Matt Waldman’s RSP Writer’s Team Q&A


How do you make A.J. Green even better? Make him work against Darrelle Revis in practice. Photo by Wade Rackley.(http://www.flickr.com/photos/tnjn/5064947481/sizes/l/in/photostream/)

I will have two teams in this project because I had too much fun just building one. I’m also learning too much from the process to build just one. If you’ve tried building a team, I think you know what I mean. However, I’ll make this squad my official roster despite how much I like the other team I’ll share later this month.

Offensive System

I’m implementing a system with a streamlined playbook and simple concepts that complement each other while hopefully using variations of plays that don’t force additional complexity with my blocking and route schemes. I want my quarterback to have enough freedom at the line of scrimmage to get his team into the optimal play and the audibles will be limited to a single word. I want to introduce additional layers of concepts over the course of a few seasons, but first and foremost I want to emphasize the athleticism and technical skills of my players. My goals are to score points and keep defenses off balance while achieving as much balance as my opponent will allow me to dictate.

Personnel Formations

Marshawn Lynch will be my “Edgerrin James” in this offensive system

I believe my offense’s strength is having an elite, athletic talent headlining the depth chart of each skill position.  Jay Cutler’s arm and skill on the move; A.J. Green’s and Vernon Davis’ explosiveness; and Marshawn Lynch’s skill between the tackles are good enough to force defenses to declare its primary focus if I use the right kinds of formations. I believe these four threats will make defenses cheat enough before the snap to simplify its presnap looks for the quarterback.

Between the twenties, my offense will be using a lot of single back variations with the quarterback both under center and in the shotgun. I also will employ no-huddle tempos to keep defenses in looks that favor my offense. I can envision the frequency of these formations looking like this (from greatest to least frequent):

  • 11 personnel, three-receiver sets
    • 1×2
    • 2×1
    • Trips
  • 12 personnel, two-receiver sets
    • 1×1
    • Twins
  • 10 personnel, four receiver sets with Vernon Davis as a receiver
    • 3×1
    • 1×3
    • 2×2
  • Empty sets

In short yardage and red zone situations I’ll use more two-back concepts. I’ll also sprinkle this look into other down and distance situations if I see something from my opponent that allows me to dictate our terms effectively:

  • 21 personnel, two-receiver sets
    • 1×1
    • Shifting Vernon Davis to the slot for 20 personnel looks
      • 1×2
      • 2×1
      • Trips
    • 22 personnel sets
      • 1×1 balanced
      • 1×1 unbalanced
      • Twins balanced
      • Twins unbalanced
    • 20 personnel sets
      • 1×1
      • Shifting Marshawn Lynch to a side as a receiver
        • 2×1
        • 1×2
        • Trips
        • Twins
    • 23 personnel sets
      • Single strong side
      • Single weak side

These are eight personnel sets with several variations, but I will say that what will keep the offense from getting too complex is how I will keep certain things the same. A great majority of the time A.J. Green is going to run routes from the right side of the formation and Greg Childs from the left. These are the sides of the field where I saw them star thus far and I want them in a position where they can thrive.

The onus of learning the variations for the passing game will be on Vernon Davis, Marshawn Lynch, and eventually Marvin Jones (and hopefully even longer-term, Taylor Thompson and Jeremy Ross). Davis and Lynch have enough experience with slot and backfield protections and routes. Jones has played a variety of roles in a pro style offense at Cal.

Even with some of these variations, the 11 personnel sets will probably account for 40-45 percent of my snaps. Another 40-45 percent will be split among 12 personnel, 10 personnel, empty, and 22 personnel. If my youth at receiver develops at the rate I expect, then both 10 personnel and empty sets will become a greater part of my offense account for as much as 30-40 percent of the formations that supplement the 11 personnel base.

 Blocking Schemes

Andy Levitre back in the day as a Beavers tackle protecting none other than Matt Moore. Now he’s a great pass-protecting guard that will help Cordy Glenn transition as the blindside protector of Jay Cutler. Photo by Greg Keene.

The aim is to keep things as simple as possible and let execution lead the way. Andy Levitre and David Decastro are true talents at guard. Levitre is an elite pass protector and I expect Decastro to develop quickly into an elite run blocker. We’ll run pin-and-pull stretch play and inside zone to Decastro’s side.

We’ll also use some power and the occasional counter play and trap play as “constraints” to the left side with Decastro leading the way.  We’ll run more inside and outside zone to Levitre’s side, but I’ll also use Levitre on pin and pull zone plays. Doug and Legursky and Chris Spencer run well enough from the center spot to be effective with this brand of zone play and Levitre is good enough to get the job done even if he’s not known as a top-notch run blocker. If we see this pin and pull concept isn’t working to Levitre’s side, we won’t press the issue because an offense doesn’t need to run the same plays to both sides of the field.

