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Here's how well Wade Phillips' defenses do in year two of his system

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There's this interesting bit of anecdotal information about Wade Phillips that says his team's improve dramatically during his first year as defensive coordinator and then regress in their second year. Let's shine a light on that and determine what is fact and what is myth.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Wade Phillips has had eight different defensive coordinator jobs during his time in the NFL.

1981-1985 New Orleans

1986-1988 Philadelphia

1989-1992 Denver

1995-1997 Buffalo

2002-2003 Atlanta

2004-2006 San Diego

2011-2013 Houston

2015-? Denver

So let's look at each of these defenses the year before Wade Phillips took the reins and during his first and second year as DC. Keep in mind that this table does not include year's 3+ of any of Wade's stints as DC.

League Rank (note that in 1980 there were only 28 NFL teams)

Wade's yrs as DC Team Pts Allowed YPP YPC against Forced Turnovers sacks
0 80 NOR 28 28 28 28 25
1 81 NOR 24 11 11 22 24
2 82 NOR 8 12 13 14 7
0 85 PHI 10 13 18 25 8
1 86 PHI 12 17 24 16 7
2 87 PHI 25 14 10 1 2
0 88 DEN 20 18 28 25 17
1 89 DEN 1 3 9 2 4
2 90 DEN 23 22 20 25 19
0 94 BUF 7 20 3 18 26
1 95 BUF 12 5 7 21 1
2 96 BUF 6 2 1 19 3
0 01 ATL 24 31 30 15 20
1 02 ATL 7 23 28 2 5
2 03 ATL 30 32 25 11 16
0 03 SD 31 22 20 31 24
1 04 SD 11 23 7 9 30
2 05 SD 13 12 2 27 6
0 10 HOU 29 31 11 30 24
1 11 HOU 4 3 13 12 6
2 12 HOU 10 8 9 9 5
0 14 DEN 17 2 5 14 10
1 15 DEN 4 1 1 8 1

YPP = yards per play allowed, YPC = yards per carry allowed

New Orleans Saints

The Saints defense was literally the worst in the league the year before Wade took over. While they did not improve dramatically in points allowed during his first year, they did give up significantly fewer yards. The big leap in defensive play happened in Wade's second year as DC for the Saints when they moved into the top third of the league in both points allowed and sacks. No year two let-down here.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles defense was above average before Wade took over. They regressed a little bit in Wade's first year, having a worse rank in everything shown above except sacks and forced turnovers. The following year, the defense was good, but they continued to regress in terms of points allowed for some reason falling all the way to 25th despite having defensive-minded Buddy Ryan as head coach and Jeff Fisher as defensive backs coach. I have no idea how a team with Reggie White in his prime (21 sacks that year) held exactly one team to less than 16 points (and that was in the final game of the season which didn't matter to either team). They led the league in forced turnovers (with 48) and still managed to finish the 7-8 (the strike cause this season to be 15 games instead of 16). Denver finished 10-4-1 that year. So this would appear to be an instance where Wade's defense regressed in year two.

Denver Broncos (first stint)

The 1988 Bronco defense was below average to poor - with a distinct inability to stop the run. In year one of Wade's tenure as DC, the defense made huge improvements in every area particularly in points allowed (going from 20th to 1st in one year). Joe Montana didn't care as he hung 55 points on our #1 scoring defense that had only allowed 226 during the regular season. The hangover from that spanking our defense took in the Super Bowl, followed the Broncos in 1990 when our defense regressed to pretty much where it was in 1988 before Wade arrived. This was definitely a case of year two let-down (regression). The Broncos finished the 1990 season 5-11 with five of those losses being close losses (5 points or less). There was a lot of coaching talent on this team with Mike Shanahan as QB coach, Mike Nolan as special teams/LB coach and Chain Gailey as OC. That didn't help as both our offense and our defense were below average that year. It should be noted that the Broncos' defense rebounded in a big way in 1991 jumping back up into the top of the league in most categories (that was the year that the offense shat the bed against the Bills in the AFCCG).

