Thursday, May 20, 2010

Is Nolan Gonna Get 'Em Rollin'?

Thought I'd share this entire and un-edited e-mail I got from regular contributor, Patrick.  I think he makes a good argument in a sort of devil's advocate role in regards to Miami's new defensive coordinator, Mike Nolan.  I'm just going to cut and paste and leave my response to the comments section.
Hey Tin, Patrick from your blog… I thought you might find this interesting and maybe of some use.  I was curious about Mike Nolan as a DC.  I get the impression everyone thinks the guy is great but I don’t really see any in depth analysis of what he has actually done in the NFL so I compiled his stats from his years as a DC.

It’s interesting in that his stats are pretty much average even before pulling out the 3 years he coached with really excellent talent.  My thoughts would be that it’s easy to be a good coach when you have great players but the great coaches tend to stick out when the talent is a little wanting.  Nolan’s stats under those circumstances do not stick out to me as being special and I think that is played out when he made the jump to HC and was less than successful.

It’s kind of a smoke and mirrors thing to me… He has the look, he has the pedigree (Dick Nolan a long time NFL coach was his father) but the actual product on the field has been purely predicated by the talent he has had to work with.  Now maybe this isn’t bad thing and maybe all great coaches are simply a product of the talent they have but I don’t think that is true.  Certain coaches go past good into great because they can take players beyond their talent level or lack thereof.

Knowing the game is only one aspect and I think Nolan’s knowledge level is right up there with the best of them, but I don’t see any great innovation here, there is no Dick LeBeau or even Buddy Ryan for that matter.  So I think the folks out there expecting to see some exotic blitz style defense are way off base.  Nolan will use traditional schemes and rely on his talent, which if lacking will lead to a mediocre defense, but if certain players reach their potential then the defense will reflect that as well.

One other thing comes to mind when looking at great defensive or offensive coordinators, they like being coordinators.  They are not looking at the job as a stepping stone to a head coaching position or if they have and were not successful, they realize their limitations and concentrate on what they are good at instead of looking over the fence at what they had proved to be unsuccessful at.

In either case I don’t think we will see anything incredible or even much different from what we saw last year.  What I will ask Nolan to do is to understand what is happening during the course of the game and make the adjustments needed to force the offense out of what they are doing successfully.  In other words, dictate the game more than being dictated to, self scout to understand our own tendencies and then change those from game to game to keep teams off-balance.  Last year I felt our defense was very predictable and was incapable of making adjustments during the course of the game.  If Nolan is smart enough to do make these things happen then it doesn’t matter whether he has some exotic scheme or crazy blitz packages, it will keep teams honest and that is all we can really ask.

As the stats clearly indicate, Nolan isn’t the greatest innovator in the world, but given the proper talent he understands the game well enough to put those players in a position to win.  Those expecting captain fantastic will probably be sadly disappointed but I think Nolan will provide the in-game adjustments that were lacking last year.


  1. OK, thank you Patrick for your efforts here.  Just want to get that out of the way before I disagree entirely LOL.

  2. Patrick,
    Some excellent points. Thanks for the hard work on graphing this out.
    I agree that the true test will be for successfull in-game adjustments that stop the strengths of the offense. The other will be his evaluating the players talents and using them properly.  However, the bottom line is, no coach can personally go onto the field and execute the plays...properly coached players have to do that!

  3. Tim The EnchanterMay 20, 2010 at 10:56 AM

    So what Patrick is saying is a coach's success if due to excellent talent. That's a novel concept. LOL

    Of course it is. Belichick is a genius but what has he won without Tom Brady? Nothing! Oh that's right he won as a DC for Parcells' Giants. Did that defense have excellent talent? I'd say so.

    Talent on the field makes or breaks coaching careers. A coach can coach you up but if you're only so good that's what the team will be.

    However, I agree with Patrick that Nolan is not a savior. All he can do is take advantage of the talent we have.

  4. Damn Tin, you could've warned me you were going to throw that up there!

  5. I think it's really important in football, especially in the NFL, to completely disregard statistics.  It's great for year-end accolades and to quantify the production of individual players, and has a role in mass media choosing what or who to cover.  But in the end it doesn't mean a whole lot.  The NFL does not even acknowledge half the stats we as fans and media like to bring up.  There is no stat for who has the best fundamentals, who knows the most plays in the playbook, who made the most TD-breaking blocks, which coach made the best adjustments, etc.  I could list about a hundred of these important aspects of the game that are not measured in anyway shape or form by the NFL.

    With that said, the stats you have provided do have one important context.  And that is the context of a resume and salary/qualifications.

    I took a moment to highlight the Nolan stats you provided, to show the top 10 finishes.  It's important to note that we started out with the top running game and 2nd best run defense in the league last year, and both numbers declined as the year went on.  So it's saying something seeing some of these numbers for a full season.  Anyway, out of the 154 stat boxes, 74 were top 10, meaning Nolan had a top 10 def stat category 46% of the time, which is a massive number.  The blue boxes are top 3 finishes. He had a 10% category finish in the top 3.

