I’ve heard quite a bit of mixed opinion on the Atlanta Falcons decision to hire Mike Tice as their new offensive line coach and I believe most of the negativity towards Tice is undeserved.
Much of the negativity stems from Tice’s recent stint as position coach of an abysmal Chicago Bears offensive line from 2010-11. That is understandable. Over the course of those two seasons, the Bears certainly were well-deserved of the reputation of the league’s worst offensive line. They gave up the most sacks in those two seasons, topping out at 105 combined sacks allowed.
But I don’t think it’s quite fair to attribute that solely on Tice. I think most of that lack of success in Chicago can be directly attributed to then offensive coordinator Mike Martz.
My point here isn’t to say that Tice isn’t blameless in the struggles of the Bears offensive line, but there is compelling evidence that suggests the Bears struggles to protect Jay Cutler over those two seasons had more to do with Martz than Tice’s inability to teach.
That evidence is that leading the NFL in sacks allowed was a regular achievement of Martz-coordinated offenses. Here are the numbers:
Mike Martz Offenses (Sacks Allowed)Shows the number of sacks allowed by teams when they were coordinated by Martz (on left) and the number of sacks allowed by team after Martz's departure from team (on right), with combined league rankings over the course of those years.
|Year(s)||Team||Sacks||Per Yr.||Rank||Year(s)||Sacks||Per Yr.||Rank|
The point is to illustrate that giving up a bunch of sacks is a hallmark of Martz’s offenses over the years. So it’s not fair to blame Tice for the Bears problems, when history suggests it’s a Martz-related problem rather than a Tice-related one.
Tice took over play-calling duties in 2012, and you saw improvement from the Bears offensive line that year and in the subsequent years. It’s the offensive coordinator that sets up protections, and it’s clear that Martz’s offenses struggle to do that. Tice did a better job with his schemes to put his blockers in better position. That’s a sign of good coaching.
And the boost the Bears got in 2013 (without Tice) was thanks in large part to shuffling their lineup for the first time with additions like Kyle Long, Jermon Bushrod, and Jordan Mills. Tice never got that opportunity, as he was expected to work with the guys he inherited. And given the fact that the Bears blocking showed improvement in 2012 despite sporting six different starting lineups up front is also a testament to improved coaching. In 2013, not only did the additional talent make things better, but the fact that the Bears had the same starting five in every game was beneficial. That allowed the 2013 group to build cohesion and continuity, an attribute that is continaully underrated when it comes to success in the trenches.
Does this mean that Tice is a good hire for the Falcons? Who knows, as that will be determined by things such as whether the Falcons make significant offseason upgrades at that position coupled with things like continuity and cohesion being built in-season.
But if you’re one that was sour on this hiring because of Tice’s tenure in Chicago, I’m here to tell you that you shouldn’t hold that against him too much.
Ultimately it’s going to be about talent. And if the Falcons add more talent up front, then Tice should be fine if not very good coaching them up. If not, then one can expect similar results as we’ve seen in Atlanta the past few years which haven’t been good.
Another indicator that the Bears were lacking on talent is that if you look at how many of the players that Tice coached over the course of three seasons in Chicago are starting elsewhere in the league. Of the thirteen offensive linemen that started a game for the Bears between 2010-12, only two of them started more than three games in 2013: Roberto Garza and Chris Williams. Olin Kreutz and Kevin Shaffer both retired from the game. Frank Omiyale, Edwin Williams, Lance Louis, and Chilo Rachal spent the season without a team. James Brown and Jonathan Scott were rarely used backups with the Bears this past season. And Chris Spencer and J’Marcus Webb rode the pine on other teams this past season. If it was an issue of the Bears having talent that was underachieving under Tice, you would see more of these guys receive and take advantage of opportunities elsewhere, which they have not.
Hopefully for the Falcons they’ll be able to make significant upgrades in terms of their talent at multiple spots up front, and whatever five guys that begin the season also end the season. If those things happen, then it’s likely any and all that were down on this move won’t be a year from now.