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Panthers/Falcons thoughts

A few thoughts on the Week Two game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers, both from an on-field perspective and a fantasy football perspective. The Falcons won 28-20 in the Georgia Dome.

On-field
*The Falcons continue to show that they’re a solid team across the board. Even though Michael Turner hasn’t yet had a huge game, the offense is moving well.The addition of Tony Gonzalez has been absolutely huge, because he gives Matt Ryan another elite-level target along with Roddy White. That mitigates the fact that Atlanta’s other receivers are average.
*Even without Jerious Norwood for most of the game, Atlanta’s running game was terrific. Jason Snelling stepped right in with 47 yards from scrimmage, including a TD catch, while Turner got stronger as the game went on and finished with 105 yards and a late touchdown.
*A lot of that offensive success is due to Atlanta’s solid offensive line. Guard Harvey Dahl has a mean streak that you need, and the fact that Julius Peppers and Everette Brown were stonewalled says something about second-year OLT Sam Baker. Atlanta held Carolina without a sack in this game.
*Atlanta’s defense isn’t great, but it’s good. OLB Mike Peterson has added an edge and some play-making ability in pass coverage that Keith Brooking didn’t provide, while second-year MLB Curtis Lofton continues to emerge as a force. DE John Abraham is a factor whenever he’s in the game as well, and backup DE Kroy Biermann has flashed ability in the first two games of the season. Young CB Chris Houston and veteran Brian Williams are a nice duo as well. This D isn’t going to completely shut anyone down, but it’s good enough to make the Falcons a dangerous team.
*For Carolina, Jake Delhomme was OK, and the offense moved the ball accordingly. As long as Delhomme avoids meltdown mode, the Panthers can move the ball thanks to a mauling offensive line and terrific RBs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.
*Steve Smith is a great receiver, Muhsin Muhammad is still a good receiver, and TEs Jeff King and Dante Rosario are OK. But the Panthers don’t have any WR depth, and that hurts when they’re trying to come back as they were in this game.
*Carolina’s defense really struggled for the second week in a row. The lack of DT depth hurt, as Turner was able to wear down the interior of the defense. And without any pass rush, Ryan did pretty much whatever he wanted. LBs Jon Beason and Thomas Davis played well, but they can’t be expected to snuff out the run game by themselves.
*I really like Carolina’s CB duo of Richard Marshall and Chris Gamble for their aggressiveness and their tackling, but they don’t get to show their skills off fully in the Panthers’ cover-2 scheme. I liked the Ron Meeks hire as defensive coordinator in the offseason, but I’m starting to waver on that.
*The Panthers have some serious special-teams problems. Already this season, they’ve given up a blocked punt and a punt return for a touchdown, along with some sizable kickoff returns. That has to change if they’re going to crawl out of their 0-2 hole.

Fantasy Football thoughts
*Steve Smith is going to be OK. If you picked Smith early in your draft, you undoubtedly had some fears after Week One. But with Jake Delhomme rebounding, Smith showed that he can still be highly productive for fantasy owners.
*Aside from Smith, none of the Panthers’ receivers is worth owning. Muhsin Muhammad gets some looks, but everyone else is a bit player for fantasy leagues. Likewise, Delhomme is not really a major fantasy threat. He might end up being an OK backup in larger leagues, but don’t count on him for more.
*The Panthers have three decent receiving tight ends in Jeff King, Dante Rosario, and Gary Barnidge. But even though Rosario caught a touchdown in this game, he’s not a fantasy factor. Rosario plays as the movement tight end in two-TE sets, but King is on the field more. So while Rosario looks good catching the ball, he doesn’t get enough playing time to be a top-20 fantasy tight end.
*Both Panthers running backs are really good. DeAngelo Williams will end the season as a top 8 or top 10 back, and Jonathan Stewart will be a yardage force with limited touches. This game is actually going to be pretty typical of the workload spread between the two players and the production you can reasonably expect.
*Michael Turner is not a dynamic back like Adrian Peterson, but he’s a very good back who, like Williams, will end up being a top guy this year.
*Jason Snelling had a good game, but he’s not a fantasy factor because he’s below Jerious Norwood in the pecking order, and Norwood is barely ownable in most leagues. So let Snelling lie on your waiver wire this week, despite the talent he displayed this week.
*Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez are both fantasy starters, and Matt Ryan may be as well. The addition of Gonzalez is going to help Ryan grow his TD numbers from 16 last year into the 20s this year. He’s growing as a fantasy option.

