If playing totals, check
those coaching philosophies

Nov 14, 2006 6:35 AM

There are many factors to examine when studying football totals.

Defensive and offensive statistics need to be examined, of course. Some of the questions a good handicapper asks: Is there speed in the defensive secondary? Does a club have a one-dimensional offense? Do they prefer a powerful running game or wide-open passing attacks? Is the quarterback turnover prone? Will weather conditions affect the game?

Another area that is correlated to totals is coaching philosophy. Coaches build their teams around a combination of the style they want to play, plus the personnel on the field. The Ravens, for example, have had an abundance of defensive talent the last six years with limited offense. That imbalance is not necessarily a bad thing, as they hoisted the Lombardi Trophy six years ago, with a conservative, run-oriented offense and a sensational defense.

During their Super Bowl season, Baltimore was 13-7 "under" the total. Not much has changed, has it? Baltimore has the No. 3 ranked defense and, despite adding QB Steve McNair, owns the eighth-worst offense. So what has that formula produced? A 4-0-1 start "under" the total.

That changed a bit when Brian Billick fired offensive coordinator Jim Fassell last month and opened things up. The Ravens then scored 35 and 26 points when Billick made the change in philosophy, spreading the field more and throwing downfield. Both games went "over" the total.

Casual fans think of the St. Louis Rams as a wide-open offensive team because of Mad Mike Martz, QB Mark Bulger and ace receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. They still have a good offense, but Martz is gone. His replacement, Scott Linehan, didn’t like the Rams propensity for turnovers, so he changed the team’s offensive philosophy.

Linehan wants to run the football more to create offensive balance. That has helped Bulger’s TD/interception ratio dramatically (13-1 start). For sports bettors, notice that the Rams started 4-1 "under" the total with Linehan and his new offensive approach. St. Louis scored 18, 13 and 10 points its first three games. The Rams started 5-1 "over" the total last season under Martz.

Former coaches such as Jimmy Johnson, Dick Vermeil and Bill Walsh had philosophies that were markedly different. They were more like gunslingers in the Old West, with wide-open attacks that were ready to score on every play. The Chiefs with Vermeil went 10-6 "over" the total in both 2003 and 2004.

Conversely, some coaches prefer a conservative, ball control game plan. Tampa Bay has had a great defense the last couple of years with inexperienced quarterback play. This has forced Coach Jon Gruden to scale back the offense. The Bucs were 11-5 "under" the total in 2004, 10-6 "under" last year and currently average just 9 ppg on the road.

Personnel have a huge impact on what coaches try to do. Former Alabama coach Bear Bryant had a run-oriented wishbone offense in the 1970s and early ’80s. However, it’s easy to forget the Bear ran a pro-style offense at ”˜Bama with QBs like Joe Namath.

At one practice in the late 1960s Bryant told his assistants, "We can’t run this offense. We don’t have the right personnel." To his credit, he revamped the offense into the wishbone, had a great year and stuck with it through his final season in 1982.

The Patriots have had an aggressive pass-oriented offense the last few years. It’s interesting that this season they lost all their top wide receivers from 2005 and have outstanding running back depth with a healthy Corey Dillon and rookie Laurence Maroney. They’ve played to that strength, running the ball far more while starting 6-2 "under" the total.

When teams with similar philosophies or strengths and weaknesses clash, the results with respect to totals can be predictable. The run-first Broncos and new-look Patriots met in Week 3: The game sailed far "under" in a 17-7 Denver win. The Broncos and Ravens, two strong defenses with run-oriented offenses, each went "under" the total during Week 5. Denver won, 13-3.

Martz is now the offensive coordinator in Detroit. It’s no surprise the Lions are a pass-first offense. Detroit, a weak defensive team, faced Brett Favre and a bad Green Bay defense in Week 3. Each team passed for over 300 yards with the result sailing "over" by 2 TDs in a 31-24 Packers win.

Coaches construct their game plans around the talent on the field and try to stamp their philosophy on the team. That’s something to keep in mind when examining football totals.