Silverstein: List of defensive candidates for Packers job could be impressive

Tom Silverstein
Packers News
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New England Patriots defensive play caller Brian Flores (left) talks with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as they walk out to the field before a practice in this Oct. 8, 2014, file photo.

GREEN BAY - Two weeks ago, the Los Angeles Rams scored six points against the Chicago Bears, the Minnesota Vikings scored seven points against the Seattle Seahawks and the Kansas City Chiefs scored 27 (at home in overtime) against the Baltimore Ravens.

This past Sunday, the Rams scored 23 against the Philadelphia Eagles, the New Orleans Saints scored 12 against the Carolina Panthers and the New England Patriots scored 10 points against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It was just two weekends in a 17-week season, but after months of NFL teams scoring at a record pace, it was eye-popping to see defense winning out over offense in the final few weeks of the season.

The Bears, Ravens and Steelers rank in the top 10 in overall defense, so it’s not surprising to see them stand up to the best offenses in the NFL. But the way the Eagles stopped the Rams and Carolina slowed down the Saints, it’s starting to look like defenses are catching up with the new, high-octane offenses being run in the NFL.

Like with every new offensive twist in the NFL, defenses tend to catch up, especially when one team provides a blueprint for how to do it.

As the Green Bay Packers near the process for interviewing fired coach Mike McCarthy’s replacement, there’s a good argument for hiring someone with a defensive background.

Probably the best is that the better class of candidates this year is on the defensive side of the ball. There are going to be many proven defensive coordinators and former head coaches who will be seeking jobs and president/CEO Mark Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst need to consider them for their opening.

Hiring a coach with an offensive background made so much sense at the time McCarthy was fired. The offense is a mess, quarterback Aaron Rodgers is playing like an ordinary guy and nothing the Packers do seems to catch their opponents off guard.

But if there’s anything to learn from McCarthy’s highly successful 13 years as head coach, it’s that it’s hard for an offensive guy to manage an entire team when so much of his energy goes into coaching the offense and calling plays.

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McCarthy led the team to four NFC championship games, but he won just one Super Bowl because other parts of his team continually failed him.

After the 2014 colossal fail in Seattle, McCarthy decided to give up play calling and focus on managing the entire team the following season. He sat in on offensive, defensive and special teams meetings and tried to take a big-picture view of the team.

But when the offense didn’t perform up to par, McCarthy took the play-calling duties back and returned to immersing himself in offensive preparations.

Throughout his tenure, failures on defense and special teams haunted him.

General manager Ted Thompson stuck him with rosters full of rookies and undrafted players, yet he was loyal to defensive coordinator Dom Capers, whose defense was complicated and required veteran players to run it. His special teams were full of guys who weren’t long for the NFL, and he never found a coach who could make it work.

When you’re a defensive coach, the play-calling process isn’t as intense. There is no process of working with the quarterback to figure out what plays he likes or when to give him the opportunity to change calls at the line of scrimmage.

Play calling is still a chess match for defensive coordinators, but often they are more willing to give the duty to someone else on their staff.

Despite being a defensive coach, New England’s Bill Belichick has mostly had one of his assistants call plays on defense. Seattle’s Pete Carroll is the mastermind of the Seahawks' defenses, but he has allowed assistants such as Gus Bradley, Dan Quinn and Kris Richard to call the plays.

When a head coach isn’t immersed in calling plays, he can oversee the entire team and make more informed decisions. He doesn’t have to stay focused on just one side of the ball and isn’t thinking about what calls he’s going to make on the next series.

According to one former NFL front office official who has hired coaches and done consulting work, defensive coordinators tend to be more organized and in tune with the big picture. They have a keen interest in special teams because it has more of a defensive nature to it and uses a lot of defensive players.

The downside, the official said, is that your quarterback might end up playing for numerous offensive coordinators. Any of the guys the defensive guy hires will be looking to move on to head-coaching jobs if they’re successful, and finding someone who can click with a veteran quarterback like Aaron Rodgers every year or two would be difficult.

The defensive guy would have to structure his offensive staff in a way that assistants are being prepared to become coordinators, like what Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid has done and Mike Holmgren did during his tenure with the Packers.

Consider the defensive coordinators who could be candidates once the season is over: Chicago’s Vic Fangio, New England’s Brian Flores, Indianapolis’ Matt Eberflus, Philadelphia’s Jim Schwartz, Minnesota’s George Edwards, the New York Giants’ James Bettcher,  the Los Angeles Chargers’ Bradley and Dallas’ Richard.

In addition, head coaches Ron Rivera of Carolina and Marvin Lewis of Cincinnati may be available.

Going with someone with a special teams background might not be that much different. It’s possible Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh will be looking for a job and Kansas City special teams coordinator Dave Toub should probably be on everybody’s list of coaches to interview.

Compare that to what we know about offensive coaches who are possible candidates: New England’s Josh McDaniels, the Los Angeles Rams’ Zac Taylor, Kansas City’s Eric Bieniemy, Carolina’s Norv Turner, New Orleans’ Dan Campbell, and Denver’s Bill Musgrave. There are others, but those stand out.

The defensive list is deeper and more impressive.

If the Packers can’t get McDaniels, for instance, they might be able to do as well or better with his associate, Flores, who interviewed for the Arizona job last year and has 11 seasons of coaching under Belichick.

Getting the offense and Rodgers back to previous standards is a priority for the Packers, but it doesn’t mean they can’t get it done with a defensive coach. The key for all of those who interview will be presenting Murphy and Gutekunst their plan for hiring a good offensive staff.

If the two are truly committed to hiring the best coach available, they’ll need to remember there are some pretty good defensive coaches out there.

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