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The parachute team of 2009

We’ve posted our latest blog over on Most Valuable Network’s Football Wire. We’re identifying the parachute team of 2009, which is the team on the way down. Check it out via archive from our MVN blog below and look for our full Football Relativity season preview next week.

As we prepare for the NFL season, the Football Relativity team is going to give you our take on two of the major movers in the NFL standings this year. In this post, we’ll look at the parachute team of 2009 – the team that’s going to fall the furthest. Then next week, we’ll give you a look at the jet pack team of 2009 – the team that’s going to rise the most. Of course, you can get a full season preview in the preseason poll coming to www.footballrelativity.com next week.

No team has been more consistent this decade than the Indianapolis Colts. They’ve won 12 games in each of the last six seasons, earning one Lombardi trophy in the process. But it’s a pipe dream to think that this team will continue its impressive 12-win streak in 2009. In fact, we’re making the outlandish prediction that the Colts won’t even win 10 games this year. Among the reasons why: The loss of head coach Tony Dungy will hurt, in part because Jim Caldwell isn’t good enough to keep the Colts’ stampede going. He’s a failed college coach, and we’ve  researched and determined that this kind of hire very rarely works for NFL teams. Marvin Harrison is gone, and while he was declining, his absence, combined with the offseason turmoil surrounding coordinator Tom Moore and OL coach Howard Mudd, means that the offense won’t be quite the machine that it has traditionally been. QB Peyton Manning was good enough to overcome that last year, when he willed the Colts to 12 wins after a rough start, but it’s hard to see him overcoming even more obstacles with a similar level of success this year. The bigger problems are on defense, where S Bob Sanders is hurt (again) and where the new head coach canned coordinator Ron Meeks in an effort to get a more aggressive defense. That approach doesn’t fit the personnel well, which means that that Colts could be even more vulnerable on defense than they have been in recent years. Indy is still a winning team, but they’re not as good as the Titans in their division, and they’ll face challenges from the Texans and Jaguars as well. This season will mark the end of an era for the Colts.

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FR: Coordinator combos

As we approach the NFL season, I thought it might be interesting to examine the relative strength of the offensive and defensive coordinator combos of each NFL team. We’ll compare them using our football relativity tool, with the 10 level being the best combo of coordinators and 1 being the most suspect combo.

(You can start here to get a list of all NFL coaching staffs.)

10 – Steelers – Offense: Bruce Arians; Defense: Dick LeBeau – Arians, who is in his second year as Pittsburgh’s O-coordinator after a previous stint in the position in Cleveland, is a solid, above-average coordinator who is an asset to the coaching staff, especially for a defense-first head coach like Mike Tomlin. LeBeau is a legend – the best defensive coordinator ever and the father of the zone-blitz scheme. He knows the system in his sleep, and even more his players love him and love to play for him. There’s no one better, even though LeBeau is now in his 70s.

9 – Lions – Offense: Scott Linehan; Defense: Gunther Cunningham – New head coach Jim Schwartz hired two veteran hands as his coordinators, and both were good guys to add to his staff. Linehan was a bust as the Rams’ head coach, but he’s an elite offensive coordinator who should help the Lions much as Mike Mularkey helped the Falcons last year. Cunningham, a long-time D-coordinator in K.C. and Tennessee, has an attacking style. He and Schwartz worked together in Tennessee, so they can meld their philosophies to form a system. These hires should help the Lions as they seek to claw their way back to respectability. (Sorry for the pun; couldn’t resist.)

9 (con’t) – Ravens – Offense: Cam Cameron; Defense: Greg Mattison – Cameron, who was a bust as a head coach in Miami, is a good offensive mind who came up with plenty of unique attack methods with an inexperienced offense last year. He’s a strong offensive coordinator. Mattison, who replaces Rex Ryan this year, is a 38-year coaching veteran who is in just his third NFL season but has coordinator experience at Florida, Notre Dame, and Michigan.

