AFC West: Wade Phillips
"I'm on the other side of a lot of those, too, but it really doesn't change anything," said Broncos head coach John Fox following Friday's practice. "So I'll just leave it at that."
Houston Texans interim head coach Wade Phillips said in Houston on Friday that the NFL had informed him Manning's 50th touchdown pass -- a 20-yard throw to Eric Decker with 6 minutes, 57 seconds remaining in Denver's 37-13 victory over the Texans on Sunday -- should have been overturned.
Phillips said Decker was juggling the ball as he crossed over the sideline. Replays initially appeared to show that, but the customary review of a scoring play by the replay official (Tom Sifferman) at Reliant Stadium let the play stand.
As Phillips left his daily sitdown with media Friday, he said, "Poor Manning, he thought he broke the record."
Manning later threw his 51st scoring pass of the season, a 25-yard completion to tight end Julius Thomas with 4:28 left in the game.
Quarterbacks tend to pull for each other. They know what it's like to shoulder so much of a team's fate, they understand the pressure better than outsiders could.
"I do think it’s a unique fraternity," Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said. "Matt’s an excellent quarterback. I think he’ll be fine."
This weekend Manning and his Broncos will visit the Houston Texans for a rematch of a game played last year under very different circumstances.
Fittingly, after a season of quarterback turmoil, the Texans are returning to the man they started with at the position. Because of an injury to Case Keenum, Matt Schaub will start Sunday at Reliant Stadium. The last time Schaub started, he entered the game to boos so hearty that the Texans had to go to a silent count on some of their plays.
On the opposite sideline will be one of the best to ever play the position. Manning has played against the Texans 19 times and lost only three times. ESPN.com Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli discuss.
Ganguli: Manning is very familiar with the Texans. Has his (soon-to-be) record-setting season been as impressive to watch up close as the stats suggest?
Legwold: No question the numbers have been staggering, even by Manning’s standards. But the intersection of Manning as a 37-year-old quarterback who was willing to sort of remake himself with a team ready to offer him the place to do that has lifted his play even more. The Broncos have constructed a playbook that is a mix of what they had on hand and what Manning has always done. They've added a warp-speed no-huddle portion and given him targets all over the formation, and Manning has played with the discipline of a veteran quarterback who understands what needs to be done. His coaches have said he forced just one pass in the team’s first eight games and his accuracy has been elite for much of the season. He isn't a power thrower now, and a windy day in the postseason could derail some of what the Broncos like to do, but he is an accomplished pitcher who knows his opponents and can hit all the spots.
Gary Kubiak is still well-liked around the Broncos’ complex, with many people who worked with him still in the building. What has been the reaction of players to his dismissal?
Ganguli: Kubiak was well-liked in the Texans' building, too, especially with, but not limited to, the players. After his dismissal, you heard a lot about how well he treated people, regardless of their role on the team. He’s always been known as a players’ coach, and that’s part of what has made Houston an attractive destination for free agents. Several players exchanged text messages with him after it happened. Some took public responsibility for it. They didn't like seeing him lose his job, but the firing wasn't a tremendous surprise given how the season had gone. The players’ reaction to Kubiak's health scare after suffering a "mini-stroke" on Nov. 3 said a lot about what he meant to them.
You covered another head coach's health scare this season. How did the Broncos weather John Fox’s absence?
Legwold: There have been seasons over the past decade or so when neither the locker room nor the coaching staff would have been as equipped as this year's group was to deal with something like Fox’s four-week absence following open-heart surgery. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio stepped in as interim coach, and players often spoke of his composure and leadership during that time. Manning, Wesley Woodyard, Champ Bailey and others helped keep everyone in the locker room pointed in the right direction, while Adam Gase and rest of the offensive staff kept things humming on that side of the ball. The team went 3-1 in that stretch, with two wins over Kansas City and one against San Diego. The loss was an overtime defeat at New England, when the Broncos let a 24-point halftime lead get away. Through it all, the Broncos showed themselves to be a stable organization, able to overcome the most serious of issues.
