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The Apprentice Returns: How Former Patriots Coaches Perform

Rob Ryan imitates Tom Brady's old hair style. Yikes. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Rob Ryan imitates Tom Brady's old hair style. Yikes. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Sunday marked the 16th time in the regular season (according to my counter) a former Patriots coach under Bill Belichick has returned to face their old team as either a lead coordinator or a head coach. Some names are familiar, such as Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, and Josh McDaniels. Others might draw blank stares, such as Brian Daboll and Jeff Davidson. The games between these coaches and the Patriots immediately bring back certain negative feelings- Mangini's Spygate game. Josh McDaniel's overtime victory. Magini's Browns of last season. All of these games reek of Patriots' ineptitude.

When the Patriots struggled to perform against Rob Ryan's defense (former Patriots' linebackers coach from the Super Bowl years) on Sunday, I wondered if this was a trend. Do these coaches who have a connection to the Patriots have an inside track on how to beat the Patriots? Do they know how to use tendencies and specific plays to their advantage and give their team the victory?

Of the 16 games featuring returning coaches, 13 have been on the defensive side. Only Josh McDaniels (former OC, HC Broncos), Jeff Davidson (former TE Coach, OC Panthers), and Brian Daboll (former WR/QB Coach, OC Dolphins) have played on the offensive side. The defensive side features:

Former DC Romeo Crennel as HC of the Cleveland Browns

Former DC Eric Mangini as HC of the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns

Former DC Dean Pees as LB Coach of the Baltimore Ravens

Former LB Coach Rob Ryan as DC of the Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns, and Dallas Cowboys

Former DB Coach Dom Capers as DC of the Green Bay Packers

Overall, the Patriots are 12-4 against their former coaches, while posting a 10-3 record against the defensive minded coaches. All of the returners have had varying levels of success against the Patriots. Eric Mangini owns the leaderboard with seven games and a 3-4 record. Josh McDaniels is the only other returner to leave with a victory, although Rob Ryan did pick up a victory as Eric Mangini's defensive coordinator.

On the surface, the impact appears minimal as the .750 winning percentage is extremely close to the overall .740 winning percentage since the Patriots first Super Bowl season. However, I wanted to see if there were additional changes that happened outside the win-loss column. Due to the greater number of games against defensive minded coaches, I looked at Patriots points scored, interceptions thrown, fumbles forced, and sacks. I also looked at points against.

Since the Patriots' Super Bowl winning season, they have averaged 25 points/game on offense. Surprisingly, the Patriots average 26.7 points/game against returning defensive coaches.

They post 25 points/game against returning offensive coaches. In total, the average 26.4 points/game against all returning coaches- yes, they score more against the defensive coaches than the offensive coaches. This could be a result of the offensive coaches having spent time with the Patriots offense and learning how to stop the offense they've created.

The Patriots have averaged 17 points/game allowed on defense. Against returning defensive coaches, they have allowed 20.2 points/game. Against returning offensive coaches, they've allowed 18 points/game. In total, they've allowed 19.75 points/game. Similar to how the opposing offensive coaches know how to beat the Patriots' offense,  the Patriots could have an advantage by knowing how to stop the offenses implemented by the former offensive coaches.

Looking at the total numbers, games featuring returning defensive coaches have the Patriots scoring +1 points for, while allowing +3 more points on defense. Returning offensive coaches post numbers nearly identical to the average line. These numbers align with the Patriots winning percentage- there's very little difference in the overall performance.

Looking further, the Patriots have averaged 0.7 interceptions/game over the time frame. Facing the defensive coaches, the Patriots have averaged 0.7 interceptions/game. This means that the quarterbacks (Tom Brady and Matt Cassel) have made a similar number of errors regardless of the competition. It is important to note that Brady has 6 interceptions in the past 5 games against the defensive minded coaches, which is far above his average. Brady must be more careful with the football in Week 11 against the Chiefs.

The Patriots have fumbled the football an average of 0.57 times a game, although some of those fumbles may be attributed to special teams which would reduce average fumbles while on offense. While facing the defensive minded coaches, the Patriots have fumbled 11 times on offense out of the 13 games (0.85 times/game), which is a much higher rate than average. Whether returning coaches have decided to play the Patriots much more physically, or whether the Patriots have had a bad luck of the bounce, the ball has been put on the field much frequently.

Focusing on sacks, the Patriots' quarterbacks have been sacked an average of 1.76 times/game. Facing returning defensive coaches, the quarterbacks have been sacked 2.00 times/game, which represents an additional sack every 8 games. After allowing only six sacks over the first six games against defensive coaches, the quarterbacks have been sacked 20 times for an average of nearly 3 sacks a game over the last seven games (dating back to 2008). Could the increasing age of the offensive line be an issue and a reason for the increased amount of pressure?


Whether returning coaches has an advantage is still up for discussion. The numbers say that the end results have been the same, regardless of the opposition. However, the opposing teams with a defensive returner have been more physical against the Patriots offense. Defenses have been forcing fumbles at an increasing rate, while the number of sacks have grown at a startling rate. Is their some insight into the increased physicality? Is there some truth to the Patriots' finesse reputation? Whatever the reason, the Patriots must be certain to be on the look out for some hard hits and be sure to protect the ball and the quarterback.

So is there an advantage with the returning coaches? Bill Belichick might say "no." Some players might say "yes."

I'd ask Eric Mangini- he's the only defensive mind to leave with a victory.