Nolan's Added Value

To their credit, many denizens of MHR have been able to maintain their positivity despite the uncertainty surrounding this offseason. My responses to this optimism have ranged from acceptance to sardonicism.

One of popular MHR positions that I've often questioned has been the near-universal praise of Josh McDaniels' selection of Mike Nolan as the Broncos' Defensive Coordinator.

Given what I knew about Nolan, I couldn't understand the optimism. I thought it was another example of the 13-3 crowd believing that Pat Bowlen's money was magic and that once Nolan cashed his first check, he'd magically transform into Buddy Ryan.

But the fact was, aside from being familiar with his resume, I'd never really taken the time to study Nolan's track record as a Defensive Coordinator.

To assess Mike Nolan's track record, we created an index called the Greg Nolan Defensive Coordinator (GNDC) Index. I say "we" because I couldn't have done it without the help of one of my interns, Aimee, who compiled the data and who always turns heads on Wet T-shirt Wednesday.

The GNDC Index evaluated how Mike Nolan's defenses fared compared to NFL averages in six categories: Points Allowed, Yards Allowed, Opponent's Third Down Percentage, Sacks, Interceptions and Fumbles Recovered. These differences were then normalized and multiplied based on relevance. For example, since we know firsthand that the amount of yards a defense surrenders doesn't matter as much as how many points it gives up, points allowed is weighed more heavily than yards allowed.

Year Team Nolan DC? GNDC Index Special Notes?
1992 NYG No -38.0  
1993 NYG Yes 23.7  
1994 NYG Yes 3.2  
1995 NYG Yes -3.4  
1996 NYG Yes 10.9  
1997 NYG No 41.7  
1996 Wash No -8.7  
1997 Wash Yes 11.0  
1998 Wash Yes -31.4  
1999 Wash Yes -1.6  
2000 Wash No 23.0  
1999 NYJ No -1.0  
2000 NYJ Yes 7.7  
2001 NYJ No 9.9  
2000 Balt No 61.3  
2001 Balt No 19.8 Nolan WR coach
2002 Balt Yes -4.6 Ray Lewis played only 6 games
2003 Balt Yes 46.2  
2004 Balt Yes 25.9  
2005 Balt No 11.7  

I'm the first to admit that the GNDC isn't perfect. Some important stats might have been excluded and the multiplying factors are quibble-worthy. But the fact that 2000 Baltimore Ravens defense, arguably the greatest of all time, logged the highest score in this analysis provides a measure of validation for the methodology.

So what value does the GNDC add? I believe it can give us some insight into whether or not Greg Nolan can turn a defense around. And I think the GNDC Index suggests he can. Consider Nolan's GNDC values during his tenure as DC with the Giants. He was hired in 1993 and his efforts translated into a 60+ point swing in GNDC value.

If you compare the GNDC values logged in the years before Nolan was hired as DC with the values logged during Nolan's first years as DC, the numbers almost always go up. The lone exception was in 2002, Nolan's first year as DC for the Ravens. In that year, Ray Lewis was injured and only played in 6 games. 

Lewis' injury brings up an element that can't be overlooked: Personnel changes. Because the GNDC Index was calculated solely on statistics, any personnel changes weren't accounted for. I heard Josh McDaniels recently acknowledge that 47 of the Broncos' 80 players are new to the team. As we well know, many of those are on the defensive side of the ball.

I was disappointed to see that, in most cases, a team's GNDC Index value increased in the season following Nolan's departure. I think there are several ways to interpret this, but for now, I have other things that need attending.

This is a Fan-Created Comment on The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff of MHR

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