An awful lot of folks believed when the season began that the Texans would be in the hunt for the Super Bowl title. What are some of the major issues that have prevented that from happening?
Ganguli: How much time do you have? It starts with the quarterback. The Texans don’t have the luxury the Broncos have of one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. Their situation at the position has been tenuous all season. Schaub’s costly turnovers early on put the Texans in a precarious position. He didn't play as poorly as some indicate until Week 5 against San Francisco. He just looked uncomfortable and out of sorts from start to finish, throwing three interceptions, including a pick-six on the first pass of the game. Schaub’s foot and ankle injuries the following week opened the door for Kubiak to make a switch to Keenum, who spent last season on the Texans’ practice squad. Keenum did well before opponents deciphered him, and since then he has struggled. I’m not ready to say he’ll never be a passable quarterback in the NFL, but his play over the past eight games has been a big factor in the losses. To be clear, quarterback is not the only factor in the Texans’ 12-game losing streak, but it’s been a big one. Further, the handling of the quarterback situation played a part in Kubiak’s firing. He benched Keenum for Schaub against Oakland and Jacksonville. That kind of uncertainty didn’t help matters.
That’s one question I get asked a lot. Another is this: Who will the Texans’ next head coach be? I covered Del Rio for his final season and a half as the Jaguars' coach. From what you've seen in Denver, do you think he gets another shot at being a head coach?
Legwold: I spoke with executives from around the league in recent weeks, and it seems Del Rio helped his cause with the way he conducted himself and led the Broncos during Fox’s absence. If the Broncos can snap out of their current defensive funk and go deep in the playoffs, it would help his cause even more. (He interviewed with USC during the bye week, the day before Fox suffered the dizziness and light-headedness on a golf course that led to his open-heart surgery.) Del Rio would need an owner/team president to look past the offense-first mentality everyone seems to be looking for these days, and he would have to present a clear, concise picture of what he would do on offense. But if the Broncos make the Super Bowl, or even win it, and the defense makes some plays along the way, Del Rio should be on some short lists.
How has Wade Phillips handled the interim job? He’s seen Manning plenty over the years, how do you think he’ll have the Texans go at the Broncos’ offense?
Ganguli: It wasn't a particularly good situation to come into, as tends to happen with interim jobs. The results have been similar to Kubiak's tenure, though Phillips has been more proactive in trying to curb the Texans' penalties. He's had Big 12 officials at practice several times, and puts players in timeouts if they commit a penalty. Not a lot has changed for the better, and the injury situation has gotten worse. The Texans now have their first- and second-string running backs on injured reserve, as well as their starting tight end, starting middle linebacker and starting strong safety. Phillips' defenses have always been very aggressive -- they blitz a lot. The play calling is being done by defensive-backs coach Vance Joseph now, but that doesn't change a lot. Manning's statistics against the Texans are better against a four-man rush than against blitzes.
With five games remaining, both the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers have to be considered prime candidates to make a coaching change. The Chiefs are 1-10, and Romeo Crennel has to be in danger even though he is in his first full season as coach. In San Diego, Norv Turner’s team is 4-7. It was a major surprise that the team kept Turner after last season. I don’t see any way he makes it to another season, barring an unlikely playoff berth.
The coach firings might not be the end in both cities. If Crennel is fired, general manager Scott Pioli will likely suffer the same fate. I get the feeling Kansas City owner Clark Hunt wants to keep both Pioli and Crennel, but the fan fury is so great, I doubt he'll be able to. San Diego general manager A.J. Smith may also be on the firing line, but I can see a situation where he is kept and Turner is not.
There is always a chance Oakland owner Mark Davis can lose patience and end the Reggie McKenzie-Dennis Allen tandem after one season (or just get rid of coach Allen). But I believe Davis will stick with the current situation despite a disappointing first year.
