Games can be won and lost on a weekly basis based on the ability and performance of assistant coaches. Every year assistant coaches make the jump from coordinator to Head Coach due to their ability to excel in certain areas. This season, some of the top teams in the NFL have their strengths led by these aforementioned assistants.
As we get to the stretch of games most important to franchises, these Coordinators will have the greatest impact on the 2021 playoffs:
No conversation involving the performance of assistant coaches can be had this season without discussing the importance of Barry to the Packers defense.
The Packers have one of the best defenses in the NFL, allowing the 5th least points per game (20.17). Keep in mind, this is all occurring without their highest paid defensive player and their top two Pro Bowl playmakers from a season ago. The Packers lost 2-time Pro Bowler (2019 and 2020), Za’Darius Smith to injury in the first game of the season. He led the Packers pass rush in sacks and TFLs over the past two seasons. Without Smith, the defense’s ability to generate sacks has waned, ranking 14th per dropback (5.9%).
Green Bay is also without Pro Bowl CB Jaire Alexander, who allowed only a 67.4 QB Rating against and 2 TDs across the entire 2020 NFL season. Without Alexander, they have still been able to record the 4th lowest QBR against (62.1).
Even without Smith and Alexander, Barry has helped his defense hold 6 opponents to under 20 points, 4 opponents to under 200 passing yards, and Green Bay’s last 5 opponents to under 90 rushing yards.
Where the Packers defense could draw some worries in with their ability to defend in pressure situations. They are 27th in 3rd down conversion percentage allowed (43.7%) and a horrific 30th in RZ efficiency against (71.9%).
Brandon Staley rightfully deserves some shine in Los Angeles for the Chargers’ offensive improvements. Justin Herbert has continued to make strides in his second season with the highest total QBR of any QB in the NFL. The improvement of the Chargers offense stems from their ability to convert on 3rd down. The Chargers converted on 3rd downs at a 44.2% clip last season, which was 10th in the NFL. They have manage to improve on that this season to 3rd at a 45.71% rate.
Sitting as the 7th seed in the playoffs right now, the Chargers turnaround on offense needs to continue to evolve, and that includes their ability to get the ball down the field. Lombardi and Herbert’s Chargers currently have the 3rd lowest average depth of target among any NFL team this season (7.7 yards), with all of the teams surrounding them very much out of the current playoff picture. They had .7 yards per target more in the 2020 season, and the lack of downfield throws this year has limited the explosiveness of the offense.
The Rams defense has allowed less than 25 points per game. In their 4 losses, they’ve allowed 37, 28, 31 and 36 points. To reshape the trajectory of the team, the Rams need to get their opponents off the field. They are allowing opposing offenses to control the clock, ranking 29th in time of possession, and have struggled on 3rd and 4th down, sitting at 24th and 13th, respectively.
Due to the team’s make-up and current roster philosophy, the Rams defensive depth is somewhat questionable, so Raheem Morris and the defense staff will need to improve their efficiency of usage of their top players. In their most successful games this season, they have been able to generate pressure from their interior players and create turnovers. They should be able to get more consistent pressure from Leonard Floyd, Sebastian Joseph-Day (when healthy), Von Miller and Aaron Donald. This would allow Morris to have more flexibility with coverages on the backend. The Rams currently play the 18th most snaps with 4 pass rushers. Los Angeles has played less snaps with a 4 man rush the past 3 weeks than the 9 weeks prior (ranked 8th Week 1-9 and ranked 27th Week 10-12).
With injury adversity striking the Cardinals offense, including Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, the job of Vance Joseph and the Cardinals defense has been intensified. Getting off the field quickly and effectively leads to success, and Joseph has been able to accomplish that.
Arizona has also injuries to key defensive players and locker room leaders throughout this year with Chandler Jones missing a few games and JJ Watt out for the season. Despite that the Cardinals currently rank in the top 5 in defensive 3rd down conversion rate, 4th down conversion rate, opponent time of possession, and 1st downs allowed. Coach Joseph will be an extremely interesting name to watch for next season in Head Coaching hiring, and the success he has shown defensively is the reason the Cardinals have been able to execute.
Don “Wink” Martindale
Another name who may receive a handful of Head Coach interviews this upcoming offseason is Ravens’ DC Wink Martindale. The Ravens have experienced mass turnover along their DL and LB groups over the past few seasons and have not lost a step in their production. Credit can be and should be given to Martindale with his ability to seamlessly plug and play defensive talent.
This season, the Ravens turnaround on defense has been dramatically felt after their poor performance in Weeks 1 and 2. They have rebounded to have the league’s best defense in critical situations. They have the league’s best 3rd down and RZ defense while allowing opposing offenses over a minute and a half less possession time than the second best defense (Packers).
**Top left are the teams that have been able to get their defense off the field and won games**
**Bottom right are the teams who are unable to get their defense off the field and therefore last games**