9 (con’t) – Dolphins – Offense: Dan Henning; Defense: Paul Pasqualoni – This is an incredibly veteran combo of coordinators. Henning has been in the NFL for nearly 30 years, and he had great success with the Redskins in the ’80s and the Panthers earlier this decade. He tends to have a solid, conservative attack, but he implemented QB coach David Lee’s Wildcat ideas seamlessly last year. He’s perfect for a ball-control style of team. Pasqualoni, the longtime Syracuse head coach, enters his second year as the Dolphins’ D-coordinator. His experience translates, and the success Miami had last year reveals his coaching skill.

8 – Panthers – Offense: Jeff Davidson; Defense: Ron Meeks – Davidson has spent two years as an offensive coordinator and has created a run-first system that was incredibly prolific last year. The former Patriots aide is establishing himself as a quality run-oriented O-coordinator. Meeks, who was Indy’s defensive coordinator for seven seasons, is a veteran who knows the Tampa-2 defense backward and forward. His Colts defenses were speedy if undersized, but he has better talent in Carolina than he did with the Colts. It’ll be interesting to see what he can do with it.

8 (con’t) – Chargers – Offense: Clarence Shelmon; Defense: Ron Rivera – Shelmon, a long-time NFL running backs coach, became the Chargers’ O-coordinator in 2007. The Chargers’ run game has been wonderful during his tenure, and the emergence of Philip Rivers last year adds to the offense’s potency. Obviously, head coach Norv Turner and Shelmon have come up with a version of Turner’s offensive system that works. Rivera took over as the Chargers’ D-coordinator midway through last season, and he made an immediate difference. He favors an attacking style a la Jim Johnson (whom he worked with in Philly) or Buddy Ryan (whom he played for in Chicago). Rivera is establishing a reputation as a top-notch D-coordinator.

7 – Eagles – Offense: Marty Mornihweg; Defense: Sean McDermott – Mornihweg is a long-time assistant who is probably the preeminent West Coast offense coordinator right now. He and Andy Reid will have more skill-position talent to play with this year than ever, so it will be interesting to see how that affects the Eagles’ scheme. McDermott takes over for the late Jim Johnson. He has been an Eagles assistant since 1999 and should know Johnson’s creative blitzing scheme backward and forward. McDermott was the Eagles’ best chance for defensive continuity after Johnson’s passing, so he was the right hire.

7 (con’t) – Cowboys – Offense: Jason Garrett; Defense: none – Garrett, generally considered the Cowboys’ head coach in waiting, is considered a strong tactician, but last year was a downer for him and his reputation. He’ll have to help Tony Romo excel without Terrell Owens this year to prove once and for all that he’s an elite coordinator like a Mike Mularkey. The Cowboys don’t list a defensive coordinator, which means that it’s head coach Wade Phillips’ domain. He’s always been a strong defensive coordinator, which means he knows what he’s doing. The question is whether filling that role will spread the head coach too thin.

7 (con’t) – Falcons – Offense: Mike Mularkey; Defense: Brian VanGorder – Mularkey, a former head coach in Buffalo, is an accomplished offensive coordinator who did a great job in Matt Ryan’s rookie year. He’s an upper-echelon O-coordinator. VanGorder is a talented coach with strong Georgia ties who was an NFL D-coordinator for the first time last year. He has just three years of NFL experience but was also a defensive coordinator at Georgia and a head coach for one year at Georgia Southern. He’s still proving himself as an NFL coordinator, but he seems to be a coach other coaches want on their side.

7 (con’t) – Titans – Offense: Mike Heimerdinger; Defense: Chuck Cecil – Heimerdinger, a former Broncos offensive coordinator, returned to Tennessee last season with good success. He and Jeff Fisher have worked together a lot, and Heimerdinger does a good job of balancing an attacking passing game with a ball-control system. Cecil, who was a take-no-prisoners safety when he played in the NFL, takes over for Jim Schwartz now. Cecil has been an assistant in Tennessee for eight years, and he has a defense-first coach in Jeff Fisher and a veteran LB coach in Dave McGinnis, so he’s really set up for success. If Fisher thinks Cecil is ready for this job, I believe him.