Buffalo Bills

Speaking of the Bills, they hired Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator after he got fired for leading the Broncos to a 7-9 record as head coach in 1994. The 1994 Bills' defense was pretty good at preventing the other team from scoring despite allowing a fair amount of yardage. The 1994 Bills were decidedly poor at stopping the pass, forcing turnovers and getting sacks, despite the presence of Bruce Smith. In Wade's first year as DC, 1995, the Bills defense improved in terms of yards allowed, but their biggest improvement was in sacks where they jumped to #1 in the league a year after being 20th. Despite this they actually regressed in terms of points allowed. In Wade's second year as the DC in Buffalo, the defense peaked as was in the top of the league in everything except forcing turnovers. Bruce Smith and Phil Hansen combined for 21.5 sacks, 170 tackles and six forced fumbles. This was continued improvement relative to what Wade was able to do in year one with the Bills' defense.

Atlanta Falcons

The 2001 Falcons were dead last in the NFL in YPP (only 31 teams at that time), but they were horrible on defense in pretty much all areas before Wade took over. In his first year as DC, the Falcons defense made big gains in points allowed (24th to 7th), forced turnovers (15th to 2nd) and sacks (20th to 5th). Unfortunately, these gains were short-lived as the defense regressed in Wade's second year as DC, 2003. The 2003 Falcons' defense was ranked near the bottom of the league in points allowed and YPP. This got Dan Reeves fired as head coach and got Wade promoted to interim head coach. The Falcons hired Jim Mora to be their new head coach in 2004 as Wade moved on to be the DC for the Chargers. This was another instance of horrible regression in year two of Wade Phillips' tenure as DC.

San Diego Chargers

The Chargers' defense in 2003 was as bad or worse than the Falcons' defense. Marty Schottenheimer was head coach and Dale Lindsey was his DC that year. Dale Lindsey never coached in the NFL again after 2003. Marty fired Lindsey and hired his former nemesis, Wade Phillips, as the new DC for the Chargers. The Chargers defense showed huge improvements during Wade's first year, moving from 31st to 11th in points allowed, 20th to 7th in ypc allowed and 31st to 9th in forced turnovers. In Wade's second year as Chargers' DC, they essentional would maintain their position in terms of points allowed while continuing to improve in every category except for forced turnovers. That 2005 Chargers defense was spear-headed by the steroid-enhanced Shawn Merriman and Jamal Williams in his prime. This is another instance where the defense continued to improve in year two of Wade's tenure as DC.

Houston Texans

After a decently long stint as the head coach in Dallas, Wade was hired by Gary Kubiak as DC for the Texans. The 2010 Texans' defense was one of the worst in the league particularly against the pass. In 2011, Wade's first year as DC, the Texans' defense improved dramatically in just about every area, except for run defense where they stayed the same. It must be noted that 2011 was J.J. Watt's rookie year, and was he was far from the best defender on the team that year, his inclusion with some other talented defenders (Connor Barwin, Antonio Smith and Mario Williams) helped with the big jump in defensive play. The 2012 Texans regressed a little in points allowed and ypp, but they continued to improved in the other areas listed on the table above. So it's hard to say whether this was regression, maintanence or improvement in Wade's second year as DC in Houston.

Denver Broncos (second stint)

The 2014 Broncos defense was good, but not great. It is well chronicled that Jack Del Rio did not got as much out of ostensibly the same talent that Wade got in 2015. The 2015 Broncos' defense under Wade Phillips improved to the point of being the best defense in the league (if you feel the need to argue with this - go watch SB50 again then shut your pie-hole because the tape don't lie). The 2016 Broncos defense is was so good, particularly in the playoffs, that there is little room for improvement. So the rest of the sports-writing world is predicting regression in the second year under Wade. While that logic is easy to understand given the loss of Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan and the #1 ranking in many categories, it is a distinct possibility that the Broncos' defense does not regress much, if at all. In fact, the defense DOES have room to improve in the most critical stat of all for a defense - points allowed where we ranked 4th in 2015.

2nd Year as DC Results
NOR got better
PHI got worse
DEN -1st time got worse
BUF got better
ATL got way worse
SD got better
HOU slight improvement
DEN - current ?

So that's three instances of regression and four instances of continued improvement in year two.

What do you think will happen with our defense in 2016?