"You've heard the old adage that says "Defense wins championships." Maybe it does. Or maybe it's just defensive coaching. The most glaring commonality among the NFL's final eight teams - and something that no one seems to have yet noticed - is that all eight have excellent defensive coordinators. Take a look:
New York Giants - Steve Spagnuolo
By far the most popular head coaching candidate on the market right now. Thanks to his aggressive and creative use of the front seven, Spagnuolo has received an enormous share of the credit for New York's Super Bowl run last season. And he's perhaps done an even better job this season.
Philadelphia Eagles - Jim Johnson
Arguably the preeminent defensive play-caller of this decade. Johnson's quasi-46 scheme can give any offense fits, mainly because the master does such a tremendous job of customizing it for each opponent. Johnson also has a preternatural ability to spot and develop raw talent.
Arizona Cardinals - Clancy Pendergast
The Cardinals defense has been sub-par throughout most of this season, but experts will tell you that it's not the coordinator's fault. NFL inner-circles admire Pendergast for having such a variegated, flexible scheme. Apparently, so do the Cardinal; he was one of the few coaches on Ken Whisenhunt's staff who was retained after Denny Green got fired
Carolina Panthers - Mike Trgovac
The most unknown of the remaining D-coordinators just happens to have one of the steadiest records. Entering this season, the Panthers had finished ranked in the top 10 in defensive yardage four times in six years. They fell to No. 18 this season. However, as Carolina's 12-4 record indicates, Trgovac may have his best defensive unit since the '03 Super Bowl squad.
Pittsburgh Steelers - Dick LeBeau
No explanation needed here. LeBeau, the most revered defensive coordinator in the game, is the father of Pittsburgh's patented 3-4 scheme. He has a realistic shot at making the Hall of Fame as an assistant coach.
San Diego Chargers - Ron Rivera
The Chargers season turned around after Rivera replaced Ted Cottrell. The former Eagles linebacker coach is well-schooled in a multitude of schemes. Rivera became a red-hot head coaching candidate after leading the Cover 2 Bears to the Super Bowl in '06, and he'll probably be a white-hot head coaching candidate in 2010 after teams take a step back and see what he's been able to do with San Diego's 3-4 scheme.
Baltimore Ravens - Rex Ryan
As great as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are, Rex Ryan might be the most valuable contributor to Baltimore's "Ravenous"
defense. Ryan is a perennial head coaching candidate, mainly because his players are always the most intelligent and well-prepared group in football. And those players will do anything for their defensive coordinator.
Tennessee Titans - Jim Schwartz
Another prominent head coaching candidate, especially after the job he's done this season. A startling number of young players have developed under Schwartz the past few seasons, including cornerback Cortland Finnegan, safety Michael Griffin, defensive tackle Tony Brown and linebacker Stephen Tulloch. And just about every veteran who joins the Titan defense seems to get better right away (see Kyle Vanden Bosch, David Thornton, Jevon Kearse, Nick Harper, Chris Hope).
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