In short yardage we’ll use some ISO concepts with our fullback. We’ll also pull Decastro with some play action passes, but because we will run so much inside and outside zone, we’ll incorporate bootlegs into the passing game to exploit Jay Cutler’s skill to throw on the move. This will also help take pressure off the left tackle as he grows into his role. When we throw from two-tight end sets (12 personnel), the formation create more options for our line to protect Jay Cutler and this will also reduce the effectiveness of some of the more complex defenses that wreak havoc in the NFL.

Bread and Butter Plays

This offense will be the model for my scheme. Photo by The Brit_2.

If you haven’t gathered already, I’m using much of the Colts offense of the Tom Moore/Peyton Manning era. Then I’m adding bootlegs and half rolls to take advantage of Jay Cutler’s skill on the move while also minimizing backside pressure. There are several concept plays that you’ll see here from Chris Brown at Smart Football. Brown does a great job displaying live examples in this link with a 28-minute video cutup of the Colts offense in action and the plays I’ll use (frequency of plays from greatest to least):

  • Levels
  • Three Verticals
  • Quick Slant
  • Deep cross
  • Smash

After reviewing several offensive ideas, this video helped me see the type of players and scheme I would want to use with Cutler. As my receivers and offensive line develops, we’ll try to incorporate more Four Vertical concepts in future seasons and split Vernon Davis to the slot or outside. For now, two of our “shot plays” will be the Anchor/Mills Concept, and the Two-Man Post. Anchor/Mills is a post run behind a square-in off a play fake with Decastro pulling.

The two-man post play will also feature Decastro pulling to the weak side. I especially like the wrinkle that the Colts used to make this work, which is using the slot receiver to bait the free safety into thinking he is blocking for the back executing the play fake towards that flat. I’ll actually begin this play from 12 personnel, shift Davis to the slot, and then execute the play fake with Green running a post from the strong side and Childs running the post to Davis’ side. This gives Cutler two dangerous options deep  and one of them likely facing single coverage.

Goal line looks with Lynch, Davis, Green, Childs, and eventually Thompson and Ross are going to be a lot of fun. From 22 and 23 personnel I’ll still be able to pass effectively. I imagine pulling Decastro to the edge, rolling Cutler to the edge after a play fake to Lynch, and finding Vernon Davis in the back of the end zone. Or, better yet, we’ll use Thompson or Will Yeatman as the surprise receiver with teams looking to Davis.  The constant threat of Green and Childs on corner fades or plays in the back of the red zone will make the compressed red zone a little bigger for our unit.

Pivotal Players

I already talked about Andy Levitre and David Decastro when it comes to blocking schemes, but can I emphasize again that these guys will do a lot to help my inexperienced tackles? If one of them gets hurt, I have enough depth at guard – including Cordy Glenn, who has enough skills at guard to to fill in admirably – to be solid with this run scheme. However my guards are two of the best players I have on this team and I need to recognize that.

Jay Cutler will have to prove that he’s the quarterback many of us believe he can be. With simple concepts surrounding talent with height and speed, Cutler will have the opportunity to target receivers capable of making plays not just in tight windows but also above the heads of defensive backs. In many respects, I’m making similar changes for Cutler that Mike Tice is making in Chicago: bigger receivers, simple concepts, and room for Cutler to use his mental and physical assets to create big plays.

A.J. Green and Vernon Davis are elite athletes with versatility to work short, intermediate, and deep. While I might be limiting Green by using him mostly to one side, I don’t want to throw too much on Cutler and Green in terms of option routes. Green has potential to develop into a dangerous slot option in Four Verticals concepts. However, I think coaches and offensive coordinators can get too ambitious and as a result, overly complex.

There will be enough options for Green to handle with Three Verticals as an outside threat. At the same time, I think Vernon Davis has been in the league long enough and he has thrived in multiple offensive systems to be that moveable chess piece in the same way Dallas Clark was for Peyton Manning in the Colts attack.

Marshawn Lynch is my Edgerrin James in this attack. He possesses a rare combination of creativity, power, and third down skill. He’ll be an outlet player in the flat for Cutler and we’ll run some screen plays to keep defenses on their toes. But most of all, Lynch is going to make defenses pay for taking away the deep passing game. Conversely, Lynch has proven he’s good enough to move the chains on teams without dynamic passing games. Opposing defenses just might have to cheat towards the run and risk Cutler going over its head.

The coordinators and coach that you’d likely pick to run it

Tom Moore is unlikely to return to the NFL in a coordinator role, but if I have my druthers he’ll consult with fellow Air Coryell disciple Mike Tice on his unique brand of their mentor’s offensive system. Photo by Ringfrenzy

Tom Moore is unlikely to do more than serve as a consultant at this stage of his career, but he is the offensive mastermind for what I’m doing.  Moore is a disciple of the Don Coryell philosophy and fits within a spectrum of style that includes Mike Martz, Joe Gibbs, Norv Turner, and Al Saunders.  Where Moore is unique to these names is that he operates a simpler scheme that likes to attack down field.

