There has been a good bit of discussion on our message boards concerning Defensive Coordinator Mike Archer and his performance at NC State. After hearing about the recent rumors that Jon Tenuta, current LB coach, is heading to accept a position at Illinois, I got to digging deeper into NC State’s defensive statistics. My question is simple: is Archer, on his own merit, hitting the bull’s Eye?
When Archer arrived at NC State, he was walking into a program that had been known better for it’s defense than offense, but had suffered from attrition due to the draft and other factors. Understandably, you have to give a new coach some wiggle room when looking at his results. That being said, when you look at total yardage, surprisingly enough, 2009 was actually the year that lead to the least total yardage.
The only thing that I don’t like about “total yardage” is that it doesn’t take into account changes in defensive schema/strategy or what the offense does. Obviously if your offense stays on the field for longer, your opponents run less plays so you’ll have less total yardage. No problem; let’s look at the same statistics “per play” over Archer’s tenure.
What is interesting is that ‘on the whole’, Archer’s passing defense really hasn’t improved on stopping our opponents’ offense any more over the past couple of years than it did in his second season. The total yards-per-play doesn’t change much, but you can notice it improve in the last two years (i.e., opponents gain less yardage) than over the first three. If you notice, the cause of this is the relatively dramatic decrease in rushing yards gained by our opponents (approximately a 15% decrease in yardage from 2009 to 2010). Even with the increased rushing yards our opponents scored in 2011 from 2010, this is still showing a 5% decrease from 2009 to 2011 and a 16% decrease from 2007 when Archer arrived in Raleigh.
So what has improved under Archer? Our secondary, per play, doesn’t appear to be much better than it was in 2008 and because of that, the overall yards per play hasn’t improved much either.
Common sense would argue “then how do you explain the fact that the last two seasons we have gone 9-4 and 8-5?” Simple: More pressure on the quarterback and stopping the rush at the line of scrimmage. To prove this, we can turn to how many yards our opponent’s lost while attempting to rush.
Pressure began increasing in 2009 once Archer and his staff had a few years to work on the defense, but in 2010 NC State saw a 30% improvement in the yardage we were taking away from our opponents. The merits of whether this increase in pressure was due to the influence of Tenuta or simply the improved health of our defense is a subject of some debate. For every attempt our opponents made, we would take a yard away from them. Not bad considering that from 2007-2009, NC State was giving up almost a whole yard for every rushing attempt we made.
WILL THINGS GET BETTER, WORSE, OR STAY THE SAME?
Often times the subject of debate over any coach or staff’s performance is where they are heading. Tom O’Brien coming off an 8-win season and his second bowl victory in a row probably has a good bit of wind in his sails right now. But what about Archer? Let’s look at the average change in our opponent’s offensive stats over the last 5 years.
When you look at the average change in yards-per-pass, you see that the volatility in the change is becoming smaller. I’m sure that 2012 won’t flat line, making this a perfect controls problem from one of my engineering classes, but it does show that in the last few years, we have seen less improvement or otherwise in our passing defense. This supports my statement in the first section…
What is interesting is that ‘on the whole’, Archer’s passing defense really hasn’t improved on stoping out opponent’s offense any more over the past couple of years than it did in his second season.
If this is any indicator of Archer’s ability to coach-up a defensive program under Tom O’Brien’s leadership, it would appear that we could expect “more of the same” from our secondary.
I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Amerson. He has been the lone improvement on the secondary. In 2008, we totaled 18 interceptions. That is almost twice as much as our secondary has been able to pick-off in 2007, 2009, or 2010. This year alone, NC State picked off 27 total interceptions. That is more than the previously mentioned three seasons combined. Can this be lumped in with an assessment on Archer? To an extent, of course it can. However, when trying to determine if things appear as if they will improve or not, you have to ask yourself if you can count on your secondary always having an Amerson on the roster.
CONCLUSIONS AND EDITORIAL
As some of our forum-dwellers have already predicted, I’m not going to suggest be caught anywhere attempting exalt the virtues of Archer. Still, he deserves credit for one thing, if nothing else: coaching up a defense good enough to allow NC State’s offense to put points on the boards. He found a way to win, sometimes despite the other team’s success on the field. Is Archer hitting the bull’s Eye? No… but he has been close enough.
Looking at the statistics, I worry that a lot of our success is found in an area of our defense that is about to lose a great, great coach. Even if you disagree with the assessment that Archer isn’t doing a great job, I think we can all agree that losing Tenuta is going to have an affect on the team and unless we can find a sufficient replacement that can match his aggressiveness and results, it will affect the defense negatively.
In 2010, we won by earning more yardage than our opponents and converting them into points. In 2011, we won by denying our opponents crucial first downs (we totaled 304 first downs on the year while our opponents totaled 209), despite the fact that they were earning more yardage than we were (NC State’s yardage: 4483, Opponent’s yardage: 4614). So when our aggressive LB coach head’s off to green pastures, be it now or later, how confident are we in Archer’s ability to maintain the rhythm Tenuta has set up front?