Two weeks is plenty of time to see trends develop

  • By Pat Kirwan
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After speaking with five NFL head coaches, four assistant coaches and six prominent players on Tuesday, I surely got a feel for the trends around the league this week. First off, a number of players on winning teams told me that their coaches reduced the game plans from Week 1 to Week 2, especially on defense -- and it helped. Second, I heard about how some coaches have shifted their passing attacks from schemes that send out five receivers to max protect schemes and the results were positive. Third, roster depth is already an issue around the NFL and starters are appreciative of the fact their teams have good players waiting in the wings to keep the team going forward. Fourth, it may be the year to disregard a recent trend.

Here's a further look into these trends:

Keeping it simple

The preseason tends to be a long period of time during which the game plans and call sheets can expand to unusable numbers. One player told me he prepared to use 60 different defensive calls in Week 1 and by Week 2 his defensive coordinator had the package down to 25 calls.

Players get frustrated with so many schemes because they feel as if they can't play fast. Most good players want to play with less calls and the ability to move quickly on the snap of the ball. Tampa Bay is a great example of simplifying the game plan and getting great execution on the field. The Bucs played very few defenses and coverages against the Saints and they looked like the Bucs defense of the glory days. Rush the front four and play Cover 2 is the foundation of this defense. The cutback lanes that hurt the Bucs' run defense in Week 1 were gone in Week 2, the back seven played the pass well and Tampa looked like the team that won the division in 2005 -- and not the team that finished last in 2006.

The Redskins are another team that, according to some Washington players, reduced the game plan and just let athletic ability and speed take over.

Bob Levey / Getty Images
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub is the poster boy for max protect schemes in the NFL.

Likewise, Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt said after Week 1 that his game plan was too big on offense. A week later, Edgerrin carried the ball 24 times for 128 yards, the offense generated 431 yards and the team was on its way to a 23-20 win over Seattle.


Max protect

I get the sense from talking to people around the league that protections are starting to override five-out packages. The Panthers have a terrific group of pass rushers led by Julius Peppers, but they never got to Houston quarterback Matt Schaub. When I asked the Panthers about the pass rush, all I heard was that the Texans were into protections. They would rather release two or three receivers and give Schaub the security of a seven-man protection scheme. Remember, the Texans have been one of the most sacked teams over the past few years. This year, Schaub has only been dropped twice in 50 pass attempts.

The question is simple: Is it better to send out five and try to find the open man, or get a little extra time to hit Andre Johnson? The Texans, like a number of other teams, would rather protect the quarterback and find their best receiver.


Going deep

Back in the spring and early summer, the bottom end of the roster has to be a top priority for coaches and personnel people. As one Redskins lineman said to me, "It was tough losing the second starting lineman in just the second week, but Jason Fabini came in for Randy Thomas at guard and we were just fine." Last week, Todd Wade came in for the injured Jon Jansen and now the Redskins are 2-0 and already down to their sixth and seventh offensive linemen.

The Ravens won with their backup quarterback, the Lions had J.T. O'Sullivan hold down the fort while Jon Kitna shook off the hit he took in the game. O'Sullivan was an NFL Europa player this spring who was cut by the Bears when he got home.

A number of people wondered why the Vikings would draft running back Adrian Peterson when they had Chester Taylor, who rushed for 1,216 yards and 6 touchdowns last year, under contract. Now Taylor is nursing a hip injury and Peterson has answered the call. He already has 44 touches for 281 yards and a TD in two games while the Vikes wait for Taylor to return. The Colts lost two starting linebackers heading into their second game and still pulled off a win over the Titans with backups. It's still very early, but the teams that built up the back end of their rosters will survive.


Winless but not hopeless

Finally it may be time to buck a trend! In the past two years, only one team that started the season 0-2 made it to the playoffs. Herm Edwards' Kansas City Chiefs were in the same spot last year that they are today -- 0-2 and hearing all the nightmares about the rest of the season. Talking with Coach Edwards, he quickly reminded me that five of the 10 teams that are currently 0-2 were playoff teams last year: the Chiefs, Giants, Jets, Eagles and Saints are all in the same boat. Someone is going to figure out what they have been doing wrong, Edwards said, and they will get their season turned around. There's a lot of football to play.

When 11 teams started 0-2 last year, just three (27 percent) were playoff teams from the year before. This year, 50 percent of the 0-2 teams were playoff teams in 2006.




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