Mike Tice is also a Coryell guy and his coordinator Scott Linehan credits Tice for his input with the offense that might be lampooned for its “Randy Ratio,” but it was a top-notch passing unit. I’ll go with Tice as my coordinator and Moore in a consulting role. Howard Mudd will be the offensive line coach.

My head coach will be Jeff Fisher. As a Titans fan, I have watched Fisher field teams with a variety of strengths and weaknesses, but they consistently played a competitive brand of football. What I like most about Fisher is that despite being a coach who built his name on his defensive knowledge, he has been open to fielding an aggressive, wide-open offense if his team’s talent is weighted in that direction.

I also believe Fisher and the Titans scouts wanted Jay Cutler in the 2006 NFL Draft. If it weren’t for Houstonian Bud Adams, the Vince Young saga would have never happened in Tennessee. In other words, I’m seeking justice and making a “should’ve happened,” into a reality.

Describe your defensive system according to the same criteria above

Desmond Bishop in a 4-3? He was a middle linebacker in that defense when he played at Cal. I think the Mack linebacker will be just fine. Photo by Random Letters.

I’ve always been a 4-3 guy when it comes to defense. While there are some devastating wrinkles that 3-4 defenses can employ, it takes a longer period of time for the 3-4 to come together than the traditional 4-3. I believe my offense, with the exception of my supporting receivers, are in a position to contend now and I don’t want to sacrifice a couple of seasons getting the 3-4 in working order. This is despite the irony that three of my four linebackers have experience in 3-4 schemes. The problem is that I don’t have the safeties to do it and I’m more familiar with the 4-3.

While the 3-4 can be a more effective scheme, I have just the coordinator that is capable of making the 4-3 a playoff-caliber unit in no time.  There will be a mix of traditional 4-3 over/under principles and more aggressive blitzes thanks to the caliber of my cornerbacks and pass-rushing abilities of my linebackers.

Personnel formations, bread and butter plays, and pivotal players.

“Revis, after helping out Fahey’s team you have to bail out those young safeties on Waldman’s squad.” Photo by Marianne O’Leary.

My team will employ a one-gap, 4-3 defense, which is the most common style in the league. My line is strong enough against the run to fill its gaps and allow my athletic linebackers to roam sideline-to-sideline and make plays. I also will rotate my linemen to keep them fresh so I can get pressure with a four-man rush and use over and under fronts with adjustments of my rotation based on my opponents’ abilities as a rushing and passing offense.

This doesn’t mean I won’t blitz my linebackers or safeties. With Darrelle Revis able to play press and keep receivers on an island, this affords my one-gap 4-3 to send a fifth or sixth man to the quarterback with greater frequency that most one-gap, 4-3 units– especially with the proven blitzing talents of my speedy linebackers.  Even the notoriously poor-tackling Reggie Nelson has shown some skill as a blitzer. There will be a greater variety of man and zone blitzes than traditional straight-up, 4-3 schemes because I can stick my corners in receivers’ grills.

When my defense employs a nickel formation on passing downs, my confidence in my corners will allow me to test offenses up the middle with double-A gap blitzes from Karlos Dansby and Desmond Bishop. Even if I don’t get great edge rushing from Derrick Morgan immediately, Geno Atkins, Dansby, and Bishop penetrating the middle is not a sight any quarterback is looking forward to facing. Quick penetration up the middle is the most difficult form of pressure for a quarterback to handle. Reggie Nelson and Da’Norris Searcy have enough athleticism in coverage to also try some blitzes from the slot on occasion.

The coordinators and coach that you’d likely pick to run it.

Mike Zimmer runs a one-gap 4-3 in Cincinnati and I’ll supply him better linebacker talent and an island stud. Photo by Navin Ragagopalan.

Mike Zimmer is a great fit for my defense and he’ll be the coordinator I’ll have running things. He and Jeff Fisher will work together to employ some of Greg Williams’ blitz schemes that Fisher’s Titans squads had success with in the past, but Zimmer’s restraint with sending extra men will be something that I consider a positive to the Williams style that has a tendency for recklessness. He’ll be a good counterbalance of caution to the Williams style.

Where do you believe your offense is vulnerable in terms of system and personnel and what specifically have you done to minimize the impact of those vulnerabilities?

I need one of my rookie receivers to emerge YESTERDAY to help this offense go from good to great.

My tackles have talent, but they are young and inexperienced. Charles Brown demonstrated potential with the Saints last year but he was by no means a stalwart player during his first stint with the starting lineup. Evaluations of Cordy Glenn’s fit within an offensive line have been all over the place. Is he a tackle or a guard? If he’s a tackle, can he play on the left side?

