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Coaching Candidate Q n A: Kris Richard Edition with Lars Russell of @FieldGulls

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With the Bills embarking on their coaching search, we figured it’d be good to get a local feel for the candidates when we can. Lars Russell of Field Gulls on SBNation was kind enough to lend us a few minutes and drop knowledge on Kris Richard, current Seahawks defensive coordinator. Take a read and at the end Joe’s research into the candidate and let us know what you think!

And if you like Lars’ outstanding takes, please hop on Twitter and check out the whole @FieldGulls team. They do good work!

What are pros and cons to Richard’s coaching style?

Kris Richard was an NFL player as recently as 2006, so he is a man who is relatable to his players in the sense of his age and his experience in their situation, which helps his communication and style of presentation to the team. At the same time, that closeness could hypothetically undermine his authority compared to somebody the players imagine as less of their peer–especially in a head coach type position where he is meant to command the whole team rather than the select group of defenders or defensive backs where his special experience is more directly connected. It’s not really a style critique but the Seahawks defense in his tenure has under performed the dominance it showed from 2011-2014, sliding from the top of the NFL in total yards allowed down to fifth in 2016, and declining in adjusted net yards per pass attempt relative to league average (Seattle had been at least a yard better than average for five straight years, which is an unprecedented stretch of consistency, before falling to just 0.3 yards better this season).

Does your defense do a lot of blitzing?

The Seahawks and Pete Carroll’s defensive design are known for rushing just four players most of the time, but Richard mixed in more blitzes than his predecessors Dan Quinn and Gus Bradley. Seattle’s blitz rate was close to 20 percent in 2012-14 but ranged more like 25 percent during Richard’s tenure. The Seahawks are one of the most effective blitzing teams, getting pressure on a higher percentage of blitzes than any other NFL team and forcing opponents to the fewest yards per dropback when blitzed.

What type of players are needed for the defense to thrive?

Pete Carroll’s defense–and Richard is a Carroll disciple going back to his days playing at USC–is designed from the back to the front. Elite corner and safety play is key to the coverage schemes that frees the defense to shut down the line of scrimmage without so many blitzes. Ronald Darby is a good start but Earl Thomas was a first round draft pick in Carroll’s first year with Seattle, so I would expect Buffalo to try to find a dominant safety early in a potential Richard tenure. Engineering the defensive line to stop the run is also an underrated part of the defensive strategy, because it’s intended to force opponents into one-dimensional throwing against mismatches, so versatile nose tackles and “three technique” interior linemen are as helpful as edge rushers. But linebackers who know how to cover well also alleviate the need to switch to nickel. When the Seahawks had Bruce Irvin, they could swap him from a curl-to-flat or edge-setting strongside linebacker role to rushing the passer without changing personnel which presented huge mismatches. Shaq Lawson isn’t quite as athletic as Irvin, but he has the size and speed to perform like Cliff Avril if Richard was drawing schemes for the Bills.

Did Richard call their plays, or was it Pete?

As far as I know, Richard was tasked with dialing up specific defensive calls on a per-down basis, but certainly Carroll is the architect of the scheme. I would except Richard, who has been under Carroll for so long, to adopt his light touch as far as significant influence and input over the defensive design but not necessarily being the play caller during games.

Which players on your team excelled or faltered under Richard?

It’s hard to say since so much of the defense has been in place since before Richard was specifically defensive coordinator, but as defensive backs coach he oversaw the rise of players like Thomas and Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor–the elite of the elite at their positions for the period when Richard was coaching. As head of the defense, Richard has gone against type (as a former DB) by making the run stopping unit even stronger statistically (Seattle led the league in YPC against in 2016). The only player who really faltered under his leadership was Cary Williams, the cornerback Seattle signed before 2015 to start opposite Sherman who didn’t seem to grasp the Seahawks’ style and coverage techniques and was let go (at significant salary cap cost) before that season even finished. So developing defensive backs is a better investment than signing outsiders, for this scheme. On the other hand, one of Williams’s replacements, Jeremy Lane, also has been a slight disappointment after being signed to an extension and elevated to pseudo-starter as the nickel back.

How did the players react to Richard as a leader?

As mentioned above, Seattle’s players have an unusual bond with Richard as one who played in the same system as them under Pete Carroll. But Carroll allows unusual freedom of dissent within his teams, and one of the signature moments of 2016 for the Seahawks was seeing Sherman argue with Richard over coverage assignments on the sideline during a regular season game against the Falcons. Kris Richard held his own in the dispute and teammates came to rally around both of them with a kind of unity-chant-circle until Sherman settled down. I’ve seen mic’d up segments in which Richard speaks directly to individuals in challenging, inspiring ways, and it seems like Richard’s defense enjoys playing for him. Being the coordinator has appeared, literally visually, to stiffen Richard’s jaw and stance and actually thicken his body as he’s assumed a greater degree of accountability. This sounds dumb but he actually looks more like a head coach than he used to.

Joe’s Take:

Kris Richard has been the DC for the Seahawks the last 2 seasons and was the DBs coach from 2010-2014. 

Pros

  • Defense allowed 13 points or fewer in 14 of 32 games (Most in NFL with 2nd being 10 games)
  • Defense has ranked in the top 5 in points given up and yardage in 2015/2016.
  • Defensive backs coach from 2011-2014 and helped developed rookies Richard Sherman (3rd round) and Kam Chancellor (5th round)
  • Had just 2 first round picks on defense in 2015 and 1 in 2016.
  • Ranked 4th in the NFL in team sacks in 2016
  • Ranked 1st and 7th in rushing yards
  • Have allowed 6 300-yard passers the last two seasons
  • Held teams to 100 rushing yards or fewer in 20 of 32 games (2nd best)
  • Allowed just 30 TD passes in two seasons (Ranks 1st)
  • The Seahawks allowed just 3.37 yards per carry this past season which was the best during the Pete Carroll era
  • 2nd year player Frank Clark (2nd rounder) had 10 sacks this past year.

 

Cons

  • Ranked 16th and 22nd in turnovers after being first in 2013.
  • Only been a coordinator for 2 seasons.
  • 2016 Seahawks allowed 3,612 passing yards and a QB rating of 85.3 which was the worse they’ve allowed since 2010.
  • Seahawks had 28 INTs in 2013 and just 11 this past season.
  • Seahawks had 19 forced turnovers which was the fewest they had since 2010.
  • Inherited a top defense from the previous two coordinators who are now head coaches.

Final words

I’ve been yelling from the hilltops how I would love anyone from the Seattle Seahawks to coach or manage the Bills. Want to talk about a team built to win? Its Seattle. Its more than just a one man team. From top to bottom, they have been very stellar since 2011 and have done it with not too many high draft picks.

Yes, Richard being the 3rd DC to possibly get a HC job from Seattle does give me slight pause, but how many head coaches did the Ravens/Steelers bust out over the 2000s? Sure, some were better than others, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Additionally, I like that Richard was their DB coach for 4 seasons and they just so happened to occur during the development of Sherman and Chancellor. The defense isn’t as good as it was in 2012/2013 era, but they are still more than capable by today’s standards.

So, overall, he intrigues me. Plus, he looks like he could kick #Brandonfinger’s ass.