Posted July 25, 2013

New faces, new approaches: The impact of coordinator changes around the league

AFC East, AFC North, AFC South, AFC West, NFC East, NFC North, NFC South, NFC West
Marc Trestman wil be asked to get the most out of the volatile Jay Cutler, who is playing in a contract season. (Robin Alam/Icon)

Marc Trestman will be asked to get the most out of the volatile Jay Cutler, who is playing in a contract season. (Robin Alam/Icon)

NFL coaches try hard not to reveal too much of their game plans during the (much too long) preseason. Those few glances during exhibition games or in training camp still offer some valuable insight into how teams — especially those with new coaching staffs — will play it come Week 1.

Before all those preseason games kick off, Audibles breaks down some of the key scheme changes underway across the NFL.

Arizona Cardinals

What’s New: Bruce Arians’ vertical passing attack and zone-blocking principles.

New defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has stated that he plans to keep most of Ray Horton’s 3-4 attack in place. Arians and new offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, though, are going back to the drawing board. Arians wants to stretch the field with a vertical passing game, as he did as offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. That’s good news for wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, one of the league’s premier downfield threats. It is not necessarily a sea change from ex-coach Ken Whisenhunt’s approach, but the Cardinals did not have the quarterback in recent years to execute those deep balls, either.

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Arians also has favored more of a zone-blocking scheme for his run game in the past. There’s been no official confirmation that is what he has in mind here, but it has been his M.O. at previous stops.

Buffalo Bills

What’s New: A more run-based, pro-style offense and a hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense.

Chan Gailey’s pass-heavy, spread-the-field approach could have been fun, in theory, but the Bills never finished better than 14th offensively with Gailey at the helm, and Ryan Fitzpatrick’s interception numbers never stabilized. New head coach Doug Marrone (and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett) will rely more heavily on the Bills’ backs. Last season, Syracuse attempted 473 passes to 555 runs (sacks included) with Marrone at the helm; Buffalo threw 511 times to 442 runs.

The Bills’ biggest offseason addition may have been that of D.C. Mike Pettine, whom Buffalo swiped from the Jets. Buffalo somewhat inexplicably switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3 base last season. Pettine will use both, and he mixes and matches his personnel like few other coordinators in the league, shifting pieces around frequently.

Carolina Panthers

What’s new: Offensive coordinator Mike Shula.

Shula takes over for Rob Chudzinski, now the head coach in Cleveland. The basics of Carolina’s attack have not changed, but head coach Ron Rivera has stressed being more “up-tempo” and simplifying the playbook. A faster pace could play to QB Cam Newton’s benefit.

Chicago Bears

What’s new: A QB-centric offense, with a CFL twist.

OK, so new head coach Marc Trestman has an extensive NFL background, with stops in San Francisco, Cleveland and Oakland, among other places. He really turned heads in the CFL, though, winning a pair of Grey Cups and elevating the Montreal offense to one of the league’s best.

So, advantage: Jay Cutler. Transitioning the Alouettes’ offense to Chicago will require some tweaking, but Trestman’s basic approach — a high-paced attack that utilizes West Coast offense principles within a spread look — should highlight Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte. Trestman has said that he’s keeping everything on the table, including the possibility of some zone-read options. Forte should thrive under the new coach (and O.C. Aaron Kromer), because Trestman will feed his back, both in run plays and short passes.

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Cleveland Browns

What’s new: A vertical-based passing attack and a 3-4 defense.

Rob Chudzinski, meet Brandon Weeden. The Browns’ second-year QB struggled in 2012 under then-head coach Pat Shurmur and coordinator Brad Childress. Chudzinski’s offense, which looks to stretch the field vertically, ought to take better advantage of Weeden’s big arm and some of the Browns’ speedy receivers. Norv Turner, the new offensive coordinator, also has a spiffy track record when it comes to improving quarterbacks.

Defensively, Cleveland decided on a major shift, with new coordinator Ray Horton arriving. The Browns are transitioning from a 4-3 D to a 3-4 — hence, the offseason acquisitions of Paul Kruger, Barkevious Mingo and Quentin Groves. Horton will try to generate pressure from his linebacking corps, while asking big bodies Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor to occupy blockers.