I have been giving this whole ‘The Plan’ concept some thought for a while now. Watching Pioli over the last few weeks, things are starting to come into focus. The recent draft clarified my thinking even more. Good analysis starts with examining bedrock philosophy and builds from there. I talked a bit about Pioli’s philosophy before, but let’s review.
First of all, disregard what Pioli said about wanting big, strong, fast, smart football players. That’s just cliche nonsense. Anyone want a small, weak, slow, dumb football player? Of course not. Is Zach Thomas big? Is Bobby Engram fast? So, what does Pioli really value? He appears to value smart players who are ‘gym rats’. That is players who are highly dedicated and are willing to put in lots of work to maximize their talent. Pioli will sacrifice some talent/athletic ability to take a lesser talent that fits the qualities outlined above. The thought is that these players will become better football players more often than not as compared to their less dedicated, more talented brethren.
So, what does someone do when entering a new situation? Your philosophy is not going to change, but you need to first evaluate what you have to work with and what problems you need to solve. Pioli has made it very clear that the biggest change he needed to make in the Chief’s culture was changing the mental approach to the game. The phrase he and Haley have used is ‘changing the mindset’. Specifically, I believe they are focused on the dedication and preparation for the game of football. Will Franklin was cut and made an example of, in part, to emphasize the dedication expected. At this level, most Chief fans, including myself, buy into what Pioli is doing. It is when you drill down to the next level is where concerns start to emerge.
The next level down concerns the systems used to play football. Last year, the Patriots and Cardinals ran similar offenses. With the trade for Matt Cassel, we can pretty much guess what our offense is going to look like. It’s not a huge difference from the offense Chan Gailey implemented on the fly last year. So, I do not have any major concerns about coming in and imposing ‘The Plan’ on the offense. It pretty much fits the players we have. LJ is the big concern there. As he was last year. However, the defense is another matter entirely.
The existing defensive talent on this team was drafted to play a 4-3 tampa two defense. Yes, there is a lot of good young talent on the defense. Do not get caught up record and defensive rating. So, does Pioli see what talent he can build around and see what system he needs to implement to maximize the talent and what players he needs to add or does he come in and impose ‘The Plan’ on defense? The draft and the rookie mini-camp confirmed that he chose the latter option. For all his talk in the Red Zone interview about how he need to be flexible, actions are telling a different story.
Fundamentally, I have a problem with anyone thinking they have ‘The Plan’. There are many plans that can work well in the NFL. There is no such thing as ‘The Plan’. Real genius is the ability to evaluate a situation and develop, not impose, but develop a plan that works for the current situation. The key to winning is not the system, but the execution of the system. The right players playing in the right system for them is what wins.
What Pioli appears to be doing is flushing some good young talent down the drain to implement ‘The Plan’. Can it work? Sure. Will it work? No one knows. It appears to be needlessly wasteful. Of the young talent on the team, only Tank Tyler is a natural fit for new system. Demorrio Williams may emerge here, but I am concerned about Turk McBride and Tamba Hali. I am very hopeful that Glenn Dorsey will find a good role here. He has a ton of talent.
Many fans will point to Pioli’s Super Bowl rings as evidence for the innate superiority of ‘The Plan’ or of the planners. Fair enough, but ask yourself how much success has Belichick had without Tom Brady? His career record without Brady starting for him is 52-62. That right, without Tom Brady starting, Belichick is ten games under the .500 mark and that includes an 11-5 season last year. To be fair, Belichick did win one playoff game without Tom Brady. How have the NFL coaches that spawned from Belichick’s tree done? Not any better. Crennel? 24-40 and no playoff appearances. Mangini? 23-25, lost his only playoff game. Al Groh? 9-7 (hey a winning record!), Nick Saban? 15-17. So, Belichick’s NFL coaching tree is a combined 71-89 with one playoff lose and zero playoff victories. Now we can add Josh McDaniels to that list. He is off to a great start. He already ran his franchise QB out of town and decided to address his horrible defense by spending his first draft pick on a running back. Is this evidence of the superiority of the planners?
So, what can we hope for? Well, we have to hope that we find an elite QB and surround him with very good talent. I hope Matt Cassel is that guy. Coaches and General Managers look a whole lot smarter with good talent playing for them.