Switching players from left to right and right to left is much easier said than done, so as casually as I mentioned that I’ll mix and match Brown and Glenn until I find the best fit isn’t what I want to see happen. I want Glenn to prove he can play left tackle and play it well, but I’m counting on the fact that Glenn has played both tackle and guard positions at Georgia that I can switch him back to right tackle and start him there immediately if he can’t outperform Brown as a rookie.

Brown’s injury history and slower adjustment period to the NFL game and Glenn’s history of wearing down late in games are concerns and this will require more combo work from my guards to help. I’ll also try to incorporate more bootlegs into the offense to take some pressure off the edges. As athletic as this line is, it’s also young and inexperienced. Mental mistakes such as penalties and blown calls could be an early problem. Fortunately, A.J. Green, Vernon Davis, and Greg Childs have the athleticism to make plays when the ball his thrown into tight spots and Cutler’s skill to make pinpoint throws from crazy platforms will help some of the time. I just don’t want to rely on it.

This is one Davis that played in San Francisco I don’t have to worry about. The other former 49er with that surname is a whole other story. Photo by The Bay Area Bias.

Speaking of Cutler, quarterback is my shallowest position on this roster. I chose to back Cutler with Nate Davis, who is an excellent talent, but he’s been such a knucklehead that he’s no longer in the league. In fact, he’s been released from two teams in the Arena League. He’s playing for the Lone Star Football League’s Amarillo Vipers in the league’s inaugural season. Davis is at the bottom of the football barrel.

If Nate Davis continues to be lax with his preparation, then my scouts will be digging deep at the last-minute to find talent to back up Cutler because I don’t think Jonathan Crompton will be ready. Crompton has raw tools, but I don’t know if he has the live-bullets frame of mind to develop into a sound starter. The odds of finding it will be remote.

If Davis plays to his potential, I have a future starter with elite arm strength and natural accuracy on the move. This is important for my offense to capitalize on the strengths of my receivers. If not, I might have to see what Jeff George is doing.

Did I just write that? I think I need more sleep.

Or something medicinal.

Where do you believe your defense is vulnerable in terms of system and personnel and what specifically have you done to minimize the impact of those vulnerabilities?

I lack a proven rotation of defensive ends and I have concerns that my team won’t be able to sustain pressure on the quarterback off the left side with just a four-man front. While extra blitzes will help, even having Darrelle Revis doesn’t make this unit immune to giving up big plays.

My nose tackles aspire to be average. Both are strong, but I’m not sure they have what it takes to be on the nose if I opted to mix 4-3 and 3-4 schemes – something I would love to do eventually. If they have bad days, I could be more vulnerable up the middle even with Desmond Bishop manning the middle.

Reggie Nelson’s tackling has been a weakness and Da’Norris Searcy has often been characterized as a ‘tweener strong-free safety type and when he’s at his worst, he’s too aggressive and reckless with his tackling style. I think Darrelle Revis’ presence will allow Searcy and Nelson to cheat elsewhere – especially against the run.

Who are your stars and why did you invest so much in them?

Jay Cutler, A.J. Green, Vernon Davis, and Marshawn Lynch are my offensive headliners for reasons I mentioned earlier. But they are also high-intensity players with leadership ability. All of them but Green have made big plays in the postseason and I have complete confidence that he’ll join them – especially working against the likes of Darrelle Revis in practice, who is my “at almost any price” acquisition (see below).

Dansby has a been a constant when I’ve been constructing an RSP squad.

Neither Karlos Dansby nor Desmond Bishop is considered an elite linebacker, but they aren’t far off. I love Dansby’s versatility to play all three positions. He’s athletic, experienced, and smart. As long the middle of my defensive line can be stout, Dansby and Bishop (and Bruce Carter) have the skills to control the middle of the field and wreak havoc when I blitz them.

Name some of your offensive role players who might be role players now, but you believe could develop into much more as a starter or even star in your organization.

While I believe my offense is versatile and strong now, if Greg Childs returns to his junior year form he’s a future primary NFL option in his own right. He’s not much different than A.J. Green in style if he’s 100 percent healthy and this will place tremendous pressure on safeties in Cover-2 and Cover-3 and both are dangerous after the catch on crossing routes off play action. If in a few years I can’t afford to keep both Green and Childs, I can still retain at least one big-time, vertical threat with size for this offense.

If Childs can stay healthy, but his explosiveness is limited after his tendon injury I think he can still develop into a Marques Colston-like option. I can then move Vernon Davis outside the way the Saints often use Colston and Jimmy Graham. Taylor Thompson’s development has similar ramifications for this offense’s ability to retain its multiple facets and provide potential continuity if we ever have to part ways with Vernon Davis.

If this team is going to someday incorporate a dangerous Four Verticals Concept, Marvin Jones will have to develop into the consummate route runner and receiver I saw in him. If he does, watch out. He isn’t the physical freak like his teammates Childs and Green, but I compare him to Donald Driver. If Childs fails to return to form, he’ll soften the blow and provide a productive and reliable complement to Green. If Thompson doesn’t develop as hoped or this team forced to part ways with Vernon Davis, Jones’ development will help this system maintain its continuity.