With potential change in the air, let’s look at some of the coaching candidates, in alphabetical order, who could be available:
Brian Billick, former Baltimore head coach: Billick is interesting because he is a Super Bowl-winning coach who might be reasonably priced. He has a reputation for being a strong offensive mind and a strong leader. He could fit in both San Diego and Kansas City, and I think he could work with an established general manager.
Bill Cowher, former Pittsburgh head coach: When Cowher decides he wants to come back, he will likely have his pick of jobs. I’m not sure if any of the AFC West jobs would be more attractive to him than others. Still, Cowher has a history in Kansas City and is the dream coach for many Chiefs fans. But he may be way too pricey for the team.
Jack Del Rio, Denver defensive coordinator: Del Rio has done a terrific job in Denver and had lots of head coaching experience in Jacksonville. I have a feeling he may remain Denver’s defensive coordinator, but he could be a reasonably priced option for the Chiefs or Chargers.
Jon Gruden, former Oakland and Tampa Bay head coach: The most frequent question I get from readers is this: Is there a chance Gruden could come back to coach the Raiders? I’ve heard that countless times since Gruden was fired by Tampa Bay after the 2008 season. My answer now is the same as always: Probably not. There have been plenty of opportunities for Gruden to come back to Oakland and it has not happened. Never say never, but I’d be surprised. If there is a fit this offseason in the division, I’d say it would be San Diego. I think Gruden -- some reports say the University of Tennesee wants to hire Gruden -- would love to live in San Diego, and he’d love to work with Rivers. I’m not saying Gruden is a favorite to end up in San Diego, but it wouldn’t shock me.
Chip Kelly, University of Oregon head coach: See Cowher. Kelly will get his pick of jobs and he will cost a ton. I’m not sure he’d fit in the AFC West, although working with Rivers could be intriguing to him.
Mike McCoy, Denver offensive coordinator: He is going to be a hot candidate. I think the preferred destination for McCoy, a former Panthers assistant, is to go to Carolina if the Panthers fire Ron Rivera; he is highly regarded there. I could see him receiving interest from the Chiefs as well. He is young, bright and won’t break the bank.
Andy Reid, Philadelphia head coach: Reid is very likely entering his last month in Philadelphia after a tenure that started in 1999. The word around the league is that he will get instant interest. If Reid doesn’t opt to take time off, I could see San Diego being a fit. He has a home in the area and he’d work well with Rivers. But would the Chargers want to replace Turner with a veteran coach who just flamed out after a long stay with a team?
Rex Ryan, New York Jets head coach: It is no sure thing he will be fired, but there’s a chance. I think he could get some interest in the AFC West. He was a finalist in San Diego when Turner got the job. I think the Chiefs could also be interested. They have the makings of a good 3-4 defense -- Ryan’s specialty. Putting him in a small media market could also save Ryan from himself occasionally.
David Shaw, Stanford University head coach: This is one of my favorites. I can really see Shaw ending up in San Diego. He was born there and may be one of the hot young coaches available. I think he’d be perfect for San Diego whether Smith is there or not. His father, Willie Shaw, was a longtime NFL assistant. David Shaw played for Bill Walsh. He worked for Al Davis. He was an assistant to Jim Harbaugh and he has coached Luck. And he has won as a head coach. If I was hiring a coach next month, I’d seriously investigate this 40-year-old.
If the San Diego Chargers are going to end a two-year playoff drought and coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith are going to save their jobs, the defense must make strides.
The unit was the worst in the NFL on third down last season, and it lacked fire.
Improving the defense was one of the primary goals in the 2012 offseason. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, who some in the organization believe was a major reason for the unit's lack of success, was fired, and linebackers coach John Pagano replaced him. Pagano reminds some of former successful San Diego defensive coordinator Wade Phillips because of his approach.
The team signed underrated former Baltimore linebacker Jarret Johnson in free agency and concentrated on defense in the draft.