    What do these stats mean about Nolan - not a whole lot other than he is qualified for the job - the fact that he has been a head coach, and a multiple-position coach, implies that he has the tools to be a coordinator.  One interesting aspect of the stats of any team's defense is it's entirely correlated to how good the team's offense is.  Any quality running game can keep the defense off the field and thus make their stats look mighty impressive, depsite the fact they weren't on the field.

    Looking at the table above, you'll see Nolan had his hardest time in the NFC East, a division famous for running the ball.  Yet in Washington on the other side of the ball they had Terry Allen as their feature back - he ran for 700 yards and 2 TDs in 1998.  His backup was Skip Hicks, which I'm pretty sure is a character in Pixar's 'Cars' and not an actual human being...Don't even get me started on the Giants offense in the mid 90s.  Anyway, those teams were below average teams - only Baltimore and the Jets had a solid team offensively from those above and you can see the difference a good offense makes on defensive stats.

    Anyway, the best way to judge Mike Nolan's future with the Dolphins is to look at his immediate past.  He didn't always run a 3-4 to begin with.

    What he did in the first half of last season in Denver was not 'pedestrian' or 'average' in any way.  Players, several of whom were past their prime, were flying around from all kinds of angles.  There were several plays in each game where they showed no blitz but slightest of position shifts allowed them to blitz blindly once the ball was snapped. 

    Whether Nolan gets creative like that in Miami is unknown - it has a lot to do with the players involved - but one thing you can bet is that this guy will have a plan A, plan B, plan C, plan D, etc.  Passthebaloney only ever had a Plan A (beta).

  6. Why, it's not like it's a photo of you with your mistress....

  7. Don't you have to be married to have on of those?

  8. I agree statistics are not the greatest indicator of reality and there are so many things that can influence them negatively or positively that in a small data set it is nearly impossible to make any viable conclusions... But this is a pretty good set of data and as with any good set of data the law of averages will play out and most things will become average unless there is an anomaly, something so distinguishing that it stands out as better than average. Engineer double speak I know, but this does hold true in most things and is the best way to view statistics from the macro-level.

    I'll be able to converse more after 4:30 EST...

  9. I don't see why - I had one before I even got my 1st girlfriend...

  10. ...take a look at Parcel's career stats and you get the same picture as you do with Nolan ...imnsho, the first thing of note re Nolan is that he's NOT Passthebaloney (that's a good one, tin) ...tin pretty much nailed that.

    ...the second thing is that he's been to the top before multiple times ...most DCs never get there once ...of course he's had poor years here and there ...but he's also had some exceptional ones ...and like I said, most DC's never have even one ...great coaches in any sport have their ups and downs ...look at Shula for instance ...but they consistently have more ups than the so-so coaches.

    ...I think Nolan's stats speak quite well of him ...if the fins give him the player talent to work with, he has the coaching talent to make us a very good defense ...what more can you ask of any man?

  11. Don't get me wrong on this, I was not saying Nolan was a bad choice or would not do a good job. The main point I was trying to make was that he doesn't run some exotic defensive scheme. He's a basic 3-4 guy and relys more on talent than he does on scheming. What promted me was the posts I have been reading here and on other sites that make it seem like he is going to run some crazy defensive scheme and I just don't think that is the case.

    What I like about him is, as Tin pointed out, his knowledge and how I hope he will be able to use that to keep the Dolphins from becoming predicatable. Last year it seemed when our game plan didn't work we were dead in the water. It's that plan A, B and C I hope he can provide, but don't expect some exotic defense because it's simply not going to happen.

  12. I can definitely live with a number 10 defense as long as our offense remains productive.

  13. ...and how do you know that? ...I think Nolan will run the defense that the talent he has is best suited to ...much as he did in Denver last year ...and I don't think a blitz focused defense is an "exotic" one if that's what his talent does best.

    ...think Wake ...what is HE best at? ...and where is our defensive talent weakest? ...I happen to believe we're still weakest in our defensive backfield ...and how best does a defense cover that weakness (assuming they have the talent)? ...imnsho, they do it by going after the passer in order to make him get rid of the ball before his receivers come open ...or force him out of the pocket ...which is why I think Nolan will emphasize a blitzing attack, not because its "exotic" but because it best suits our defensive talent set ...we look to have a strong DE rotation matched by some LBs able to go after the passer ...add to that an NT that looks to do more penetration than stop gap playing and I'm convinced that's where we will head with this year's defense.

    ...given that this is all speculation at this point based on past performances and a slew of new defensive talent that may or may not pan out, I still think its by far the most likely way we'll go ...we'll blitz on a lot more downs than last year and we'll do it from virtually every position on the defense save the corners ...not because its an "exotic" defensive scheme but because its the best one for this team this year with this talent mix.

