This week has seen the hiring of two first-time head coaches in the NFL.
The Oakland Raiders brought in former Broncos and Saints secondary coach Dennis Allen to replace Hue Jackson. The Indianapolis Colts hired Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano to head a currently fractured coaching situation.
Team owner Jim Irsay recently cleaned house of multiple coaches coming off an ugly 2-14 season in the absence of Peyton Manning. He also sent executives Bill and Chris Polian packing, so the Colts are clearly in rebuilding mode as the 2012 NFL Draft approaches.
Expected to take QB Andrew Luck with the first overall pick, the main focus right now is on whether Luck or Manning will start next season.
But Irsay brought in a defensive coach for a reason.
The Colts were in the bottom five in the NFL in both points allowed (26.9) and rush yards per game allowed (143.9). They did not hold an opponent under 23 points until two months into the season, and that came against the 2-6 Jacksonville Jaguars.
Assuming some combination of Manning and Luck will fare better than 2011’s output of Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky, I agree with Irsay’s decision to focus on defense.
Pagano headed one of the top defenses in 2011 and should be able to implement positive change for the Colts when the offense is not on the field.
Similarly, the Raiders are hoping to improve defensively in 2012 after finishing in the bottom six in points allowed (27.1), rush defense (136.1) and pass defense (251.4).
But Allen, like many Raiders coaches in recent years, is unknown and unproven. He takes over a team mired in a nine-season playoff slump, during which the Raiders have had six head coaches.
Their offensive struggles can almost be forgiven, considering starting QB Jason Campbell’s and RB Darren McFadden’s significant time away due to injuries.
Still, free agent signee Carson Palmer showed enough ability for fans to expect more than an 8-8 finish and another missed playoff opportunity. Oakland lost four of its final five games and saw Palmer throw seven touchdowns and eight interceptions in that span.
Question marks somehow seem more apparent with the 8-8 Raiders than they do with the 2-14 Colts, but Irsay made the arguably better hire and has obviously less to worry about on offense heading into next season.
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