San Diego drafted South Carolina pass-rusher Melvin Ingram, Connecticut defensive tackle Kendall Reyes and LSU safety Brandon Taylor in the first three rounds. All three players are expected to contribute right away.
Ingram is highly regarded and has a chance to make an instant impact as a pass-rusher, which the Charges badly need. If these players develop quickly and Ingram is as polished as expected, the Chargers should be much more effective defensively.
On the necessity for a change like this:
“When the season ends, you go and evaluate the things that you feel are critical. Moving forward, I just thought this was the best opportunity for our team to go do the things we’re capable of doing.”
“I just think right now, for where our team is he’s the right fit. We spent a lot of time with John last year when we were in this process. John’s continued to grow as a coach. He has a great understanding of what we need to do. Particularly on the defensive front, but also on our overall defense, it was a great fit for us.”
On what does the defense need to improve on:
“A year ago we were one of the elite teams on third-down defense. It was a big part of the success we had. This year we were 32nd out of 32 on third-down defense. Certainly it’s getting back to our standards on third down, playing better in the red zone and then we just have to continue to try to create more turnovers.”
On whether the UCLA rumors influenced the decision:
“I think anytime you’re in a process of making a decision, a lot of things go into it. Certainly we considered everything that was involved.”
On the relationship between Pagano and the players:
“As I said, I think John has certainly a track record with our guys and obviously I think it’s going to be a real good fit. That’s why we put him in that position.”
On whether the defense needs to improve personnel-wise:
“Someone asked me about where we rank in our division. Obviously our teams were 8-8 in our division and 7-9. The biggest key for all the teams in our division is who is going to improve the most. There’s a number of ways you can improve. Certainly the first way you get better is add elite players. You have an opportunity to do that through free agency, you have a chance to do that through the draft like all the other teams in our division. Obviously the next way you improve is you continue to get better in terms of the things you’re doing; coaching and all three phases.”
On where Turner is in the evaluation stage of the rest of the coaching staff:
“Again, it is a process. We’re in the middle of it. I don’t think we’ll have major changes. Again, part of it is my conversation with coaches and where they’re at. So it’s an ongoing process.”
On Manusky being a scapegoat:
“That’s always the question that’s asked when you make a change. That’s always what’s insinuated. I don’t believe in that. I think, as I said, I’m not looking back. I’m looking forward and looking for the things we need to do to get better in the future.”
On what immediate changes need to be made:
“First and foremost, we've just got to go out as a staff and coach better and we've just got to go to play better. We’ve had many opportunities to get off the field. With our type of offense and the things that we can do offensively, we have to give them the opportunity to go score. The easiest way for us to do that is try and get as many three-and-outs as we can to put the ball back in our offense. For the most part, we as a coaching and defensive staff have to coach better and we have to go out and play better.”
On whether the team has the right player personnel:
“I believe so. Looking at all our personnel and seeing it over the years — I’ve been here through the good times and the bad times — and seeing the type of defensive players. Can we improve in everything? Sure we can. With the right mixture of guys we have on this team right now I believe we can do some good things here.”
On being a candidate for this job last year and what’s different now:
“I don’t know. That’s a real good question. You sit here, you wonder and you’re always waiting for your opportunity. But I didn’t really ever look into things about that. Just so excited for the opportunity that they are giving me. The good thing was I learned. Every year I’ve been here I’ve learned. I’ve learned from some great defensive minds here. That’s something that I really took a hold of. Last year was a great learning experience because I thought we did, at times, some great things there defensively. Just the interaction and being a part of having the type of players and this coaching staff.”
On the rumors of the players wanting him to get this position:
“It’s an honor to have them say that. I don’t know, no one has texted me or called me. This phone’s been buzzing but it’s nice to know that. Our job here, and I’ve been saying this for a long time, is put them in position to make plays. That’s our job and that’s what we have to do. When they go out there and they’re successful, good things happen for us so that’s what we want to do.”
