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Teams gambling offensive coordinator changes will pay dividends

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Jerry Glanville once coined a phrase regarding the NFL standing for "Not For Long," but even he would be surprised by the sudden dismissal of three offensive coordinators on the eve of the regular season.

The Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills released their respective play-callers this week after witnessing putrid performances from their offenses throughout the preseason. Although coaches routinely find themselves on the chopping block, the curious timing of these moves has sent shockwaves throughout the league.

While coaches understand that they are constantly evaluated based on performance, the fact that these offensive leaders were dismissed due to their charges' preseason production has raised the level of accountability that exists in today's game. Coaches have typically used the first few games of the preseason to solely evaluate their personnel, and the simplistic game plans that are featured in those contests are designed to minimize the mistakes made by the host of young players playing prominent roles in these games.

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Matt Cassel, Trent Edwards and Byron Leftwich all led offenses that sruggled throughout the preseason. Take a look at their teams' preseason rankings:
Team
Total offense
Passing offense
Rushing offense
Chiefs
15
20
10
Bills
23
16
29
Buccaneers
14
23
6

However, the emphasis on flawless execution should lead to explosive outputs against defenses that are eschewing exotic blitzes or complex coverage. With the Chiefs, Buccaneers and Bills displaying consistent offensive ineptitude against these vanilla looks, the uneasiness in the minds of Todd Haley, Raheem Morris and Dick Jauron is not surprising. Yet, the decision to dump the offensive coordinator only days before the regular season opener is unquestionably a big gamble. The team has committed an entire offseason implementing a scheme that will not be directed by its visionary.

Additionally, the unexpected dismissals force the offense to adjust to the flow and rhythm of a different play-caller, and the transition will occur during the regular season. Undergoing such a dramatic transformation at such a crucial juncture places the audacious trio squarely in the crosshairs before the 2009 season has even kicked off.

Kansas City's decision to remove Chan Gailey from the offensive coordinator post was the least surprising of the moves, considering Haley's stellar reputation as a play-caller. The 42-year-old coach earned rave reviews for his masterful guidance of the Cardinals' offense, and that opinion was enhanced by the unit's sensational performance during the team's Super Bowl run.

While Haley entrusted Gailey to implement his offensive system, the offensive wizard refused to stand pat as the Chiefs were seemingly unable to find an offensive identity through the first three games of the preseason. The team scored just two touchdowns in those games, and Gailey's preference for a short, controlled passing attack didn't mesh with Haley's aggressive mentality. Although the first-time head coach was known for his mastery of the passing game in Arizona, he spent several years as an assistant under Bill Parcells, and wants to build a physical offense around the talents of Larry Johnson, Dwayne Bowe and Matt Cassel.

If Haley follows the offensive plan that Parcells used with the Jets (Curtis Martin featured as the bell cow with Keyshawn Johnson as the focal point of the passing game), the Chiefs will pound the ball relentlessly with Johnson to set up play-action passes to Bowe on the outside. Gailey's refusal to stick with the running game during the preseason was a source of Haley's frustration, so expect the Chiefs to demonstrate more patience with the run during the regular season.

In jettisoning Jagodzinski, the Bucs cited a desire to have more "precision" and "direction" from the leader of their offense. While Morris refused to elaborate on the specifics of his dismissal, the inconsistency of the Bucs' sputtering aerial attack didn't help the embattled coordinator. The team averaged only 5.3 yards per pass attempt during the preseason, which ranked last in the league, and produced only nine completions over 20 yards in 150 attempts.

Although the Bucs' rushing game had shown potency (the team's 137 rushing yards per game ranked sixth in the league), the lack of the complementary vertical passing game was not what the team envisioned heading into the regular season, and Jagodzinski didn't appear to have a concrete plan for getting it back on track.

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Now, the Bucs will turn to former quarterbacks coach Greg Olson to remedy their passing woes. The seven-year NFL coaching veteran directed a high-powered attack in St. Louis during his previous stint as a coordinator (the Rams ranked sixth in total offense while featuring a 4,000-yard passer, a 1,500-yard rusher and two receivers with over 1,000 receiving yards), and he takes over a unit that has some explosive weapons in place. The Bucs have one of the best offensive lines in the game, and a deep running back corps (Derrick Ward, Carnell "Cadillac" Williams and Earnest Graham) that features a surplus of talent and versatility. In addition, WR Antonio Bryant and TE Kellen Winslow are all star-caliber playmakers capable of dominating the game on the outside. Though Olson has only a handful of days to reshape the Bucs' aerial attack, the team's unexpected decision to make the change could salvage an offense that has explosive weapons at the skill positions.

The Bills orchestrated the most shocking move by relieving Turk Schonert of his duties after their final preseason game against Detroit. The former play-caller took over the offense last season, and led the team to improvements in total offense (30th to 25th), rushing offense (15th to 14th) and passing offense (30th to 22nd).

However, the team ranked in the bottom third of the league in most offensive categories, and the offensive struggles continued during the preseason. The Bills' first-team offense scored only three points during its 15 possessions, and had five turnovers with nine punts in five preseason games. In addition, the team crossed midfield just three times in those 15 series with the first team offense on the field.

For an offense with lofty aspirations, the abysmal output was disappointing on many levels, and led many to question the team's full-time move to the "no-huddle" offense. Under Schonert, the Bills were utilizing a no-huddle scheme that was supposed to befuddle defenses with its frenetic pace. However, the complexity of the system made it difficult for Trent Edwards to create the tempo desired by Jauron on the offensive side of the ball. Unlike some no-huddle systems that use a scaled down playbook, Schonert's scheme remained voluminous with an excessive number of passing plays available. Though Edwards has been lauded for his football acumen, the weight of juggling a vast playbook while operating at a chaotic pace hindered his performance and production.

With his offense and young quarterback struggling, Jauron is hoping a shift to a new play-caller yields better results, and the rationale could work given the credentials of his new offensive leader. In Alex Van Pelt, the Bills are turning to a former player with experience running the "K-Gun" offense that led to Buffalo's four consecutive AFC conference titles in the early 1990's. While serving as long-time backup in Buffalo, Van Pelt was exposed to a no-huddle system that placed the game squarely in the hands of the quarterback.

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The "K-Gun" featured a handful of concepts masked by the clever usage of multiple formations and a quick tempo to befuddle defenses. The rapid pace of the system forced defenses to abandon the use of complex coverage, which made it easy for the quarterback to attack down the field. Jauron has expressed an interest in developing this kind of fast-paced offense in Buffalo to take advantage of their explosive weapons at the skill positions. Van Pelt's understanding of this kind of no-huddle scheme may prove to be invaluable down the road as the Bills pare down their playbook to help their young quarterback.

The unexpected dismissals of three offensive coordinators on the eve of the regular season has unquestionably rankled the NFL landscape, but the preseason is an evaluation period, and even assistant coaches can't escape the scrutiny of evaluators looking to field winners in 2009.

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