    ...btw, you're taking a lot of hits on your blog post but I want to say thank you even though I disagree with your conclusions ...this place will only get a lot better if more would take the time, interest, and effort that you displayed and those like you are why I come here, disagree as we might, its intelligent discussion without all the trolls that have ruined the SS and MH forums.

  14. what are you two, the new mike b/joeW's.   next thing we know, tin will give us a cut and paste ask tin Q & A's

  15. Tim The EnchanterMay 20, 2010 at 1:16 PM

    Tin, being that I only read 26% of your long winded post I have to say every game and every day is different.  :-P

    You can never just look at stats. We all know who's a player from seeing consistency. One day a RB has a bad day and rushed 13-33 and we knock him. Was it pointed out that it was in two feet of mud and slush? Or did we know he was playing through a hammy yet we still felt he was the best guy? We don't always know the deal.

    Stats just give you an idea. Sometimes a guy's stats are nothing to brag about but he played a great game. We've all seen it. Good players play well and a team with a lot of them usually win a lot of games. It's pretty simple stuff.

  16. ARNSPARGER did it w'NO-NAMES!!

    Due to innovativeness, they'd play the 53, 43, and the 34 in a 3down series,(iff the occasion called for it)!!!
    Now that's versatility, and this o10 team is potentially loaded w'various option's
    of game planning b/4,& during the game's progression.. IMHO!!!

    Look what he did w'the old-dog FIN castoffs in Denver...
    I like to think that over a few yr's (IFF not immediatly),
    he can get our BP cloned young pup's to play w'farr better result's
    than were achieved (though impressive) in one yr in Denver w'BP reject's/old gyz...

    HOWEVER, that's the weakest division in football, and OURS is TOP TWO!!!   GO NOLAN, GOFINS!!

  17. NO-NAME DEFENSE ... was the name of the defense, didn't coin a moniker like Killer Bees, Steel Curtain, Doomsday, Purple People Eaters, etc.

    NO-NAME had Nothing to do with lack of talent or stars.  They had alot of talent.

    Our Defense is more like ... Young 'Uns or Junior Varsity (frosh & sophomores).

    Nolan better have a good recipe to make Chicken Salad out of Chicken "Schtuff".

    Nolan purportedly believes in Bend, Don't Break ... every D-Dude is into that cliche, at every level.

    They were a bunch of gyz that nobody had barily heard of that suddenly became talented b/c SHULA/ARNSPARGER
    used players to their strengths,and could beat ""your's w'his, or his w'your's"" the talent or names didn't matter!!!

    Did the Killer Bees literally kill the opposition, & were the PPE actually cannibal's???

    """potentially loaded"""!!!

  19. 13 isn't the term  <span>"""potentially loaded"""!!!  the same as Potentially we don't really know yet ?  Last years crop of draft picks had that same potential but I think 50% of them were flops.  I can't say with any clearity this group is any better.  The good part of the draft is we addressed every weakness we had on the team with earnest other than FS.  Just by shear numbers and a 50% hit rate we will get some players that can contribute in the areas of need.  That alone will make the team better. I hope that was their theory.</span>

    As for Nolan I don't know what to expect.  I think we fans think that defensive fixes can happen with in the context of a game.  I don't think that's the way it goes.  Yes adjustments can be made. but I think they are realetively minor in scope.

  20. We made 18 draft pks prior to this yrs unforeseen,(but likely another 2 immediate starters,2 future strtrs)...
    18 of which a minimum of 8 will be o10 STARTERS!!!

    Even ifffff the other 10 pks turn-out to be complete flops, 8 STARTERS suggest better than average drafts,MHO

    ONLY 3 of the 18 aren't on the current roster!!!
    You can't consider anyone a flop,
    until their no-longer on the team after accomplishing nothing,or a minimum of 3 yrs ;) !!

    ""Potentially loaded"", potentially sober, you KNOWWW I'm a cup half-full guy :-P !!!

  21. The first 4 pks of 08, and possibly DThomas are o10 starters,
    (iff o10 draftee Odrick doesn't beat-out 08's PMerling)..

    The 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th pks of the 09 draft are more the likely all o10 starters,
    (iff o10 draftee RJones doesn't beat-out CClemons)..

    Have no-idea how all those draftee's becoming starters
    w'in their first two yrs can be considered questionable drafts,
    or even close to average/50% success rate!!
    NO-REASON not to believe @least half of this yrs crop is around for a few contributive blossoming years!!

  22. And you gotta consider BMarshall as a 2nd rndx2 draft pk starter, then there's walk-on DBESS etc,etc!!

    After 07 we had ONE starter that would have started elsewhere,2yrs later we have bench gyz capable of such,
    and most of our starters could start practically anywhere, IMPRESSIVE REGIME IMHO!!!