On appeasing fans’ desires for a high-powered defense:
“I’m not big on styles. We’re going to go out and be fundamentally sound. We’re going to play smart football. I believe that’s the most important thing. We got to be able to create turnovers like everybody says. We have to pressure the quarterback because over the years that I’ve been here, we’ve seen those things and I’ve been a part of those things. So, we need to just keep building, keep doing what we’re doing, have the games that we’ve played well in, take from those learn experiences on the things we didn’t do well and move on from there.”
On what happened with the UCLA discussions:
“It was a nice honor to have coach (Jim) Mora be able to want me for that job. It wasn’t a factor of taking this job or that job. I don’t know how my name got out there. I don’t know if it was a recruiting ploy or not. But like I said my family loves it here in San Diego. I love it here, I love this organization, I’ve been a part of this organization for a long time and I’m really excited about the opportunity I have ahead of me. “
On whether he was frustrated he didn’t get this job in the past:
“Everybody’s going to be disappointed if there’s things you want out there in life that you’re not going to get. But the one thing, it made me better. It made me grow into the position I’m in now. I thank the Lord every day that those things happened to me so I could grow, learn, watch and listen and be in a part with a guy like Coach Turner. But also learning for Ted Cottrell, Ron Rivera, Wade Phillips being the mentor and Coach Manusky. All those guys and just being around them. Guys like Steve Wilks and Don Johnson. We have a great staff. We have a great defensive staff. We just got to go out there and get these guys playing better. That’s our job.”
On the likelihood of bringing most the coaches back:
“That’s up to Coach Turner. I hope so. This thing is about us. Those guys have their thumbprint on this defense just as much as I have. I’ve been here just a few years more.”
On communicating with specific player(s) regarding the promotion:
“You always want to reach out to the veterans, but this thing kind of moved so fast that I haven’t really had a chance. I had an opportunity to talk to my dad. It’s humbling. He’s just so happy. Now he’s got another son he can worry about the most with my brother (Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck) being in Baltimore. It’s just family. I’m always proud of my dad bringing us up in these roots. I’m proud of my brother for what he’s accomplished. I’m really excited and happy about the opportunity that’s come up on me.”
Denver has long been an offensive-minded outfit. Until now. New Denver coach John Fox is a defensive-minded coach and Denver’s defenders are relishing the change.
“We finally have the ace card in our hand,” pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil said. “I love it.”
Denver hasn’t been led by a defensive-minded coach since 1994 when Wade Phillips was at the helm. Mike Shanahan ran the show from 1995-2008. Wanting to keep the focus on the offense, the Broncos replaced Shanahan with New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. He flamed out last December.
In addition to his nine years of experience as a head coach, Denver was attracted to Fox because of his attention to defense. Denver was ranked No. 32 in the NFL in defense last season.
“It’s just nice to have your head coach be on your side of the ball,” Dumervil said. “Coach Fox knows so much about the defensive line and he is always walking around on our side of the field helping. I think is going to make this defense a lot better, much quicker.”
Star cornerback Champ Bailey hasn’t had a head coach who was defensive specialist since he played for Marty Schottenheimer in Washington in 2001.
“It’s been a long time,” Bailey said. “It’s about time. I really like what coach Fox has brought to this team. I’ve been really impressed.”
For those San Diego fans who are looking for a consolation prize, here’s one: Chargers coach Norv Turner will guide the AFC team in the Pro Bowl.
Turner was selected as the coach because the Chargers were the highest seed in the AFC divisional playoffs to lose. The Chargers were the No. 2 seed and they lost to the Jets on Sunday. The NFC will be coached by Dallas coach Wade Phillips. The Cowboys were the No. 3 seed.
In previous years, the coach who lost in the conference title game coached in the Pro Bowl. But this year, the game is being played before the Super Bowl, so an adjustment was needed.
In other AFC West news:
- The Chargers will draft at No. 28 in the first round.