7 (con’t) – Buccaneers – Offense: Jeff Jagodinski; Defense: Jim Bates – Jagodinski, most recently the head coach at Boston College, was a Packers assistant before moving to the college ranks. He seems to have the right mix of experience in the West Coast offense, experience as a leader, and potential to grow to be a good hire for new head coach Raheem Morris. Likewise, Morris made a solid decision by adding long-time veteran Bates as his D-coordinator. He’s been a defensive coordinator at five stops with pretty good success, and players love him.

6 – Giants – Offense: Kevin Gilbride; Defense: Bill Sheridan – Gilbride has been a coordinator for five different NFL teams, along with a head-coaching stop in San Diego. He’s a veteran hand who has worked with Tom Coughlin twice and seems to have a good rapport between his passing proclivity and Coughlin’s ball-control style. He’s a good fit with the Giants, and that makes him an above-average coordinator. Sheridan takes over for the departed Steve Spagnuolo as D-coordinator. Sheridan is a long-time college coach who has five years in the NFL, all with the Giants. He’s a veteran who can continue the attacking style the Giants have used so well in recent years.

6 (con’t) – Bengals – Offense: Bob Bratkowski; Defense: Mike Zimmer – Bratkowski has been the O-coordinator in Cincy for nine years, and he’s had some high-powered offenses over that time. Now that Carson Palmer is back, Bratkowski is capable of guiding a prolific passing game. Zimmer came to Cincinnati from Dallas last year and helped the Bengals quietly become a top-half defense, which was a big improvement from the previous year. He’s a solid coach who might could even more with Keith Rivers healthy and Rey Maualuga in the fold now.

6 (con’t) – Broncos – Offense: Mike McCoy; Defense: Mike Nolan – McCoy, a long-time Panthers aide, was Josh McDaniels’ choice to be the guy who implements his offensive system in Denver. McCoy’s a capable coach, but McDaniels’ system will ultimately be the determinant of his success. Nolan, the former 49ers head coach, was a stud defensive coordinator with the Giants, Redskins, and Ravens, so he’s a good hire for an offense-first head coach like McDaniels. Nolan is a 3-4 coach, so it may take a couple of years to get enough personnel that fits before his system becomes successful. But his pedigree makes it a good bet to give him a few years to get it done.

5 – Jets – Offense: Brian Schottenheimer; Defense: Mike Pettine – Schottenheimer, who was a golden boy after his successful ’07 season, struggled more as a play-caller last year, but new head coach Rex Ryan still went to lengths to keep him with the Jets. The coordinator, who is entering his fourth year in the position, still has potential to be a head coach in the NFL, but he has his work cut out for him with a rookie QB (Mark Sanchez) running the system this year. Pettine is Ryan’s hand-picked aide. They worked together in Baltimore, and so Pettine should be able to communicate Ryan’s all-out attacking style. Ryan considers Pettine a rising star, but we’ll wait to see some evidence before making a similar verdict.

5 (con’t) – Packers – Offense: Joe Philbin; Defense: Dom Capers – Philbin enters his third year as offensive coordinator in Green Bay. His job is to be the strategist who implements head coach Mike McCarthy’s philosophy on a week-to-week basis. The results the last two years have been pretty good, as the Packers have gotten standout performances from Ryan Grant and then Aaron Rodgers. Capers comes on board to bring the 3-4 defense to the Packers. He’s one of the best at using that system, and he usually has been able to get the new defense running quickly. He’s an elite defensive coordinator in the league.

5 (con’t) – Vikings – Offense: Darrell Bevell; Defense: Leslie Frazier – Bevell, a former Wisconsin quarterback under then-Badgers o-coordinator (and now Vikings head coach) Brad Childress, is Brett Favre’s good buddy from his time as a Packers QB coach. Bevell is in his fourth season as a coordinator, and he’s had good running games throughout his tenure. The question is how much of that is about talent and how much is about scheme. As a result, Bevell is still establishing his reputation. Frazier, who is in his second D-coordinator shot after a two-year stint in Cincinnati, has a powerful defense with great talent. Frazier has established himself as a quality coordinator and a future head-coaching candidate.

