the best defense he's played all season. Williams deserves most, if not all, of the credit for how that defense is playing. I don't see him being in Washington for very long. He'll be a head coach again real soon.
Clancy Pendergast, who was the linebackers coach in Dallas when I was playing. He went to Cleveland to coach linebackers when Dave Campo was hired there as defensive coordinator. Denny Green hired Clancy this offseason and entrusted him to get the defense playing at a winning level and that's exactly what Clancy has done. Pendergast is a young coach who has gotten his unit to play hard. The Cardinals are 18th in yards allowed (the NFL's way of ranking defenses), but they are seventh in the Aikman Ratings, which I feel are much more reflective of how a unit is performing. The Cardinals are creating turnovers and keeping opponents out of the end zone. Hmmm ... anyone else feel that the NFL total defensive rankings are antiquated?
Chicago's Ron Rivera, a member of the 1985 Bears defense who was on Andy Reid's staff in Philadelphia the past five years. Chicago has been doing it despite offensive difficulties as well as a bunch of injuries to key players on the defense. Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Urlacher missed time earlier in the year and will be out another 4-6 weeks with a calf injury. The Bears also lost two key starters in the secondary in Mike Brown and Charles Tillman. The Bears currently rank 13th in yards allowed, but the Aikman Ratings list them as the second-best defense in the NFL.

Cory Hall and the Falcons defense have improved under the guidance of coordinator Ed Donatell.
The aforementioned teams have varying records, but the common thread is that the defenses have kept them in games all season.

These defenses are getting it done without dominant offensive teams. The Steelers are obviously a terrific team, and Dick LeBeau has done a masterful job with that defense. But it helps when your offense controls the ball for 40 minutes, as it did against New England and Philadelphia on consecutive weekends.

It's easier to get better on defense when a new coordinator comes in. On offense, there's timing that's involved. The offensive line has to get accustomed to working together, and the quarterback needs to get accustomed to working with receivers. In the age of free agency and player movement, it's a difficult task to mesh those groups in a short period of time. Defensively, it's not as vital to have continuity and cohesiveness. Defensively, 10 guys can do the wrong thing, one guy makes a great play and it's successful. That doesn't happen on offense, where one player missing an assignment can really cost you.

Defensive dominance is more about attitude than it is pure talent. Flying around to the ball, playing hard and being aggressive can be as important as the schemes. There are a lot of things about being a successful defensive football team that go beyond talent. The teams we've been talking about here do not necessarily have more talent than some other teams, but they play harder.

11-17-2004, 05:00 PM
Defensive dominance is more about attitude than it is pure talent.

Really? I'm not sure I believe you Troy!

11-17-2004, 05:46 PM
Really? I'm not sure I believe you Troy!

I don't think that defensive dominence is purely about attitude, but I think it does make some difference.

I think some of our problems on D are the result of not having any individual with fire.

Everyone fits 'the profile', and as a result, we have a team of nice guys that gets bitchslapped week in and week out.

11-17-2004, 06:41 PM
Definately. Dick Vermiel runs a football team full of niceguys who dont go out and knock people on their asses when they get out of line.

Im sure that if you looked up who the most feared teams were to meet on the field, the Kansas City Chiefs would rank dead last. Bringing in Gunther has changed that a little bit, but Vermiel just wont have anyone on his football team that might have a nasty streak.

This is pretty much why we have had the worst defense in the league for 3 and a half seasons now.