Yesterday one Mr. Ted Glover wrote a fine piece on Fred Pagac, the defense's woes, and a suggestion for a new DC. Previously, fearless leader wrote a two-piecer on some concerns Leslie Frazier has given him. Well, being the contrary jerk that I am, here I go writing a story with a bit of an opposite twist- I'm going to stand up for them.
A little. Oh, and I talk about Bill Musgrave too, but nobody's written a story about him recently, so... whatever.
Yep, that sounds like a fine enough start. LEAP OF FAITH!
Leslie Frazier. People seem to have two major concerns in particular when it comes to Frazier... I mean, aside from the whole ‘2-11' thing. As Chris wrote, and I do agree with him, time management seems to be a bit of a problem for Mr. Frazier, almost to an Andy Reid-esque level. Good time management- and the occasional successful ‘icing the kicker' (HAH Dallas)- is pretty much one of the biggest ways an NFL head coach can make a real impact on game day outside of pure motivation. Even play-calling ultimately depends on the actual play-makers on the field. It can make or break a team within 7 points of winning or tying the game- a situation we find ourselves in quite often.
Does Frazier need to improve in this department? Yes, absolutely. However, I'm going to give him a one-season flyer on this issue. It may all seem ‘so logical' to the outsiders, but I'm pretty sure being a Head Coach in the NFL can be pretty overwhelming, especially during the game. I'm not necessarily saying Frazier is in over his head per se, as perhaps he is a bit overwhelmed right now. And perhaps that ‘so logical' thing becomes the thing that ends up slipping. And that's OK, so long as he learns from his mistakes. Leaving three timeouts remaining at the end of a close game is... bad. But it hasn't happened since. And though he has plenty of experience on the sidelines, let's keep in mind being a defensive coordinator and being a head coach are still pretty different jobs. Take a quarterback, for example. As has been pointed out ad naseum here, a QB needs a good season or two under his belt to become truly successful. And I feel it's by and large the same for a head coach. While we can look across the nation at San Francisco (well, unless your Cali, in which case... well, I'm not sure where he'd look, since I'm actually not sure where he's at in that state) and see Jim Harbaugh's stunning success with the 49er's, there's still two key differences- he did technically have background head coaching in college, and furthermore, his success is far more the abnormal than the rule. And let's face it, Frazier didn't start out coaching a very good team- we're a train wreck in a lot of departments.
The second thing that aggravates people- and I don't get this one- is his steely expression on the sidelines, good or bad. Percy Harvin scores an insane touchdown? Nothing. Christian Ponder throws a pick-6? Nothing. But as many have pointed out here, our own revered Bud Grant was pretty much exactly the same. In fact, it was Grant who explained that there was no need to show emotion on the sidelines- the players knew what was good and bad, they didn't need their head coach to express it for them. I look at Detroit and Jim Schwartz, who is running a team that should be much further in their playoff contention, but is seemingly collapsing into a bunch of penalty-prone malcontents. (And don't say it's all Suh... that game against the Saints, without Suh, had some of the most ridiculous penalties I've ever seen.) Schwartz became famous this season (OK, I mean, he was pretty famous before this, but still) for the whole ‘handshake-gate' incident. So just consider the opposite end of the spectrum of a head coach's displays of emotion, and the ramifications. I don't think a team has ever lost because their coach was too ‘stone faced'. It's not like the players should need him high-fiving them when they do good and screaming in their faces when they do bad.
Has Frazier made his mistakes? Sure- him being a major force behind picking up McNabb seems like a bit of a mistake (just a bit). But again, I think for a first-year coach who has inherited a team largely in shambles, with a rookie quarterback, he's done well enough for me to believe there's great potential for the future.
Fred Pagac. Ah, Freddy, Freddy, Freddy. I knew it was you. Ahem, anyways... I'm going to admit that Ted's suggestion of Steve Spagnuolo is a really good idea should he become available. (Although learning to spell that last name correctly without having to look it up every time will be a chore.) Honestly, I hadn't thought of that, so I'm glad Ted wrote his article first. That said, should Spag... I give up, not become available, I think Pagac is taking some blame he doesn't deserve.