4 – Chiefs – Offense: Chan Gailey; Defense: Clancy Pendergast – New head coach Todd Haley has veteran coaches who have had success at times but not on an every-year basis. Gailey, a former Cowboys head coach, came up with an offensive system that worked in K.C. last year, but before that his Chiefs experience was checkered. Now he’ll have to adjust his play-calling to fit Haley’s system, which isn’t an easy thing to do. Pendergast worked with Haley in Arizona, but he was fired as the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator for not matching the level of performance Ken Whisenhunt expected. Pendergast had some good years in Arizona getting more out of his defense than the talent seemed to indicate, and he’ll have to do that again in K.C. as he seeks to regain the solid reputation he had just a couple of years ago.

4 (con’t) – Browns – Offense: Brian Draboll; Defense: Rob Ryan – Draboll, a former Patriots assistant who was Eric Mangini’s QB coach the last two years with the Jets, gets his first shot as a coordinator this year. He knows the Belichick system but must prove he can implement it. Ryan, twin brother of new Jets coach Rex Ryan and son of Buddy Ryan, is a wildcat of a coach who runs a hyperaggressive 3-4 defense. He spent the last five years as defensive coordinator in Oakland, where he had some good defenses but also a few clunkers. He was a good hire for Mangini, whom he was on the Patriots’ coaching staff with in the first four years of this decade.

4 (con’t) – Saints – Offense: Pete Carmichael; Defense: Gregg Williams – Carmichael enters his first season as an NFL coordinator after three years as the Saints’ QB coach. Carmichael will work to maintain the success head coach Sean Payton’s system has had, but he’s in a good position to succeed in his first O-coordinator shot. Williams is a long-time defense coordinator known for his aggressive, blitzing style. He’s had great success at many of his stops, but his most recent tenure in Jacksonville wasn’t great. It’ll be interesting to see how Williams adapts to the Saints’ average defensive talent.

4 (con’t) – Patriots – Offense: None; Defense: Dean Pees – Because so many of his assistants have gone on to head-coaching jobs, Bill Belichick’s coordinator list looks thin. On offense, the Patriots don’t list a coordinator, which means Belichick will be intricately involved. QB coach Bill O’Brien is the up-and-comer on that side of the ball, and he should become coordinator in a year or two. On defense, Pees has been the Patriots’ D-coordinator for four years with great success. He’s implementing Belichick’s scheme and style seamlessly after six years assisting the hoodie.

3 – 49ers – Offense: Jimmy Raye; Defense: Greg Manusky – Raye is a veteran NFL coach who has now been a coordinator for seven different teams. He runs a conservative style, which should fit with head coach Mike Singletary’s personality. It will also be good for a young coach like Singletary to have such a veteran assistant on hand. Manusky is in his third season as defensive coordinator in San Fran, so he and Singletary have worked together for a while. They need to create an identity, and to do that they’re going to have to improve the talent they have on hand.

3 (con’t) – Cardinals – Offense: Russ Grimm (run game) and Mike Miller (passing game); Defense: Bill Davis – Grimm is well respected and considered a future NFL head coach, and he can help head coach Ken Whisenhunt implement the Steelers’ style offense he wants to run because, like Whisenhunt, he was an assistant in Pittsburgh. Miller, who was on Steelers staffs too, steps in to help run the passing game. Davis, who spent the last two years as a LB coach for the Cardinals, has only been a D-coordinator once before, in San Francisco in ’05 and ’06, but he’s well schooled in the 3-4 defense in several stops.

3 (con’t) – Texans – Offense: Kyle Shanahan; Defense: Frank Bush – Shanahan, son of Mike Shanahan, is a West Coast guy who helps to implement Gary Kubiak’s offensive system. Shanahan is still young, but he now has six years of NFL experience, and he’s developing his own reputation separate from his father. Bush is in his third year as the Texans’ D-coordinator. The 19-year NFL coach was on the Broncos’ staff with Kubiak during the Super Bowl era of the late 1990s. This is his first coordinator job, and he’s starting to get the kind of players that will allow him to show whether he can be an elite NFL coach at this level.

3 (con’t) – Seahawks – Offense: Greg Knapp; Defense: Casey Bradley – Knapp is a West Coast system guy who had decent success as Jim Mora’s offensive coordinator in Atlanta. While Knapp’s resume is up and down, Seattle seems to be a good fit for him and his style. Bradley is in just his fourth NFL season, having been an assistant in Tampa Bay the past three years. So Mora is banking on him as an up-and-comer, which is a risk but also a potentially beneficial move. Since Mora is a defensive coach, he can probably afford to take a chance on a new coordinator more than other coaches.

