A coach's dilemma: To run (mouth) or pass

September, 19, 2012
9/19/12
4:30
PM ET
Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton worked as a secondary coach in Pittsburgh for years before finally getting a chance to advance.

Horton wants people to know he was ready for the job long ago, that he did not suddenly materialize as worthy for the promotion.

Now, after his Cardinals shocked New England in Week 2, Horton wants people to know he was ready for the Patriots, too. His comments on the Doug & Wofl show on Arizona Sports 620 radio invite closer examination. First, though, the comments via Arizona Sports:
"We knew that whenever [Aaron] Hernandez was in tight, it was going to be a run, so we had a run check. But when he got hurt, it screwed that up because they went to three wide receivers. What they did, and we figured out real quick was, whenever Tom Brady was under the center, they were going to run the ball and whenever he was in the shotgun, they were going to pass the ball. We told our players, 'Hey, make the run check if Tom Brady's under the center. If he's in the gun, go to the pass check.'

"They handled it beautifully, and so we had dual calls that basically what we were telling them is, we know when they're going to run and pass, so our players put us in the best position to win the game and they did a flawless job of managing the game of getting inside New England's head."

Could it really be that simple? Could the Patriots really be so predictable? Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com breaks out some of the numbers.

The key question is whether or not the Patriots were additionally likely to pass when under shotgun. They were.

I've put together a chart showing the Patriots' shotgun and conventional play selection on first and second downs, figuring third-down plays tend to be passes anyway. The chart excludes spike plays.

The Patriots passed 80 percent of the time from the shotgun formation and 44 percent of the time from under center on these early downs. The percentages were 75 percent from shotgun and 41 percent from under center for every other NFL team in Week 2, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

From that, we can say the run-pass disparity by formation was roughly the same for the Patriots as for other teams. The shotgun is a passing formation by definition. The plan Horton put together obviously went much deeper. He obviously had a great feel for the Patriots' offense. Good for him, but only to an extent.

Beating the Patriots should be enough for a coordinator to be secure in his position and worthiness for the job. What Horton said on the radio comes off as self-serving.

Those comments were consistent with the unapologetic attitude Horton has brought to the job. That attitude can be an asset for Horton's defense. But there are times when a coordinator can be best served sounding like a coordinator, not like a frustrated position coach.

Horton has done a fantastic job with the Cardinals' defense. He should be in line for a head coaching position if the trend continues. Of course, the team owners responsible for hiring head coaches are presumably watching how Horton handles himself in all areas, not just on the field. Do they hear a head coach when they listen to comments such as these?

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