Chris' article regarding the oblivion that our INT record is currently in is well taken. However, rather than hold that over Pagac's head, I prefer to hold up our amazing pass rush instead. Why? Because let's look at the playmakers we've got on defense. On the D-line we have future Hall of Famers Kevin Williams and Jared Allen, in the LB corps we've got the law firm of Henderson, Henderson, and Greenway, and in the secondary, we've got... um, I lost track. (Can anyone here play corner and/or safety, per chance?) Prior to Winfield's injuries and Cook's... um, poor decisions... we weren't actually all that terrible in the secondary. Great? Hell no, but not the horrific tragedy that we put on the field now. Listen, I pointed this out last season, and I believe it still holds true- the middle of the field is almost always wide open because our secondary is so terrible, the LB corps is constantly having to play further back to help them, or is busy with a blitz to... help them. That whole ‘middle of the defense' thing isn't happening because we're having to put the middle elsewhere to patch up the deficiencies that exist in the back of the field. Quite frankly, I think Pagac's doing an OK job with a defense that essentially consists of a D-line, LB corps, and... that's pretty much damn near it. Is our defense letting us down in some very key, critical moments? Yes, yes it is. But unless Pagac can actually suit up and go play corner/ slot/ dime/ nickel/ safety, there's not a whole lot he can do about it sometimes.
I mentioned somewhere in a comments section a while back that one thing that consistently disturbs me about our defense is the amazing amount of times I watch coverage blow up because of miscommunication. How many times has a corner dropped his man back to a safety... only to realize the safety's, you know, fifty yards away? At the time, I put that on coaching- players should know their assignments and play to them. That said, someone (forgive me for forgetting who) pointed out that the constant rotation of DBs is the more likely culprit, and I've swayed to that side of the spectrum. Pagac is having to work with a freakishly long list of DBs this season, and just when he's probably thinking he knows who's going to be on the field Sunday... BAM! no mas mi amigo, it's someone new in a new position.
Pagac's success in pass rush shows me that, with good playmakers, the guy can run a defense. We've got the best pass rusher in the league, and yet, there's a slew of other guys making sacks- that says a lot to me. It might be easy to just lean on Jared Allen, but Pagac has done a good job of dropping guys from the secondary right at the QB, which is probably for a lot of them the best choice, seeing as how the D-line has two guys who can consistently draw double-teaming and therefore give them an opportunity to do something.
So all in all, defensive woes aside... to me, it's all players, not so much coaching. Now onto...
Bill Musgrave. OK, this guy is arguably the hardest to defend, because for as much as he spoke about using guys to their talents, we've seen some confusing things in that regard this season. Whether it's no longer using Adrian Peterson as a running back in the second half of games, or not using Percy Harvin... well, nearly at all... for the first half of the season, or leaving him and Kyle Rudolph on the sidelines in a critical red-zone situation, I'm not entirely sure what this guy is thinking sometimes.
And then BAM! there's a brilliant play clear out of nowhere. Lining up Visanthe Shainco in the backfield... heck, even the much-maligned ‘faking to Peterson and giving it to Toby Gerhart for the crucial third down' decision earlier this season, he seems to have some good ideas here and there. But man, there are a lot of bad ones there, too.
Quite frankly, I look at Musgrave's resume, and wonder if quarterbacks coach isn't just his true calling. He's held the offensive coordinator job a few times, and essentially lost it each time, only to have success coaching quarterbacks and being promoted to OC again before once again being removed. Hey, Bill Belichick had a rough first outing as a head coach before become the warlord that is the Patriots machine. So there's always the possibility that Musgrave will learn from bad mistakes in the past and become a great OC... but I wonder if we aren't just falling into a cycle other teams like the Jaguars fell into as well.
Admittedly, that's not much of a defense of Musgrave, but there you have it. I say we give the guy one more season, and if it doesn't work out, then we look for a new OC, and rather than dump him, try and see if he won't just take a ‘demotion' to QB coach, where he seems to have considerable success.
So there you have it everyone- a full defense(ish, in the case of Musgrave) of our coaching staff. What say you, fellow Viking faithful? Who should we keep for another season?