3 (con’t) – Colts – Offense: Clyde Christensen; Defense: Larry Coyer – After years of consistency on the staff, the Colts have new coordinators to match their new head coach, Jim Caldwell. Christensen, who has been the QB coach in Indy, moves up a chair. He was offensive coordinator in Tampa Bay for Tony Dungy’s last year there and has the experience to be effective. The fact that former O-coordinator Tom Moore is around as a consultant will help as well. Coyer replaces Ron Meeks, whom the Colts felt was too conservative. He’s expected to bring an aggressive style, but the question is whether that style matches the Colts’ undersized but quick personnel. He was D-coordinator for the Broncos for four years in the middle of this decade, with very mixed results.

2 – Redskins – Offense: Sherman Smith; Defense: Greg Blache – Smith, who was a long-time Titans assistant, is in his second year as the Redskins’ O-coordinator. It’s his first shot after more than 20 years in the league, and the first-year results weren’t wonderful. We’ll see if he can create an offensive uptick this season. Blache has been a defensive coordinator in Chicago in addition to Washington, with mixed success. He seems to be an OK coordinator who can do the job but who doesn’t add a unique element.

2 (con’t) – Raiders – Offense: Ted Tollner (passing game); Defense – John Marshall – The Raiders don’t list an offensive coordinator under new head coach Tom Cable. Tollner, a long-time college head coach who has banged around the NFL in recent years, is the closest candidate, but there’s uncertainty here that would appear to be difficult to bridge. Marshall is a veteran defensive coordinator, but his style doesn’t match the man-to-man coverage system that owner Al Davis prefers (and that Nnamdi Asomugha can run). So he’s a veteran coach who’s a strange fit with the Raiders.

2 (con’t) – Rams – Offense: Pat Shurmur; Defense: Ken Flajole – New head coach Steve Spagnuolo chose two young coaches as his coordinators, which could pay off big but which is also a risk because of the inexperience of the staff as a whole. Shurmur, in his first O-coordinator job, had spent the last seven years as Philly’s QB coach. He should bring a solid West Coast style system to St. Louis, but he won’t have the quality offensive line with the Rams that he enjoyed with the Eagles. Flajole, a position coach in Carolina and Seattle, will be tasked with implenting Spagnuolo’s take on Jim Johnson’s attacking style. Flajole hasn’t been in that system before, so it might be a little bit of a bumpy transition.

1 – Jaguars – Offense: Dirk Koetter; Defense: Mel Tucker – Koetter, the former head coach at Boise State and Arizona State, made his move to the NFL three years ago to become the Jags’ O-coordinator. He’s a passing game guru who has had a solid running game and an underrated passing game during his two seasons so far in Jacksonville. Tucker, who is entering his first seasons as Jax’s D-coordinator, had his first coordinator job in Cleveland last year, with mediocre results. This is only his fifth year in the NFL, and only his second stop after four years with the Browns.

1 (con’t) – Bills – Offense: Turk Schonert; Defense: Perry Fewell – Schonert, a former NFL quarterback and longtime QB coach, was a first-time coordinator last year, and the results weren’t wonderful. Buffalo finished in the bottom 10 both in yards per game and points per game. Schonert has Terrell Owens around this year, but the coach still has to prove his chops. Fewell, a long-time Dick Jauron aide, has not been a defensive coordinator before joining the Bills staff. His defenses have been good but not great since he became D-coordinator in 2006.

1 (con’t) – Bears – Offense: Ron Turner; Defense: Bob Babich – Turner, who is in his second stint as the Bears’ offensive coordinator, was innovative in his first tenure in the 1990s but may have fallen behind the times now. The former Illinois coach needs to prove that he can work with an elite quarterback to produce results. Babich lost his play-calling duties after the ’08 season to head coach Lovie Smith and still has his job only because of Smith’s loyalty.

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OP: End of the Lucky Horseshoe

Time for an outlandish prediction, or if you’d rather, a little preja vu…

The future arc of the Indianapolis Colts has been brewing in my mind for a while now, ever since Tony Dungy decided to retire after the 2009 season. And as the offseason has gone on, I’ve become more and more convinced that the horseshoe that has been pointed up for so long in Indy is going to turn downward. I’ve said as much in private email conversations for a while now, and now I’m goin’ public.

