(Note: For nine years, I have written the Unsung Heroes column during the season to bring attention to the people behind the scenes that help make some of the extraordinary things happen in the NFL on any given weekend. At the end of the year, the Unsung Hero of the Year is presented a trophy made in the name of Chip Myers, a longtime NFL assistant coach and former player who passed away just days after he was elevated to his first coordinator position with the Minnesota Vikings. Chip was well respected by everyone in the coaching ranks and embodied all the virtues assistant coaches need to be successful. He was humble, a good teacher, a loyal friend and a tireless worker.)
It's only Week 2 in the NFL but there are already teams worried about their 0-2 starts; only one team in the past two years made the playoffs after an 0-2 start (Kansas City in 2006) and only five since 2000. On the other side of the coin there have been some very good performances in the league. Here are five coordinators who really need some recognition for the job they have done, especially in Week 2.
1. MIKE SHERMAN, offensive coordinator, Houston Texans
We all remember coach Sherman as the six-year head coach and GM of the Green Bay Packers. The Texans are undefeated and Sherman will be a hot name to rejoin the head coaching ranks at season's end if he keeps up the offensive production that has been delivered in the first two. In Sunday's win on the road over a very tough Panther defense, the Texans did not allow a sack to Julius Peppers and company. They controlled the clock for 9½ more minutes than Carolina and they overcame a 14-0 deficit. In the end, Sherman helped orchestrate 34 unanswered points en route to the Texans' first 2-0 start in franchise history.
2. ROD CHUDZINSKI, offensive coordinator, Cleveland Browns
The Browns got destroyed by the Steelers in Week 1, benched their QB and later traded him a few days later and faced one of the more high-powered offenses in the NFL on Sunday when the Bengals came to town. The Browns knew they were going to have to score points to just stay within reach of Cincinnati. No one ever imagined that a backup QB named Derek Anderson would lead the Browns to 51 points and a win. But 554 total yards, five touchdown passes and 216 yards rushing from Jamal Lewis later, Chudzinski's offense had done the job. Chudzinski worked for the Browns in 2004 and then went out to the Chargers for 2005-06 but returned this season as a firt-time OC. The offensive line didn't give up a sack, opened holes for the running game that averaged 7.5 yards per attempt and didn't get their first touchdown until the second quarter. The game plan was simple -- get the ball in the hands of the playmakers and let them do the rest. Kellen Winslow, Braylon Edwards and Lewis touched the ball 42 times for 462 yards and four touchdowns. That formula should work more than once this season as Chudzinski poses problems for future opponents.
3. GREG MANUSKY, defensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers
Manusky came up through San Diego very much like Chudzinski. He and defensive-minded Mike Nolan have created a blend of the old Ravens' 3-4 defense and the principles of the Chargers' 3-4. To go into St Louis against an offense with Steven Jackson, Tory Holt and Isaac Bruce all directed by QB Marc Bulger is no easy task. The coaches were still pounding the fundamentals of the defense when I visited the team a month ago during my training camp tour, but holding the Rams to 16 points and a 49ers win tells me Manusky and his staff got their message across to the players. The San Francisco offense only generated 186 total yards and converted just 3-of-13 third downs, but it was enough for a defense that sacked Bulger six times and held Jackson to 60 yards rushing. When the sacks come from six different players you know the scheme was good; corralling Jackson was a team effort. A good game plan and execution of that plan is what Manusky deserves credit for in Week 2.
4. JOE BARRY, defensive coordinator, Detroit Lions
When I was at Lions camp in August, the offense looked light years ahead of the defense. It looked like it would be a season of games where the offense simply had to outscore opponents to win. But the one thing that did jump out at me was watching Barry coach with great enthusiasm. He just wouldn't let the defensive players settle for anything but excellence in every drill, and he was a stickler for technique. The Lions are undefeated. That's right, the Lions are undefeated! In two games the defense has held the Raiders and Vikings to 38 points (19 per game). That will be enough for the Lions to reach the prediction of 10 or more wins made by QB Jon Kitna. If Barry's defense gets the ball back for Mike Martz's offense, like it did this past week, good things will continue to happen. Detroit intercepted Minnesota four times and recovered a fumble. If an average NFL game has 12 series starts and the Lions defense can give the offense five extra starts on a short field, Detroit will continue on the path it is on. Barry is a rising star in the NFL and another member of the Tampa defensive coaching tree.
5. BOB SANDERS, defensive coordinator, Green Bay Packers
Of course when you mention Green Bay the first thing that comes to mind is Brett Favre, but the defense is the real story right now. The Packers are on a six-game winning streak that dates to last season. In the past six games, Sanders' defense has given up a total of 68 points, or 11.3 per game. The Giants, who put 35 points on the Cowboys a week earlier, were playing in their home opener, which was a tough task for Sanders. But Sanders' game plan and execution was excellent once again. The Packers recorded two sacks, an interception, recovered a fumble and forced all three Giants quarterbacks to play in the game. The Packers front four is playing as well as any in the league, the linebackers are athletic and the corners can match up with anyone. As one coach described him, "Bob Sanders is not a household name and not a guy who looks to be in the spotlight, but he's a darn good football coach and his Packer defense demonstrates that."