Portray coaching as an amazingly intricate and complex task all you like. But the guys who succeed at keeping it simple are often the guys who succeed, period.
If your team is incomplete, if you’re not stocked with every ingredient -- and it’s a rare team that is -- then maximize what you can do well and minimize the need to try what you don’t.
Jacksonville offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is doing just that, and with an effective effort Sunday in Indianapolis, the team can complete an improbable worst-to-first run in the AFC South. Through 13 games, I think Koetter is the division’s most effective assistant coach.
The Jaguars have won five out of six to jump to the top of the division at 8-5, and the run game has been the backbone of the team -- just as it’s designed to be. And a team that was held to 3 points in each of its two worst losses of the season has been averaging 27.5 in that six-game stretch.
Since returning from the concussion that knocked him out of an Oct. 18 loss to Tennessee and cost him the next game at Kansas City, David Garrard has been efficient, completing 65.4 percent of his passes while posting a 99.3 passer rating.
He’s benefited from a run game that’s averaged 193 yards a game during that stretch. Koetter’s balanced things nicely, calling for runs 54 percent of the time.
According to one opponent, the Jaguars and Koetter have done smart work stripping things down.
“When you look pre-Garrard’s injury and now, they’ve really gotten back to basics,” said Titans defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil. “I hate saying simplify, but that’s exactly what they’ve done. Their route structures are slant-flat, tear (an out into the flat and another behind it), curl-flat. I mean it’s as basic as it gets. But now they couple it with turning and handing it off to Maurice Jones-Drew. And that’s what drives their engine ...”
“It’s a smart thing. They’ve made the reads very easy. It’s a situation where you are setting yourself up for success. I think they’ve basically gotten rid of all the mumbo jumbo in their offense and they’ve gone, ‘OK we’re going to hand it to that guy and when we need to pick up yards throwing it, we’re going to do this.’ ”
Abridging an offense can be seen as a bad thing, suggesting a quarterback can’t handle it all. But effectiveness is the goal. The Jaguars are finding a rhythm, hardly ever going three-and-out and getting themselves into highly manageable third downs.
Getting Garrard into situations where he can best make plays means Koetter’s scheme is working.
Koetter said Garrard responded to owner Wayne Weaver’s public call during the offseason for the quarterback to match the preparation work of the top guys in the league. The coordinator shied away from the characterization that anything’s been simplified for Garrard.
“I wouldn’t say it that way because we aren’t doing any less,” he said. “I think Dave is preparing Monday through Saturday better than he ever has, and I think that’s paying off. Any quarterback benefits when you can run the football. Dave’s rededicated himself to preparation during the week. I think he has more confidence in his protection and his playmakers.
“I told people every time they’d listen that Dave would return to 2007 form when we played better around him, and we’re playing better around him right now. Other guys are helping him. He’s always been an accurate passer. He’ll stand in there until the last second. He’ll take the hit. We’ve got more guys making plays. He throws a beautiful ball last week to Jason Hill and Jason Hill is fast enough to go get it and make a play. That’s great to have that.”
A Jaguars’ win at Indianapolis on Sunday would produce the franchise's first division title since 1999. The recent success on offense has the team's confidence at its highest point since Koetter’s first season in 2007, when Garrard threw just three interceptions in 12 games and the Jaguars went two rounds into the playoffs as a wild card.
“I think he's tailored to David's strengths, he's tailored to the fact that as an offense we're a team that's more about physicality than finesse,” right guard Uche Nwaneri said. “He's really come up with a lot of good game plans and a lot of good strategies on how to use that to our advantage. It's really become more evident now because it's like we're almost exposing other team's weaknesses with the plays that he calls.
“It's really a good asset for us to have. There are a lot of teams in the league that have good personnel but they don’t call plays to the strengths of their personnel. It's really a privilege to have somebody that's able to adjust how he structures his game plan each week to take advantage of what we do well against what another team may not do so well.”