To leave the land of the metaphor and say it plainly, here’s the prediction:

The Colts won’t win 10 games this year.

That’s a big deal, because the Colts won at least 10 games in each of the 7 years of Dungy’s tenure (2002-08). In fact, Indy won at least 12 regular season games in each of the last six years.

But that run will come to an end this offseason. And here’s why:

*Jim Caldwell isn’t up to it – We’ve gone into this at great detail here on the site. (You can read here how I compare the Caldwell hiring to others this offseason and read here what I don’t like about Caldwell’s career path.) I lived through the Caldwell experience at Wake Forest when I was a student there, and while he is a very nice man he’s not a good coach. He came to Wake Forest with a Joe Paterno pedigree, and he gets this Colts job with a Tony Dungy pedigree. But a pedigree is not a guarantee. I simply can’t believe in Caldwell as an NFL coach.

*Staff turnover – The Colts apparently hired Caldwell as Dungy’s successor in waiting to preserve staff continuity. But that didn’t work, because the Colts will have new coordinators on offense, defense, and special teams. The offensive coordinator, Tom Moore, retired (along with OL coach Howard Mudd) in fears of losing pension money. Moore and Mudd will remain as consultants, and their replacements – Clyde Christensen as offensive coordinator and Pete Metzelaars as line coach – have been in Indy for 7 and 5 years, respectively. But losing Moore and Mudd cuts the staff’s overall experience, and something will get lost in transition. Even Peyton Manning has questions about how it’s going to work.

On defense, the Colts wanted a more aggressive scheme than Dungy’s patented Tampa 2, and so they encouraged coordinator Ron Meeks to resign. (He landed in Carolina.) That smacks of a new coach’s arrogance in trying to implement his system and his way. The Colts’ defense wasn’t great, but it was OK, and the personnel fit it. But Meeks was replaced by Larry Coyer, who has a reputation of being blitz happy from his previous stops. There’s no way the current personnel – which haven’t been upgraded on defense – can take a huge step forward with the new scheme with the current personnel. Instead, I expect a step back, if not two. And the fact that Coyer and Caldwell used to work together makes me wonder if cronyism, not strategy, prompted the move.

Caldwell also cut special-teams coach Russ Purnell loose. That’s not a big deal, except it’s another sign that Caldwell is trying extremely hard – too hard, in our opinion – to put his own stamp on the team. The team was winning 12 games a year, and a failed college coach wants to put his stamp on it?  That’s just not a good idea.

*The divisions are labor – The Colts have made hay in an AFC South that is traditionally a so-so division. Jacksonville and Tennessee have each been good at times, but rarely at the same time. But Tennessee should be tough this year, and Jacksonville (who always gives the Colts problems) should bounce back. Plus, Houston continues to get incrementally better. It will be hard for the Colts to get to 4 wins in the division. The Colts play the NFC West out of conference, which will help the win ledger, but drawing the entire AFC East plus a road game at Baltimore is no bargain. (Thanks to Andy for starting my thought process on the schedule.)

*Roster rut – If you look at the transactions ledger, the Colts have only added one free agent from another team – backup linebacker Adam Seward. They have lost some key players, including P Hunter Smith, DT Darrell Reid, CB Keiwan Ratliff, and most notably WR Marvin Harrison. The problem is that marginal draft picks will have to replace most of these guys. While that long-term strategy works, in the short term that could lead to some growing pains. And this is a team with too much in flux to afford many growing pains.

All in all, I see the Colts slipping noticably this year – even with Peyton Manning, Bob Sanders, Dwight Freeney, Reggie Wayne, and the other stars there. The personnel depth has always been so-so because the Colts had so many stars, and that will show up negatively especially as the defense attempts to change schemes.

And remember how fortunate the Colts were to get to 12 wins last year. Over the first half of the season, the Colts were 3-4 including two white-knuckles wins over Minnesota and Houston that could have easily gone the other way. The Colts will not be good enough this year to turn those white-knucklers into wins, and the difference will show in the win/loss record. The horseshoe isn’t lucky enough to save the Colts in 2009.

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