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Coaching philosophy can make difference

Oct 14, 2003 4:18 AM

Coaches are such an important key to the success of a football team, be it college or the pros. They need to organize dozens of offensive and defensive players, teach assignments, oversee substitutions, along with motivating and mapping game strategy each week.

A key facet of coaching easily overlooked is strategic halftime adjustments. Have you ever seen a close, low scoring first half, only to see one team come out in the third quarter and in a flash score 17 points?

Smart coaching staffs make adjustments at the half to take advantage of weaknesses in the opposition. Poor coaching staffs make no changes, or simply make bad adjustments, and it shows in the performance.

This is important if you like to make halftime wagers. If a well-coached team plays a poor first half, there could be line value in a second half play. We’ve seen the importance of coaching this season with Bill Parcells in Dallas. The Cowboys had consecutive seasons of 5-11 SU, 8-8 ATS in 2001 and ”˜02. In those seasons, Dallas was a respectable 4-4 at home each year, but terrible on the road (1-7 SU in 2000, 1-7 SU in 2001).

Under Parcells, Dallas started 3-1 SU/ATS, winning twice straight up as a dog. Notice that the Cowboys have played two road games and are 2-0 SU/ATS, winning 35-32 at the Giants as a +7 dog and 17-6 at the Jets as a +3 dog. The season is just underway and they’ve already equaled the amount of road victories from 2001-02 combined!

Another way to utilize coaches in wagering is in the use of totals. Some NFL coaches are conservative, while others like to run aggressive, wide-open offenses. When John Fox took over as Carolina Panthers coach last year, before the season started a beat writer covering the team wrote, "Get ready for a lot of 13-10 games this season. New coach Jon Fox loves ball control and defense."

Indeed, Fox is old school and likes a conservative offense with a great defense. The Panthers in 2002 went 10-6 in games UNDER the total and got off to a 3-1 UNDER start this season. Yes, they have a great defense and a young offense, but coaching philosophy is also a big part of why they’ve been a consistent UNDER play.

After Green Bay lost 20-13 at Arizona, QB Brett Favre appealed to offensive coordinator Tom Rossley to open things up more. After a subtle shift Monday night at Chicago, there was a noticeable change in philosophy against the Seahawks in a 35-13 Packer rout. Rossley mixed up the formations, using three tight ends on one play, four receivers on the next, for example, to keep the opponent off balance.

Said Favre, "I told Tom to just give me a chance. Allow me to do more things and trust that I can do it." Green Bay went 2-0 OVER the total after making those offensive adjustments.

It’s difficult to get a sense of the coaching philosophy of Buffalo Bills coach Gregg Williams. Last year, the Bills and QB Drew Bledsoe went 6-0 OVER the total to start the 2002 campaign. They had a terrific, aggressive passing attack and a bad defense: a perfect mixture for OVER bettors.

However, they’ve been on a 13-2 UNDER run, going 9-1 to end last season and 4-1 to start this year. An improved defense has helped, but what happened to that explosive offense?

Can we make any judgments about first-year Bengals coach Marvin Lewis? You bet! If you’ve watched any of their games, Cincinnati is a conservative, ball-control team under Lewis. Against the Raiders, the Bengals held a 27-12 edge in first downs and a 287-103 edge in passing yards, yet lost the game 23-20.

The Bengals are much better defensively under Lewis, but offensive conservatism can have a price. Despite dominating the Raiders, they settled for field goals when an aggressive attack could have scored TDs, and it cost them a chance at victory. Notice that the Bengals are 5-0 UNDER the total this season.

Conservative play also describes Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt. Miami has a great defense, a strong running game and a head coach that takes few chances. Miami started 3-1 UNDER the total this season after going 11-5 in 2002. Miami is 35-20 UNDER since 2000 with Wannstedt.

Bottom line: When examining soft betting lines, look at statistics, weather, injuries and coaching philosophies.