Name some of your defensive role players who might be role players now, but you believe could develop into much more as a starter or even star in your organization.

Vontaze Burfict has starting middle linebacker talent. He can shed defenders and has a knack for being around the ball when he’s on his game. If he looks like he did in 2011, he’ll be on the roster bubble before 2012 is done. I’m almost more excited about Tahir Whitehead’s potential. Fast, smart, and a good tackler, I think Whitehead could develop into a weak side linebacker capable of challenging Bruce Carter for the role.

Kyle Wilson and Sam Shields can eventually be my starting corners in this offense. Both have the top-notch athleticism to do the job. Wilson has slowly improved after looking a bit overwhelmed as a rookie. Shields has flashed starter skill already and will be given that role with this team. It will be his job to lose.

Which of your starters or significant situational contributors on your rosters do you believe would be on the roster bubble in 2013?

Matt Toeaina and Arthur Jones will battle for the nose tackle spot this year, but one of them needs to prove that he can be that anchor in the middle to take attention away from Geno Atkins. I can foresee one developing into a reliable contributor, but I’ll be scouting future nose tackle talent for 2013. Vontaze Burfict will have to grow up fast and show he can provide depth with upside at middle linebacker or excel on special teams.

What was the most difficult part of the selection process for you?

Deciding how to distribute my talent across positions was far and away the most difficult part of this project. Initially I constructed two dominant-looking units, but I was left with depth charts consisting of unproven players at critical positions. And as I researched offensive and defensive systems, I realized it didn’t make sense to take a high-priced player and use him out of position or in a scheme that didn’t suit his talents to his perceived value.

While Ndamunkong Suh might excel with Detroit moving him around the line in 2012, the fact he’ll need to demonstrate the technique to play the left and right sides of the line is still a leap of faith in the same way a receiver is rarely great at running routes from either side of the line of scrimmage.  This realization helped me realize that having key players at each level of the offense and defense was more important than loading just a few units with dominant talent.

Based on your roster what type of playing facility would you want as your home stadium (describe the facility as outdoors, indoors, turf, grass, climate)?

Football should be played on grass and in the elements. That’s what I believe. With the exception of 2-4 games each year of searing heat or freezing cold, indoor stadiums and turf is about business rather than safety.

Now here’s a stadium and environment for football. Photo by Cho_Kettie

If I had my druthers, I’d say Oakland or San Francisco is the perfect environment for football with its grass field, outdoor stadium, and mild climate. Since my team has a bit of an anti-establishment vibe with its personnel and ownership, I think Oakland would be a good home. However, I’d be perfectly willing to see this team play outdoors in any grass environment north of Georgia and south of Wisconsin.

Name three risky personnel selections on offense and explain why (talent, off-field, age, injury, fit, etc.).

One of my riskiest personnel choices is Georgia Tech runner Jonathan Dwyer.

My team has a lot of characters in the sense that they don’t have that buttoned-up, corporate image that former scout and NFL analyst Daniel Jeremiah likes to see. While I agree that having players that understand how to present a media-friendly and community-friendly image makes life easier for the player and the organization, I simply don’t care as much about it. I want football players that know how to work at their craft and show it on the field more than they might know how to dress and talk to a camera.

That said, I do have some guys that concern me and I know I’m taking risks by bringing them into the organization. However, the only risk I have from the standpoint of team chemistry and leadership is if I let these guys under perform on and off the field without repercussions. I’ll give them chances to succeed and maybe even go above and beyond to equip them with tools to improve their outlook and approach towards that end.

Yet, I’ll be very clear about the consequences and enforce those consequences if they fail to perform to the organization’s expectations. They won’t get chance after chance and create morale issues with poor behavior and we don’t hold them accountable for it.

Jonathan Dwyer is a risk because until this year, he’s show more love for Primanti’s sandwiches than maintaining his conditioning. If Dwyer has finally matured enough to realize that he’s a half-bite away from digging his career grave with his mouth, there’s enough ability to develop into a productive starter. He’s capable of becoming a sledgehammer with burst.  I’m taking a shot on him because he’s only 23 years old and I’ve seen enough to know he can play the game if he’s between 215-225 pounds, which he is.

I’ve already highlighted the risks involved with my pair of young tackles and Nate Davis, so I’ll count that as naming four risky offensive personnel choices.

Name three risky personnel selections on defense and explain why (see above).

Another risky Georgia Tech alum with tremendous upside is Derrick Morgan

In addition to the mercurial, but thus far, unreliable Nate Davis as my lone backup at quarterback, I have the same kind of guy as a reserve middle linebacker in Vontaze Burfict. There’s a lot of talk from writers that Burfict doesn’t love football and that his final season at Arizona State and his performance during the pre-draft process is ample demonstration of it. If I planned to insert Burfict into my starting lineup as my middle linebacker this year, I’d call that a huge risk. However, giving Burfict an opportunity to enjoy football again and also the tools to mature off the field is worth the risk if he blossoms into the blue chip linebacker he’s capable of becoming.

