With a new era in the NFL come new thought leaders and coaching pipelines. After a slew of regime changes this offseason, over a third of the NFL has a new coach leading defensive meetings, and players attending OTAs are getting familiar with new terminology, techniques and tendencies.
In the football world, it’s widely believed that defenses have an early advantage when it comes to installing new schemes, but that doesn’t take away from the big-picture problems many new coordinators need to solve by Week 1. Here’s a question each new defensive play caller must address.
Chicago Bears: Alan Williams
What is this defensive front going to do to stop the run?
Shield your eyes, Bears fans — the projected starting lineup for the front seven looks bleak. There’s little to be excited about outside of Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn, whom I expect to be traded by the deadline. Last season, the Bears defense tied for 15th in rushing plays resulting in no gain or a loss of yards despite playing the 10th-fewest run defense snaps with two deep safeties, according to TruMedia.
Playing with a single high safety should mean blitzing more often to create plays at or behind the line of scrimmage and limit explosive runs, but Chicago ranked 21st in blitz rate and allowed 59 runs of 10 or more yards, which tied for fifth-worst in the NFL.
Williams and new head coach Matt Eberflus don’t run a scheme that directly addresses Chicago’s issues up front. Last season, Eberflus’ Indianapolis defense played the fifth-most snaps with two high safeties and ranked 24th in blitz rate, but the Colts only allowed 47 runs of 10-plus yards and had the fourth-highest success rate against the run (Chicago was 18th). Coaching and technique help make Indianapolis’ success possible, but the most important factor is talent in the trenches, and Indianapolis has a game-changer in DeForest Buckner.
Is now a bad time to mention Akiem Hicks is gone, too?
Denver Broncos: Ejiro Evero
What is Evero’s identity in passing situations?
Evero doesn’t have prior play calling experience, so it’s difficult to project his patterns and philosophy in high-leverage situations. I’m curious to see where Evero draws schematic inspiration from: his time with Wade Phillips in Los Angeles, Dom Capers in Green Bay, Brandon Staley in 2020 or Raheem Morris in 2021? Each of these coaches have run the 3-4 defense at different stops — and Evero isn’t looking to overhaul the foundational elements Vic Fangio laid down in Denver — but those coordinators have distinct tendencies and approaches. Evero will have to build or borrow an identity, based on whether he prefers blitzing or rushing with four, man or zone coverage and single-high or split-safety coverage schemes.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Larry Foote/Kacy Rodgers
Can this secondary stay healthy and hold up?
Tampa Bay gave up completions of 20-plus yards at the NFL’s the sixth-highest rate last season, according to TruMedia. In spite of their dominance up front, the Bucs’ inability to cover downfield passes ultimately ended their bid to defend their 2021 Super Bowl title, and now they’re preparing to run it back with a very similar defensive roster. If Carlton Davis stays healthy and returns to form, it’ll work wonders for this defensive backfield. But he isn’t going to fix every problem in the back seven. If the Bucs can’t force quarterbacks to hold the ball long enough for the pass rush to get home, they’ll be destined to suffer a similar fate.