8 New Strategies That NFL Teams Will Employ in 2012
With a lockout-free offseason, coaches will be able to expand their playbooks heading into the 2012 season. As they do so, they will no doubt devise new strategies to try to gain a competitive edge.
Of course, some franchises have new head coaches who will institute their own systems as they reshape their teams. Adding new wrinkles to the playbook is a good way for teams to keep themselves from becoming starched and predictable.
Let's make this slideshow a crazy eight as we explore eight strategies that eight teams will employ in 2012. Polish your resumes, put on your interviewing suit and prepare to get some strategies employed this coming season.
The Indianapolis Colts Will Shift to a 3-4 Defense
The Colts' new head coach Chuck Pagano will transition Indy's defense toward the 3-4 scheme. As defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, he employed an aggressive, blitzing defensive philosophy that used the 3-4 as their starting point for exotic packages.
The Colts have used a soft Cover 2 scheme with a 4-3 base since Tony Dungy's days as head coach, but with Pagano at the helm, they will certainly beef up on defense and move towards a bolder defensive approach.
There is already a template set out for a successful transition.
Last year Wade Phillips remade the Houston Texans' defense into a top squad even while moving Mario Williams to linebacker. Similarly, Pagano can mold the Colts' defense and their talented edge rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis into his new system as he works toward creating a more effective unit.
The Denver Broncos Will Add Some Traditional Drop-Back Passing
After meeting with success in the second part of the season with Tim Tebow running a modified option offense, the Broncos will try to mix up their offense even more in 2012.
With Tebow heading into his first full offseason with the team, John Fox will be able to work with his unorthodox quarterback to add some traditional pocket passing plays. By doing so, Fox will help to keep opposing teams' defenses from continually spying Tebow to ensure that he doesn't take off with the football.
While the Broncos are likely to also have a new quarterback on the roster who may compete for the starting QB job, even if that quarterback wins the training camp competition, they will certainly maintain some kind of role for Tebow's unique skill set.
If that is the case, Tebow will enter the game on occasion with his read option attack.
The Miami Dolphins Will Spread the Field on Offense
The Dolphins new head coach Joe Philbin will want to get busy transforming the Dolphins' passing game into a clone of his former teams'. The Green Bay Packers offense was efficient and utilized every receiver on the roster to move the ball down the field.
Philbin will get the most out of tight end Anthony Fasano and the receiving corps in Miami. Miami will most likely target a free agent receiver or aim for a receiver in the first couple rounds of the draft to give Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess some help.
No matter who ends up as quarterback (Matt Moore would seem to have the inside track at this point), the Dolphins will be better at spreading the field and opening up passing lanes with Philbin's offensive mind guiding the team.
The St. Louis Rams Will Become Blitz Happy
New Rams head coach Jeff Fisher didn't waste much time in picking up Gregg Williams from the New Orleans Saints to be his defensive coordinator.
This move makes it clear that Fisher will transition the St. Louis defense toward the swarming, blitz-crazed defense that has become Williams' trademark.
The Rams have some good young players on their defense, and Williams will find a way to use their talents in his pressure-oriented scheme. Look for the Rams to find a few undersized defensive playmakers in the draft and free agency to supplement their current defensive ranks.
The Buffalo Bills Will Turn to Brad Smith as an Option Quarterback More Often
The Buffalo Bills picked up the multifaceted Brad Smith from their division rival New York Jets last offseason.
Due in part to Ryan Fitzpatrick's early success in running the offense for the Bills, Smith didn't get many opportunities to come in as an option quarterback in 2011.
Chan Gailey and the Bills will make more use of Smith in 2012. Smith is primarily a running threat, but he can also chuck the ball if necessary.
The Bills have a good stable of receivers and a solid running back in Fred Jackson. By adding in a change-of-pace quarterback to their regular play-calling, the Bills will be able to put more pressure on opposing teams' defenses.
The Oakland Raiders Will Be Pass-Rush Specialists
New Raiders head coach Dennis Allen will bring a defensive approach that often gives up lots of yards, but compensates by being highly opportunistic. The Raiders have a number of excellent defensive players, with Richard Seymour and Michael Huff being their biggest names.
Allen will use these savvy veterans to push his defense to contain opposing teams' big plays on early downs and then push to sack the quarterback when obvious passing plays are in the cards.
Perhaps his most important contribution will be to instill some discipline to minimize the number of penalties on his team. The Raiders were the most-penalized team in the league last year, and the continual disadvantage that this caused them held the team back despite a glut of talent across their roster.
Allen's work with the Denver Broncos and the New Orleans Saints as defensive coordinator shows him to have the ability to get the most out of his defensive players.
The Raiders will take to his player-friendly system in 2012.
The Jacksonville Jaguars Will Integrate Some Gadget Plays on Offense
New Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey knows that he has a special weapon in running back Maurice Jones-Drew. He also realizes that the Jaguars passing offense has to get better in 2012 for Jacksonville to score enough points to keep pace with other teams.
As such, look for Mularkey to return to his roots as offensive coordinator with the Pittsburgh Steelers. During his stint with the Steelers from 2000-2003, Mularkey loved to use Antwaan Randle El as a change-of-pace quarterback.
With a young and still-developing Blaine Gabbert as the likely starter in Jacksonville next year, Mularkey will want to occasionally take the pressure off of Gabbert by integrating some trick plays into the offense. Jones-Drew will still be the workhorse for the Jaguars' offense, but Mularkey will use his offensive game-planning prowess to soup up the passing game with some intriguing plays.
The New York Jets Will Be Punishing on Offense
Tony Sparano enters as the Jets' new offensive coordinator ready to get back to the basics, according to ESPN. He and head coach Rex Ryan like to punish opposing teams' defenses with a physical running game. By pounding the ball early, they will be able to open up down the field with the vertical passing game.
Sparano has a tall task ahead of him as he attempts to improve rapidly-regressing quarterback Mark Sanchez's game. Look for the Jets to try out more two tight end sets as Sparano aims to use talented tight end Dustin Keller more often and provide extra blockers for Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight.
Jets fans would also love to see more trickery return to the playbook.
With Brad Smith in Buffalo this past season, the Jets didn't use many gadget plays. Sparano is likely to find someone who can run the option occasionally like he did with Ronnie Brown in Miami.
The Jets should look to upgrade at wide receiver to give Sparano more options on offense. Plaxico Burress didn't do enough in 2011 to show that he could return to his game-breaking form from his New York Giants days.
With a better receiving corps, a more confident Sanchez and a more consistent running game, the Jets offense will minimize the turnovers that plagued them in 2011.