by Michael Lombardi
January 05, 02010
QUOTE: “There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction.” -- Winston Churchill
The season of change in the NFL is upon us. Black Monday came and went with very little action on the head coaching front, but there will be a ton of action this week on the assistant coaching front. The Giants started things off, wasting no time firing first-year coordinator Bill Sheridan. Team president John Mara sounded off in a tone and terseness rarely heard from him:
“This is probably as disappointed as I've ever been in my life at this team, given the expectations that we had this year, given the roster I thought we had and given the way we started out, given the embarrassment of the last two weeks.” Asked at whom he had directed his wrath, Mara said, “I'm disappointed in everything, I'm unhappy at everybody. It is just not acceptable to perform like that. There are 8-8 seasons and there are 8-8 seasons. This one felt a lot more like 2-14 to me.”
I’m disappointed as well since I kept thinking, based on my evaluation, that the Giants would contend for a Super Bowl. They use a size/speed grading system (something I strongly support), which helps them build a very big team at all positions but often promotes large linebackers who have good 40 times on a stopwatch but are not fast or explosive on the field playing the game. This grading system must be adjusted at linebacker and must be adjusted to handle all the spread offenses in the league.
In 1994, while with the Browns, we traveled down to Dallas to play a Saturday game against the Cowboys, who at that time were one of the best teams in the NFL. In pregame warm-ups, it was clear the Cowboys were a big team at every position — except linebacker. They were short but explosive, and they could play nickel defense with effective speed and closing ability. At that point, we realized we had to change our philosophy at linebacker and redefine our standards to think third down first, not first down. Watching the Giants and Dolphins, it’s clear they’re similar in their procurement methods. Both teams are too slow at linebacker and too slow to make plays in space. They can’t defend the horizontal width of the field, so a checkdown for four yards becomes an eight-yard gain because they lack speed and explosive ability to make the tackle. That was clear when they played the Eagles, a team they lost to twice this season. The Eagles’ speed on offense magnified the Giants’ problems on defense. They must spend this offseason fixing the problem and finding ways to handle the speed of the Birds.
Dismissing Sheridan is not going to solve the entire problem. They must also adjust their thinking about how to get faster in the back end of their defense. They recognized this problem last year and signed Michael Boley from Atlanta, who is a size/speed backer, but he had very little impact on the defense.
The other issue is that teams try to promote from within, especially when losing a dominating coach. Promoting from within the ranks is good for morale, but it usually doesn’t promote new ideas, a new perspective or a new voice. Staying with the status quo forces the burden to fall solely on the coach since players constantly compare the new coach to the old one. But the other pitfall is when the new leader tries to appease the players, giving them a voice in the process. This won’t work, and often times the veteran players will take advantage of the new guy — much like when we were kids and had a substitute teacher. The Giants on defense never looked like a team or played team defense, and Sheridan, without any real leaders, had no help building the team-defense concept. He had a bunch of independent contractors all trying to become the next Michael Strahan, on and off the field.
Now someone from the outside will be coming in to change the defense, to be a single voice. As Bill Belichick often tells his team, “We have done it your way, it does not work, we are going to do it my way now.” The Giants are going to be doing it a new way, and my sources in the league say it appears they want to hire Jets linebackers coach Bob Sutton as their new defensive coordinator. Sutton has been involved in both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes and will give the Giants more versatility on defense.
I don’t expect the changes to stop with just Sheridan, but yesterday he was the obvious one and there was no sense waiting. The offense also needs to make changes in its approach; it need to find an identity and needs to regain its focus. John Mara has placed everyone on high alert.
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For more on the Giants' firing of Bill Sheridan, check out this article from Bleacher Report.