Sam Shields, Kyle Wilson, and Brice McCain have made their living as nickel corners thus far. None of them have proven they can play on the perimeter at the high level and if one of them doesn’t elevate his game, it could make life more difficult for my defensive coordinator to work around Reggie Nelson’s poor tackling and Da’Norris Searcy’s inexperience.

Derrick Morgan claims he was only 75-80 percent in 2011 when he returned from an ACL tear that he suffered in 2010. His play last year backs that assertion. If I want to take pressure off my defensive backfield, Morgan will have to be 100 percent healthy and display the strength and explosiveness to become the dual-threat defensive end that most scouts considered him the best defensive end from a 2010 NFL Draft class that included Jason Pierre Paul. If he fails to play to his potential, opposing offenses can direct its focus to Geno Atkins.

Name a few players you really wished to add, but couldn’t find the room due to the restrictions of the salary cap or the fit within your team’s system.

Safety Eric Berry headlines the list. He can play either strong or free safety and he’s the type of physical player I want leading my defense. Ultimately, I decided acquiring the talents of cornerback Darrelle Revis was a greater priority for my team.

Defensive end Brandon Graham is another player I wanted as a situational starter. He has the upside to develop into a pass-rushing stud and capable run defender. I think Graham will eventually develop into a terrific edge player in a 4-3 defense despite the fact that Trent Cole and Jason Babin are the headliners in Philadelphia. Remember, Jason Babin has been in the league for a minute or two and last year was his first big season. Giving up on Graham after two years would be a mistake.

I wanted a third quarterback with some NFL experience that fit my system. If John Beck and Trent Edwards didn’t regress after getting pummeled, they have the arm and athleticism at the right price. Of course, that’s why they are at the right price. T.J. Yates and Trevor Vittatoe are two others I’d consider for the similar reasons, but Vittatoe lacks Davis’ upside or experience and Yates was too costly.

One more is kicker Rob Bironas because of his strong, reliable leg as a scorer and on kickoffs. I’m hoping Fisher’s choice of Greg Zuerlein results in landing a player with Bironas’ strengths.

Which players on your team would you have added even if they cost more than the listed price?

A.J. Green and Vernon Davis were late additions to my team and I spent a few weeks with several other options at receiver and tight end. But at the end of the day once I decided that having an established quarterback was the fastest way to becoming a contender, then I wanted to give Jay Cutler at least two “ultimate weapons” that force opposing defenses to account for every down. Green and Davis are not just big-play artists but reliable with the less glamorous facets of playing their position. I believe the difference between Cutler and some of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL comes down to the fact that Cutler has lacked clutch play from those he’s had to target.

But more than anyone, Darrelle Revis is my “player at almost any price.” Every team has one major threat outside, but very few teams have a cornerback capable of limiting or neutralizing that player.  Revis’ skills will also help my pass rush and run defense. I believe Revis’ play will go a long way towards forcing three-and-out situations and allow my offense to retain a balanced approach and win the time of possession battle.

How do you think the makeup of your roster and distribution of your resources illustrates where your philosophy breaks with NFL conventional wisdom?

Carrying only two quarterbacks bucks NFL convention. It’s also a huge risk. The fact that I have a wide receiver depth chart with only one player that has seen the field in an NFL game is another. I’m rolling the dice that I’ll hit big with my assessments of talent at two of the more difficult positions to evaluate in football. If I’m right, I’ll have a long-term contender capable of growing into a championship unit. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll struggle to score points and have a mediocre team, at best.

How much of a priority did you place on special teams, considering the restrictions of the salary cap? How would you rate your special teams unit?

If Bruce Carter can’t cut it as a starting weak side linebacker, he is a special teams ace.

I picked strong-legged kickers and proven special team talent when it comes to tackling and coverage. One of the glaring, unrealistic parts of this project is the glaring omission with long-snappers and specifying the positions used on kickoff and return teams. I believe I placed a little more thought into where my special teamers will play.

In terms of experience, blocking, and tackling, Greg Jones, John Wendling, and Gerald McGrath are proven guys. Tahir Whitehead excelled on special teams at Temple and I think he’ll give my unit a boost. Whitehead, Kyle Wilson, Rod Streater, and Dwight Lowery have the speed to make plays.  Bruce Carter was also a standout special team guy and if he falters at weak side linebacker, he’ll still have a place on coverage units and actually be an upgrade to someone like veteran Kirk Morrison.

My return specialist job will fall to Jeremy Ross, who has receiver speed and running back strength and balance. If he falters, I think Wilson or Chad Spann can assume the role and at least hold it down.

Coming Soon: Matt Miller, Jene Bramel, and Alessandro Miglio all submitted their RSP Teams. Stay tuned.

