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Thursday, January 30, 2014

What Does Rivera Money Buy?

Ron Rivera's already the 11th most tenured coach in the league - nutty,
when you think of the guys that had been out there for years, and how
many of the coaches that preceded Rivera that aren't there.

But, for now, he has security. A three year extension came to Rivera
this week, about what you'd expect. I'll assume a modest raise, but at
$2.8 million a year prior to the extension, he wasn't doing badly

So what do you buy for what could be $3.5-4.5 million a year?

To start with, you get consistency and continuity. Young guys (had
there been much from the '11 draft of worth) are starting to develop in
the system. The defense, obviously, is where they want it to be,
within reason. It's interesting that Rivera's defenses in Chicago and
San Diego responded by year 2 but flourished greatest in year three, and
yet Rivera's not had a year 4 for either. Now's when that success
should really pay off, in theory. You might not have to put quite as
much effort into it.

Certainly, from a personnel perspective, having young DTs Star
Lotulelei and Kawann Short in front of Luke Kuechly suggests some
repeatability. Regardless of what happens with Thomas Davis aging or
Greg Hardy's contract, you have Charles Johnson on the outside. And
from coaching, they have a strong trio of assistants under Sean
McDermott, including obviously Steve Wilks as the next-man-up if
McDermott goes. I don't believe there's any fall-off there.

On the other end, there's the offense. While the '13 offense gets
maligned, and Mike Shula along with it, you can ably say they did a lot
of things well. Being 18th in scoring isn't great, and you're not going
to get tons of yards doing things the way they do it, but it's a
strategy. That same 18th in points did nothing for the '12 defense, and
leading the league in time of posession absolutely helps the defense.

There were plenty of times where the Carolina O could just run over bad
defenses, and against good ones they generally played not to lose. I
think it's good, to a point, to have a throttle on Cam Newton. But at
some point you have to throw that throttle open a little more.

As well, while they're bringing him along for things like audibles, and
he does plenty of reading in the passing game and the options/packaged
plays, they've gotta get him comfortable in pace for the 2 minute drill.
There's no urgency.

Philosophically, I don't know what's right for Cam Newton. I like him
in this basic offense, and with a healthy Steve Smith and Greg Olsen to
back him, I think that's a start. At minimum, Shula has to be more open
on offense, push a little more vertically at times, and Newton has to
execute better. He's not going to get 5-7 deep shots a game on 2nd and
long the way he did with Rob Chudzinski, so he's not going to have the
excuse of burning the first few throws too high.

So, I think they do what's best for the team more than what's best for
him specifically, but this is a newer NFL. Shula didn't throw in as
many tricks, but it wasn't as cute. The problem is, he has to back a
safety up now and again. You have to have a defense respect your
longball in this offense, or else it's a generic WCO lookalike. You
can't run Coryell without some deep game.

Rivera's more aggressive style has a small sample size. There's no
doubt that going for it occasionally couldn't have hurt the '11-'12
teams, a pair of teams that were more aggressive from scrimmage (deep
shots, trick plays, blitzing on defense) than on 4th down. It's clear
to me which of the two strategies works better - taking the calculated
risk on 4th is better than taking the heaving risk of throwing a deep
ball into double coverage. But there's gotta be a balance, too.

It's hard to predict the long term success. It's a tough division, and
that's a major obstacle. Rivera's a good coach, and I've always
believed in his schemes. It feels like everything's coming together,
and keeping that together has value. That's what you're buying,
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