Let's keep looking at teams that went from craptacular to really good the following season. This part two of the three-part series will look at teams that came back from garbage land, but not as spectacularly as the two teams covered in Part 1. If you haven't read that yet, you should do that before you read about the New York Jets, The Philadelphia Eagles, and the Arizona Cardinals in this article.
The Eagles 2012 & 2013
Andy Reid coached the Eagles for 14 seasons. His last was the worst one and his first losing season since 2005. Going 4-12, he was let go after 2012 and immediately picked up by the Kansas City Chiefs. The 2012 Eagles had a lot of problems. Injuries decimated the offensive line. Some key starters on the defense missed a lot of games. Reid had authority over the personnel, but it seemed as though a lot of the men on his team were not suited to either the West Coast offensive system or a 4-3 defense.
Reid had demonstrated in his run with the Eagles that he was a capable coach (with 130 wins he is the all-time franchise leader) and he proved over the next few years at KC that he could still get a team to play well (dammit!). Whatever he did in 2012 just didn't seem to work, though. The offense and defense were equally awful; finishing 29th in the league in both points scored and points allowed. The point differential of -10.2 per game yielded an expected record of 4-12, right on schedule with the actual outcome. They were not helped by a 1.4 SoS, which meant they played a somewhat better -than-average schedule that year.
In came Chip Kelly with some radical ideas about how to play football. The West Coast offense was replaced with a fast-paced spread offense. The 4-3 was converted to a 3-4. Injured linemen got healthy; in particular, Jason Peters' return to LT was huge and helped Evan Mathis performance at LG, too. Both were All-Pro selections that year. 3 of the 5 starting o-linemen from 2012 were replaced or moved in 2013.
On defense, Fletcher Cox, and Mychael Kendricks both improved after their 2012 rookie season. FA LB Conner Barwin joined former Houston Texan teammate DeMeco Ryans in the 3-4 set, improving a linebacking unit that under performed badly in 2012. FA additions also played important roles in the defensive secondary.
The QB situation started the same way it had in 2012; Michael Vick was running the show. Unlike the prior year, though, Kelly ditched Vick earlier in 2013 than Reid had in 2012. 2012's 3rd round pick, Nick Foles, started the last 10 games of 2013, throwing a mere 2 INT's in 317 pass attempts. (Vick had started the first 10 games in 2012.)
The Eagles made the playoffs, winning the NFC East, and then got beat by the Saints at home on a last minute FG. Their offense had finished 4th in the league in scoring and the defense had improved to 17th in the league in points allowed.
The Cardinals 2012 & 2013
It took Ken Whisenhunt 3 years to burn through the equity of the franchise's only Superb Owl appearance and lose his job. Going 5-11, 8-8, and 5-11 will do that to a coach. 2012 did not look like it would cost him his job at first. The team went 4-0 before a miserable run of 1-11 finished the season and Whiz.
Two obvious factors contributed to the 2012 meltdown. The starting QB (Kevin Kolb) was injured early in the year, which forced Whiz to rely upon the "skills" of John Skelton (1-5), Ryan Lindley (1-3) and Brian Hoyer (0-1) in the passing game. The result was an offense ranked 31st in the league in scoring (only the Chiefs were worse). Their strength of schedule was also adverse (3.7); in a very tough NFC West that year, they went 1-5. One of the losses was a December 58-0 trip to the woodshed in Seattle.
In came Bruce Arians. He installed a new offense (a modified Air Coryell system) and switched to Carson Palmer at QB. With Palmer staying healthy for all 16 games, the offense improved to average (16th in the league for scoring). The real improvement took place in the defense.
In 2012, that unit had been average, ranking 17th in points allowed. Under Arians and new coordinator Todd Bowles, the unit improved to 7th in the league for points allowed. The SoS remained brutal (being in the same division with the Seahawks and 49'ers at the height of their strength was unfortunate) with a 3.0 rating. The 10-6 Cardinals did not make it into the playoffs.
Todd Bowles continued his work in the desert. Two years later got his own shot at improving a bad situation...
Jets 2014 & 2015
Rex Ryan got the Jets into the AFC Conference Championship game the first two years of his New York run. The next three years saw the team revert to mediocre (8-8, 6-10, 8-8) before the Jets crashed and burned with a 4-12 record in 2014. The Jets offense had not fared well under Ryan's supervision, ranking 28th, 29th, and 28th in the final three seasons of Ryan. The team's defense had kept things from getting out of hand and it was always elite. Until it wasn't. In 2014, the defense ranked 24th in points allowed.
Their SoS did not help (2.3), but the season point differential indicated that the team underachieved by one win. Out went Rex, in came Todd Bowles.
Bowles did not plan on changing QB's, but the team did bring in Brandon Marshall to pair with Eric Decker. They also changed both guards on the o-line. A QB change was forced due to a bizarre locker room fight over $300 that resulted in Geno Smith, 2014's leading passer, getting his jaw broken. Ryan Fitzpatrick, always just good enough to get a job, but seemingly never good enough to keep it, started all 16 games for the Jets in 2015.
The offense dramatically improved to above average (11th in scoring) under new coordinator Chan Gailey. The defense also retooled the secondary and improved to 9th in the league in scoring allowed. The team was right on target with its expected wins. Losing the last game of the season to the Rex Ryan coached Bills in Buffalo prevented the team from making the playoffs with a 10-6 record.
So far, we have looked at 5 teams and all 5 of those teams have three things in common:
1) A new Head Coach and coaching staff;
2) At least two new starters on the offensive line; and
3) A new QB.
It's also worth mentioning that for all 5 of the teams looked at, they used more than one starting QB in their bad season.
Strength of Schedule (SoS) was a minor contributing factor for some of these teams; in Arizona's case, not really a factor at all. With a "league average" SoS of 0, that points to Arizona being in the hole nearly 4 games in 2012, but still faced an expected 3 game deficit in 2013. None of the other teams reviewed could have reasonably expected more than 2 wins resulting from an easier schedule in the bounce back year.
Not every team introduced new offenses; KC and Philadelphia did, Indianapolis and Arizona did (but not as drastically as KC and Philly), the New York Jets did not. Base defensive schemes were not changed, except by the Eagles. Defensive philosophy often changed with a new coaching staff.
Personnel changes ranged from the dramatic (Indianapolis) to the minor (Kansas City), except for the change at QB. In two cases, the QB changes were not planned by the new coach,but happened because of injury (NYJ) or poor play (Philly).
If you are beginning to see a pattern, you might be getting a little bit concerned. But take heart Bolt fans! The last two teams improved in different ways than the five we have looked at so far. See you tomorrow!