Categories: RSP Writers ProjectTags: , , , , , , , , ,

3 comments

  1. this is amazingly in depth. I love Greg Childs as well. The fact that he exists is why I will draft my defense 2 rounds from the end and my kicker one round from the end.

  2. First off I must say you did an excellent job explaining everything. Not just your strategy but the fine nuances of the parts of the strategy itself. This was really well written and thoroughly explained and yet still easy to follow. Tremendous job with that.

    I like the design and theory of your offense alot. Balance, use Cutler’s athletcism and tremendous arm strength, use the play action and your guards(whom you spent alot on) in a variety of ways to your advantage and use your freak athletes(Green and Davis) to create huge problems. Root your offense back to the very beginning of some of the finest minds to ever work the game. You’ve spent designed something very nice here and I like the idea of Green and Vernon Davis especially. That along with the arm strength of Jay Cutler, gives you the template for a very dangerous vertical passing game. I’m also interested to see what Jay Cutler will be able to do now that he has a legitimate offensive line and doesn’t have to worry about pressure up his face to the extent he did in Chicago. The choice of Cutler itself was very interesting. He unquestionably has elite talent. Really for the first time in his career outside of a year or two in Denver, he finally has a supporting cast good for him. I also like Tony Fiametta who you got really cheap and who can help with your run game.

    Defensively, this idea of generating pressure up the middle is very interesting and I like how you emphasized it. I really like the selection of Mike Zimmer as a defensive coordinator. VERY underrated defensive mind. He has really done a good job with A gap blitzes with the Bengals over the years and mixing up coverages. And Gregg Williams can cause defenses some serious problems with his blitz designs. The Saints Green Dog blitz as well as any team in the league while he was there. I’m completely with you on the value of Darrell Revis. I would have paid 18 honestly for him on my team. The gap between him and the next best corner in the league is as large as the 1st and 2nd best player at any position. To have someone like him is invaluable. The Jets are able to design their entire defense, there overload blitzes, there unique packages, and coverage designs, all around what he does. He’s a once in a generation type talent. I’m also completely with you on Geno Atkins. I thought he, not Ndamukong Suh or Haloti Ngata, was the best interior linemen in football last year. What a great combination of quickness and hands off the line along with tremendous pure strength that lets him hold up at the point of attack. I’m also a fan of Brian Robison, especially for that price tag. Good all around player and at a very good price. That was a really good find. Matt Toeina for the price tag you did I like alot also. And I really like what you did with your slot corner position(you did the same thing I did on the team I made). You have 2 real good slot corners for a cheap price tag in Kyle Wilson and Brice McCain. Slot corner today is far from any luxury(teams like the Titans put there best corner Cortland Finnegan in the slot on a large number of snaps last year) and you have that spot nailed down with two good options. Both are also quality slot press corners and you make designing defense coverages easier if you can just man down in the slot position.

    There are a couple things I’ll say that aren’t necessarily complaints or negatives, just things to consider and think about.
    1) It seems like you are trying to emulate alot of what Peyton Manning’s offense was like and you want to give your quarterback complete control and allow him to audible into the right play and have command of the offense. But it’s worth noting Jay Cutler never had audible powers the past few years in Chicago(and for an upper tier quarterback this era not to have audible powers is not usual although Mike Martz had something to do with that). Furthermore, the pre snap of the game has never really been Cutler’s strength. He’s kind of limited in that regard. It’s walking a fine line to give Cutler a lot of command in an offense which it seems like you might have to do to really maximize this unit. Not saying it’ll be a bad liability, just something to consider and it was the first think that stuck out at me.
    2) That’s alot of money to spend on guards and running backs. 24 on your starting RB and 2 guards. There are alot of things you could get for 24, I just wonder if that is worth that price tag. Lynch in general is an RB who runs hard but who has been in the league 5 years and really had gone a few years without doing anything until last year. In other words, there is risk of one year wonder and he really is the type of RB who doesn’t have a long term outlook in this league. And are the guards that valuable? Is 2 very solid but not superstar caliber worth that much and that valuable? Maybe it is, but I’m not sure that’s the direction the league is headed. For a bit less, I got Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham in one team. Again, it’s just worth noting the different emphasis you’ve placed.
    3) You really do believe in Greg Childs and Marvin Jones. That’s fine, I haven’t watched them so I don’t want to comment on there game specifically. But the success rate on 4th and 5th round receivers is not high. If you want to go with alot of 3 and 4 receiver sets and neither pans out, that could be an issue. Again, that’s not a crippling thing and you may very well be right about them. I know you spent alot of time studying them and worked hard to come to your conclusion about them, but it is very risky because late round receivers have a low success rate. For 6-7, might have it of been better to get someone like Demayrius Thomas? Just food for thought
    4) You are gambling on the outside of your pass pro with Cordy Glenn making the transition to left tackle, Doug Legersky a journey men and Charles Brown. For the 4 vertical concept and the vertical passing game you want to employ(and I’m guessing it’s a significant part of what you want given Cutler’s huge arm and the money spent on Green and Davis), that could be an issue. I know Cutler’s team basically cut off there 7 man protection schemes the past few years because of issues protecting the QB.
    5) You’re making a bit of adjustment on the fit of Dansby and Bishop in a 4-3. Bishop and Dansby are both excellent blitzers which fits your scheme but Dansby had his problems last year and is 30. 6.5 is alot for someone Greg Cosell called a below average starter based on most of last year. Just something to think about. Also, Bishop in a 4-3 is a gamble, especially for the price tag. That’s 13, on combined what I think would be called above average starters, not great at positions that some teams have not placed great value on in recent years. Again, there’s no definitive conclusion to jump to here, just something to consider.
    6) I think this is a team that might have to blitz alot to generate pressure. Edge rushing might be an issue. Derrick Morgan can’t stay healthy and while he has talent, is raw and honestly hasn’t shown top pass rush ability when he has played. Geno Atkins is your best pass rusher. While he’s great, it’s not necessairly ideal for a DT to be your best pass rusher. Blitzing can be very effective, but by its very nature its a bit chaotic and random by its nature which can make it a tricky issue. The trend in recent years(ie the Giants as a good example) is teams trying to generate elite pass rushers to limit aggressive blitzing. That doesn’t mean your strategy can’t work, but it’s a bit of a gamble.
    7) Speaking of edge rushers being a possible issue, in subpackages I’m guessing you might go to alot of dime type packages to get your two good slot corners on the field. And you’ll probably want to keep both Dansby and Bishop on the field, especially for a gap blitzing concept purposes. But what does that leave you up front in terms of edge rush? Edge rush is so key in subpackages, it might take some experimenting to figure out what’s the best course of action to take to attack it.

