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.
The division leaders are all starting to clinch and the present teams in the wild-card slots control their own destiny. With all the talk around the NFL about playoffs and the Patriots steamrolling toward an undefeated season, I thought it would be appropriate to look at some of the great coaching efforts in the trenches around the league. The battle at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball is usually overlooked and underappreciated.
Last week I honored the top five line coaches, and it was so well-received by coaches around the league that I thought I would do it again and expand it to the defensive line coaches. The standards to make the unsung coaches in the trenches are real high.
Let's take a look at the five offensive line coaches who met these bench marks: 1. Their team won the game; 2. Their QB did not get sacked once; 3. The running game at least reached the 100-yard mark.
The top four defensive line coaches had to reach three tough criteria: 1. Their team won the game; 2. They were part of at least four sacks of the opposing quarterback; 3. Their team held opposing running backs under 100 yards and fewer than 4 yards per carry.
1. JIM McNALLY
Offensive line coach, Buffalo: McNally is a recipient for the second straight week, which tells you all you need to know about the work he has done this year. This week the Bills won, didn't give up a sack in 23 pass attempts and rushed the ball for 224 yards at 5.6 yards per run. McNally is developing an elite tackle in undrafted Jason Peters to anchor his unit.
2. STEVE MARSHALL
Offensive line coach, Browns: Marshall is also a second-time recipient. The Browns won a close game on the road in bad weather. The line didn't give up a sack in 29 pass attempts and opened holes for 152 rushing yards at 5.2 yards per attempt. He gets help from his assistant, Mike Sullivan, and is doing a great job of developing rookie left tackle Joe Thomas.
3. PAT MORRIS
Offensive line coach, Vikings: The Vikings are red hot, and it starts up front with Morris' offensive line. The Vikes won while keeping their quarterback on his feet for all 25 pass attempts and opening holes for 117 yards. The 49ers were all over Adrian Peterson, who had 3 yards in 14 carries, but couldn't contain Chester Taylor. Morris gets help from assistant Jim Hueber, but needs no help when the Vikings run left behind Steve Hutchinson and Bryant McKinnie.
4. JAMES CAMPEN
Offensive line coach, Packers: Campen played in the NFL for seven years. Now he coaches the Packers' line that contributed to the win with no sacks in 23 pass attempts, which was critical for Brett Favre playing with significant injuries. The running game has become a big part of the Packers offense in the second half of the season and the 179 yards at 5.2 yards per attempt with their third running back this season makes the Packers very dangerous in the postseason.
5. ANDY HECK
Offensive line coach, Jaguars: Heck played in the league for 12 years before he traded in his spikes for a whistle. The Jags have a very physical offense that cranked out 178 yards on the ground at 4.7 yards per run and didn't give up a sack in 37 passes.
1. DWAINE BOARD
Defensive line coach, Seahawks: A first-time selection for unsung heroes, Board has the Seahawks line playing at a very high level. After 10 years on the field as a defensive lineman, he went right to the sidelines and is now in his 18th year of coaching. Seattle had five sacks and held Arizona to 50 yards rushing at 3.1 yards per attempt. Board made a great coaching decision a month ago when he moved DE Patrick Kerney from the right side to the left side. In the last five games Kerney has 10 sacks.
2. JETHRO FRANKLIN
3. JOHN TEERLINCK
Defensive line coach, Colts: Teerlinck is famous for rushing the passer and tackling the run on the way to the quarterback. Operating without his premier tackle, Anthony McFarland, and All-Pro DE Dwight Freeney, Teerlinck's front four plays as fast as any group in the league. Against the Ravens, the Colts had four sacks and held the running game to 3.1 yards per carry.
4. BILL KOLLAR
Defensive line coach, Bills: Kollar was always a student of the game during his eight years as a player and has a great reputation during his 19-year coaching career. Buffalo is still in the playoff hunt and his line is an important factor in the Bills' chase for the postseason. The Bills recorded five sacks, and the Dolphins were limited to 65 yards at 3.1 yards per try.