2000 in Review
This is the first of a series of off-season articles. I�m planning to follow this summary on the defensive side with a unit by unit evaluation including current personnel, state-of-the-art about the League, and prospects to improve this roster whether by FA or the college draft. When I�m done on the defensive side, I�ll turn to the more trendy offense array. After that, I�ll try to organize some wide range of options into a doable strategy. Hope you enjoy.
Stiller 2000 Year in Review: Defensive Overview.
As long we are keeping score, the primary defensive statistic is points allowed. The benchmark number is 17 per game; hold an opponent below that total and you�ll probably win. On casual inspection, the Stillers D-unit succeeded 8 of 16 times. They opened 7-2 and, apparently, closed 1-6. However, in the Oakland game, Eric Allen scored on a INT return and, out in San Diego, Rodney Harrison did the same. The Raiders and Chargers both put up 20 or better but, in those games, the Stiller D-group did give less than 17 points. In sum then, we could imagine that the D-side finished 10-6.
Obviously, that W/L record is made up. It is over-simplified as factors like field position or time of possession, where Special Teams and Offense contribute to a defensive sum, are ignored. Still, giving the D-side a 10-6 record suggests that this group was marginally playoff worthy. Every team in the AFC playoff was 10-6 or better; 10-6 didn�t give home field advantage and, as we saw with the Colts and Broncos, 10-6 teams didn�t last.
In sum, the D-group was respectable, but hardly dominating. It is worth noting that, other than Oakland, this group did not meet many high powered offenses. The Jags were beat up and neither the Vikes, the Colts nor the Rams were on the schedule. The Fins and Ravens made the playoffs because their defensive teams carried them in; the Stillers D-side is not yet strong enough to ship that kind of weight. With (4) new starters, the 2000 Stillers did improve over the 1999 edition. However, the FO has some work to do if this progress is to continue.
Check out the Stillers Salary post under By the Numbers. Note that (8) defensive starters have contracts set to expire in 2001. These men are: DE Aaron Smith and Kevin Henry, LB Earl Holmes, Joey Porter and Jason Gildon, CB Chad Scott and Dwayne Washington, FS Brent Alexander. Most of the offensive unit is good through 2002; Stew, Plax, Troy and Marvel are signed through, at least, 2003. The Stillers have some sort of offensive core in place for three more years but, without intervention now, they will be rebuilding on the D-side.
We�ve seen this before; following the 1996 season, the Stillers lost (3) CB (Woodson, Williams and Figures), (3) DE (Seals, Buckner and Johnson) and LB Chad Brown. These men were part of the physically dominant �94 defense; the same set who, in the following year, played in the Super Bowl. That team came apart when the FO failed to retain their home-grown prospects. The Stiller way, with few exceptions, has been to delay contract negotiations until a player has completed his RFA season. The exception is Earl Holmes who, in his first year as a starter, had his contract extended for three seasons. The rule has been, pretty much, everyone else.
With talent oozing out from every position, Stiller HQ has been forced to draft for need rather than pure, impact playmaking ability. Lose (4) WR, pass on Jevon Kearse for Troy Edwards. For a team that seeks to build through the draft, this is pure insanity. FA money has gone to no-talents like Woolford and Travis Davis; Kevin Colbert hit with KVO, Alex and Tharpe but whiffed on Sullivan and Mylinski. Regardless of who has directed operations, the general mode has been reactionary team-fixing rather than team-building. As one consequence, the Stiller D-unit has deteriorated from a state-of-the-art group to one that over-achieved last season in rising to just a bit above average.
This can�t continue. Job #1 has got to be to identify and then retain those players who will form the defensive core, circa 2002-03. Earl Holmes is first on the list because, otherwise, he will be done here after 2001. Dwayne Washington is a consideration; he is an older player but hasn�t shown signs of slowing down. Following the 2001 campaign, Scott, Porter and Smith will be RFA. I�d do a deal with Porter ASAP but this could be delayed till after the June, 2001 bonus savings date. For me, the jury is out on Smith; I�d sign Scott, if I could, for FS money.
More on those players, and the others, in the detailed unit evaluations which I plan to post in the coming weeks. I�ll close this section with a brief discussion of the 3-4, Stiller style.
There are two teams, Buffalo and the Stillers, which employ the 3-4 as their base defense. The Jets did so this season in part because Al Groh was a LB coach. Previously, the Jets used the 3-4 and the 4-3 interchangeably. Now that Al is back in Old Virginny, the Jets may revert, at least part-time, to the 4-3.
The Bills 3-4 has always been DL dominant. They have featured a jumbo NT (either Washington or Pat Williams), a DT-sized DE in Phil Hanson and, until last season, a pair of gifted DE, Bruce Smith and Marcellus Wiley. Sam Cowart is a great all-around LB; prior to Sam, the Bills had pass rusher supreme Bryce Paup at OLB. However, the strength of their Front 7 was, and remains, on the D-line. In passing situations, the old Bills could remove their NT, move Hanson and Smith inside and rush Paup and Wiley from the wings. They lined up (3) DL; Paup had the size and reach of many 4-3 RDE. When they brought a dime package, they could leave Cowart, their best LB, on the field.
The Stillers take a different approach; their best Front 7 players are LB. While this has flexibility advantages in the early downs, it does lead to problems in obvious passing situations. First, the Stillers best defenders may be their twin MLB but MLB are, generally, not adapted to defending the passing game. When the Stillers put (6) DB on the field, (1) of their best defenders is nearly always out of the game. Further, the Stillers primary pass rushers are their OLB but these men are less than effective rushing from a down position. Porter is 6�-2"; Gildon 6�-3"; these men often get engulfed by 6�-8" OT. Last season, the Stiller DL did little to help; that unit accounted for only (5) sacks and most of those were coverage type.
There is a reason that, excluding LT and K. Green, defensive ends top the NFL career sack lists. If a 330# OT gets his hands on any player, that man is done. Generally, a larger man has more reach than a smaller one; Kearse is a freakish exception. In sum, the Stillers constantly face capability mismatches in mounting a pass rush and those mismatches are of their own creation. The LB unit is the team�s strength on defense but continued reliance on that group will be the cause of the team�s demise. A paradigm shift is required but that has not been a feature at Stiller HQ.
Next: The D-line.
The Steel Phantom