- The Denver Post is reporting the Broncos will interview Buffalo running backs coach Eric Studesville for the same position. The Broncos have an opening because longtime position coach Bobby Turner went to Washington to reunite with Mike Shanahan. The pair worked 14 years together in Denver.
- San Diego receiver Vincent Jackson had some legal issues Sunday morning before the Chargers’ loss to the Jets. Turner had this to say about the situation Monday: “It wouldn’t have been good if he hadn’t played. He’s a big part of what we do. Vincent, as I understand, was pulled over. He did come to the game with Philip [Rivers]. Philip was here. At 9:30 in the morning, I was driving down Murphy Canyon Road. You know this hill, it’s easy if you’re not paying attention to go faster than you need to. There was a woman pulled over at 9:30, the radar and all that. I thought at that point, ‘That’s an interesting place to have a radar gun out on a Sunday morning at 9:30.’ Vincent was pulled over later and was at the stadium. I made a point Saturday night of telling our guys that there would be a lot of traffic and leave early. We had no problems. When I walked in the locker room after walking the field like I do, Vincent was dressed and getting ready and it was well over two hours before the game, which is normal. I didn’t find out about it until later.”
Jay Pennington from San Francisco wants to know if I think Wade Phillips could resurface as the Chargers’ defensive coordinator if he is fired as the Cowboy’s coach.
Bill Williamson: I think the only way it could happen is if current defensive coordinator Ron Rivera gets a job as a head coach. Rivera will not be replaced. He is doing a nice job. Rivera could be a serious candidate to get a head coaching-gig. He’s been a finalist before and I’d expect him to get some looks around the league. If Rivera goes elsewhere and Phillips is available, perhaps a reunion could occur. Phillips is beloved by many in the San Diego organization.
Tony from Sacramento wants to know if the Raiders are upset that Washington quarterback Jake Locker is planning to return to school next year.
BW: I don’t know if it ruined Oakland’s week or anything, but it does take a quality player off the board at a position Oakland may look at. But there is still Jimmy Clausen and Sam Bradford for Oakland to consider. Still, it is no sure thing the Raiders will take a quarterback early in next year’s draft. Oakland has other needs, so quarterback could wait another year in the draft.
Jared from JC, Oregon wants to know if any of the five Heisman Trophy finalists will fit in the AFC West.
BW: Jared, it’s an interesting question with many possibilities. So, I’m going to make one connection. I think Stanford running back Toby Gerhart could be a good fit in both Kansas City and in San Diego. Both teams could be looking for running backs and Gerhart could be a good value pick in the second or third round. He is a big, rugged back and could fit both team’s systems. I would not be surprised if the Heisman runner-up landed in this division.
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:
Will the Broncos fare better against Manning this time? Peyton Manning has long been a Bronco killer. The Colts' quarterback has sliced this team up in the regular season and postseason. In two playoff games, after the 2003 and 2004 seasons, Manning was brilliant against Denver, throwing for 835 yards and nine touchdowns. Denver, though, has an improved pass defense this season. The Broncos have the No. 2 pass defense in the NFL, allowing an average of 180.2 yards per game.
Raiders miss a chance to get revenge on Hall: Cornerback DeAngelo Hall was a disaster in his eight-game tenure with the Raiders last season. However, Oakland won’t get an opportunity to pay Hall back for his lousy tenure in Oakland. He is out of Sunday’s game with a knee injury. Oakland gave up two draft picks and a huge contract to Hall. But he never fit in with the Raiders and was cut. Hall cost the Raiders $8 million for eight lackluster games.
Can Cassel bounce back? Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel will try to bounce back from perhaps his worst game as an NFL player. Cassel was awful Sunday against mentor Josh McDaniels and the Broncos in a 31-point Kansas City loss. Cassel completed 10 of 29 passes for 84 yards and was intercepted twice. He was yanked in the third quarter with the game out of hand. Cassel had been making steady strides before the disaster against Denver. He needs to bounce back.