    Overall, I really like the concepts you’ve portrayed here, your offensive core and your selection of Mike Zimmer and the principles you’ve showed here. Well done and great job really explaining this and outlining such specific details.

    • Samuel,

      I really appreciate the feedback and I think you’re on point with both the praise and constructive criticism with my team. All the things you pointed out as things to considered were issues I seriously weighed before pulling the trigger.

      I worry about the outside rush, but ultimately I believe Morgan will make that next step. If not, I can be in trouble because I don’t think Robison can become a left side player as a pass rushing threat. If Morgan plays to his potential, I’ll be in good shape but it is a risk.

      I certainly could have spent less on RB. I just decided I wanted Marshawn Lynch based on my extensive study of his game on the field. He’s a borderline special back in my opinion and always has been. His immaturity was a big reason he didn’t perform well in Buffalo and his decision-making remains questionable. My other team actually goes very cheap at RB – Bryce Brown, Cedric Peerman, Lance Dunbar, and Chad Spann. I believe Brown could be a lead back in this league and I’ve researched the other three. However, I just like Lynch and love his style of play on the field. There’s a demeanor about Lynch, Davis, and Cutler that walks that line between aggressive and nutty that I actually want to harness.

      Cutler could very well fail as the Manning-esque leader of this offense, but I wanted to give him the chance. I think Cutler has been under two very ego-driven offensive minds during his career and never got the chance to use his skills the way he might be capable.

      I respect Greg Cosell an awful lot. I love what he does and he’s spent about 4 times as many years studying the game at an intense level as I. However, it doesn’t make him immune from mistakes about rating players. Cosell didn’t think Haloti Ngata was going to be a good NFL player. He also liked Ray Rice at Rutgers, but changed his mind for a short period of time after watching Rice struggle his rookie year. Cosell is generally careful about prefacing his comments and sometimes people quote folks out of context without that preface in mind. All I know is that there are times that in the context of a season, Cosell might be positive or negative about player that is better or worse on the whole than that game or season. At the same time, I do believe there are times, Cosell is looking at a set of games and judges a player too quickly. But like he says, he’s often wrong (as we all are). The point is that I disagree with Cosell on Dansby. I do agree with you about Bishop as a 43 LB. Might be risky, but figured his experience at Cal was worth giving it a shot and I like his youth and skill as a blitzer with some coverage skill.

      I am worried about my tackles and in hindsight I probably could have spent less money on my starting RB to upgrade my left tackle spot. However, I spent a lot of time researching which tackles I could take that might work off the left side really well and still mix and match if I’m wrong.

      Overall, I’m satisfied with my team. However, I still left feeling like I could have done a few things differently and been better off. It just came down to certain personnel I really wanted to see together and I have a risk-taking nature when it comes to these things.

      Seriously, I appreciate the extensive evaluation of what you saw here. I know that I spent a lot of time on my team and wanted to make sure that I understood my strengths and weaknesses beyond just the personnel, but how they fit with my offensive and defensive concepts. I know many of the writers involved in this project are doing the same.

      Best

      Matt

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