Coaching, style matters trying to look at football totals
October 31, 2017 3:00 AM
by Jim Feist
There are many factors to look at 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? What kind of weather conditions will there be?
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 18 years with limited offensive skill in many of those years.
That imbalance isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as they hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in 2001 and 2013. During crunch time, the Ravens during their recent championship season held the Colts to 9 points and the Patriots to 13 in the playoffs. In the Super Bowl, that defense came in handy during a goal line stand in the final minute against the 49ers. During their other Super Bowl season, Baltimore was 13-7 “under” the total.
New England, by contrast, has a different offensive style. Bill Belichick is rarely conservative on offense, always going for the jugular, even when forced to use backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo last September, leading Miami 31-3 before he got injured. They didn’t scale back to offense for the kid.
Belichick still gets criticism of his famous “fourth and two” call at the Colts in 2009, but to this day when asked about it he shrugs, “I still think that was the right call. We had two plays to get two yards and ice the game with one of the greatest offenses in NFL history, so why not?” When you think about it, they had Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker, so why not try and ice it with those talents? As opposed to punting to Peyton Manning against a young and very shaky Patriots defense. It did have sound merit, even if it failed. And who’s going to argue with a coach with four titles since 2001?
Three seasons ago in the Super Bowl the Pats essentially bailed on the running game and threw short quick passes all game against the great Seattle defense. That was not a surprise, all part of their aggressive offensive style. For the record, the 2014 Patriots were 11-8 over the total, including that Super Bowl win. All three of their postseason games last season sailed OVER.
Two years ago Denver had subpar QB play with Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler, so new coach Gary Kubiak brought in zone-blocking and scaled back the offense. GM John Elway wanted this, too, knowing the record-setting Denver offense in 2013 got mauled in the Super Bowl by the dominant Seattle defense.
That offensive style was all about attacking the defense with Welker, Julius Thomas, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas. Defense, and even oddsmakers, couldn’t keep pace with that high octane passing attack as Denver started 7-0 over the total in the regular season. The 2015 champs were 11-6-1 UNDER the total on the way to a Super Bowl victory over Carolina, 24-10.
Former coaches such as Jimmy Johnson, Dick Vermeil and Bill Walsh had offensive philosophies that liked to spread the field. They were more like gunslingers in the old west, with wide-open attacks that were ready to score on every play.
When teams with similar philosophies or strengths and weaknesses clash, the results with respect to totals can be predictable. We saw this last month when conservative Marvin Lews and the Bengals met the Ravens in a 20-0 game.
The Saints under QB Drew Brees and Coach Sean Payton are a classic example of a wide-open offensive approach. They can score points but the defense has been bad for a while. Last season they played in games with scores of 35-34, 45-32 and 35-34. The Chiefs, Vikings, Seahawks, Jets, Cowboys and Bengals have conservative offensive philosophies.
Aggressive, attacking offensive coaching staffs can be found on the Saints, Patriots, and Steelers. Coaches construct their game plans around the talent on the field and try to stamp their philosophy on the team, something to keep in mind when examining football totals.