Will Phillips upend the Chargers? Dallas coach Wade Phillips is very familiar with the Chargers. He was their defensive coordinator before leaving to become the head coach in Dallas in 2007. Many people think Phillips would have been the choice to replace the fired Marty Schottenheimer instead of Norv Turner had Phillips not left for Dallas before Schottenheimer was fired. Phillips is familiar with the Chargers’ offensive players. Expect him to go back to the future and throw some wrinkles at the Chargers.
It is Mosley’s contention that the Cowboys made a mistake in 2007 by not hiring Turner and hiring Wade Phillips. Turner was then hired by San Diego.
Mosley is spot on about Turner, who's a quality coach. San Diego is lucky to have him. A big reason why San Diego is 9-3 and has won seven games in a row is because of Turner’s leadership.
I know many Chargers fans point fingers at Turner when things go bad. But things are going great for San Diego, so he deserves credit. In fact, if the Chargers finish the season strong, Turner will deserve consideration for NFL coach of the year.
His team was 2-3 earlier this season. The pressure was on. Turner responded by getting his team together. This spring, San Diego general manager A.J. Smith said one of his favorite traits about Turner is his ability to stay calm and keep his team focused during difficult times.
Turner has also been terrific for the development of quarterback Philip Rivers. Getting the most out of quarterbacks has been Turner’s signature trait in his career. His work with Rivers hasn’t disappointed. Rivers has gotten better each year under Turner and he is on the doorstep of becoming an elite player.
And don’t forget the fact that Turner has been perfect in December as San Diego's coach. The man wins when it counts.
Whether or not Dallas made a mistake by hiring Phillips over Turner really isn’t the point in San Diego. The point is Turner has been great for the team and Chargers fans should appreciate him.
|George Gojkovich/Getty Images|
|Defensive coordinator Ron Rivera is focusing on teaching fundamentals and preaching accountability to San Diego's defense.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
The first stage of Ron Rivera's new job was about survival.
The newly promoted defensive coordinator had to figure out a way to get the San Diego Chargers' defense turned around in the second half of the 2008 season. There was no time for research or even teaching. The plan was tighten your chinstrap and make a play.
Rivera made it through the initial breakneck portion of the job. Now he can step back and prepare for the future.
"It's like I'm just starting this job," Rivera said. "All the stuff I had no time to deal with I'm finally getting a chance to do. It finally feels like it's my defense now."
Rivera did just fine when he moved from inside linebackers coach to coordinator midway through last season, replacing Ted Cottrell when San Diego had a 3-5 record and appeared to have little chance of making the playoffs. The Chargers caught fire after Rivera took over and the team's defensive production improved dramatically. San Diego ended up winning its final four games to capture the AFC West division title.
But Rivera is looking at the defense anew in his first full season as coordinator in San Diego.
"We have a long way to go," Rivera said. "We can't look at what we did last year. It's all about getting our program going."
To begin his own program in San Diego, Rivera is looking to the past. He is studying the Chargers' defense from 2006 -- when the unit led the NFL in sacks -- which is helping his transition to a 3-4 scheme. Rivera coached in a 4-3 alignment when he was Chicago's defensive coordinator.
"I'm open to everything," Rivera said. "We're going to do what's best for this defense."
San Diego general manager A.J. Smith feels Rivera is best for the Chargers' defense. Rivera reminds Smith of former coordinator Wade Philips because of the way he teaches the game to players.
"He has that teaching instinct and ability," Smith said of Rivera. "He gives individual attention to players. He really stresses the classroom."
Smith said he believes the improvement of the pass defense is the key to whether San Diego can be a legitimate contender in the AFC this season.
|Phil Carter/US Presswire|
|With Shawne Merriman sidelined, the Chargers didn't make as many big plays last season.|
The return of Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman, who missed all but one game last season because of a knee injury, and the addition of top pick Larry English should help. Rivera has spent the past several weeks crafting ideas of how to use Merriman, English and Shaun Phillips in packages. The influx of pass-rushers -- along with a rebound year from cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who was hampered by a hip injury last season -- should help the team in passing situations.
The Chargers were pushed around at times with Merriman on the sideline. The big-play defense San Diego became known for was absent without him.
"We need to be together at all times," Rivera said. "We need to make key stops. That's what this offseason is all about. It's about getting all on the same page. It's about knowing each other better as we start the new season."
During the team's minicamp last month, Rivera worked to implement his philosophies and marry them with what the Chargers are used to.
"We all believe in what Coach Rivera did for us last season," safety Eric Weddle said. "Last year, it was about accountability and we all believe in each other. It's the same this year, but it's also about fundamentals and doing things the way he wants us to do it. He is always teaching. That is going to be the way it is here."
The Chargers got a dose of the way Rivera plans to conduct business on the first day of minicamp: He gave the team a film study of their 35-24 loss to Pittsburgh in the AFC divisional playoffs.
"We're only as good as our last game and we weren't very good in that game," Rivera said. "I showed specific breakdowns. It's the only way we are going to get better around here."
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Olshansky had an underwhelming season in 2008. Olshansky fits in Dallas because the Cowboys use a similar scheme as the Chargers. Dallas head coach Wade Phillips is familiar with Olshansky from his time in San Diego.
The Chargers may look for defensive line help early in the draft.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Now that every NFL team has a head coach (all of the jobs were filled when Oakland and Kansas City made hires last week), barring an unforeseen bombshell, Mike Shanahan will be taking the 2009 season off.
|Rick Stewart/Getty Images|
|Mike Shanahan will likely be a hot coaching candidate following the 2009 season.|
It will be Shanahan's first season away from being a head coach in the NFL since he was hired by the Denver Broncos in 1995. Denver unexpectedly fired Shanahan on Dec. 30 after 14 seasons with the team.
Shanahan said shortly after he was fired that he will definitely coach in the NFL again, and that he would require a special situation to coach in 2009. Several teams poked around Shanahan, but he opted to wait for an ideal situation.
He will now be part of an all-star cast of Super Bowl-winning coaches who could come back to the league in 2010. The others are Bill Cowher, Mike Holmgren and Jon Gruden. Shanahan will be as sought after as any of the coaches because of his pedigree, his offensive resume and his ability to lead a franchise.
Here is a look, alphabetically, at some of the potential fits for the former longtime Denver czar after the 2009 season:
Why: If the Bengals struggle again, coach Marvin Lewis will likely be in real trouble. The Bengals have a good passing game and Shanahan would have an instant centerpiece in quarterback Carson Palmer. Just like in Denver, Shanahan's biggest issue would be defense.
Stumbling block: Hiring a big-name, big-dollar coach such as Shanahan would be way out of character for the Bengals and Shanahan would likely have sexier options.
Chances: Not high.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Want some cold, hard numbers on why the Chargers fired defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell on Tuesday and replaced him with inside linebackers coach Ron Rivera?
Thanks to ESPN Stats & Analysis, here are some charts illustrating the difference in the Chargers' defensive statistics under former coordinator Wade Phillips from 2004-06 and under Cottrell the last two seasons.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
The latest episode of HBO's "Hard Knocks" featured the Cowboys' preseason game at San Diego.
The cameras caught a great pregame moment when Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson (just voted the Chargers' all-time franchise player) was chatting with Dallas coach Wade Phillips. The two knew each other from Phillips' days as the Chargers' defensive coordinator.
Tomlinson told Phillips that the two teams should play their final game of the season against each other. Phillips laughed and told Tomlinson it was a good idea.
Tomlinson was not predicting that the Chargers and Cowboys would meet in the Super Bowl. He was having fun with a friend, talking about how cool it would be.
My thought when I watched that moment on the show: It's possible. Very possible.