Four ways to turn an NFL team around in one offseason

John HarbaughEach year the NFL provides examples of how teams can rise from the basement to the penthouse in just one offseason. 2008 is no different, as the Ravens, Falcons, Dolphins and Jets have all won as many games this year as they did all of last season.

Here are four ways NFL teams can turn around their misfortune in just one offseason along examples from the 2008 season.

1. Get a strong, football-minded front office person to construct the team.
2008 Example: Miami Dolphins
It’s safe to say at this point that Bill Parcells knows what he’s doing. He’s won everywhere he’s gone and it would have been naïve to think he wouldn’t turn around the Dolphins at some point. But the fact that he’s done it this quickly is remarkable and speaks volumes for how necessary it is for teams to have good front office people in place to run the day-to-day operations. Parcells is a football-minded guy and he can judge talent. He parted ways with long-time veterans Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor because he knew they weren’t going to play key roles in Miami’s future. Sure the Dolphins lost veteran talent, but they also were focused on moving forward. Parcells also went out and found a competent quarterback in Chad Pennington and drafted a franchise left tackle in Jake Long. Now the Fish can compete on a weekly basis, unlike last season when they were dead in the water (no pun intended) before games even started. Teams can’t win if their front office makes huge draft mistakes and can’t fit individual pieces into one big puzzle. Credit the Dolphins for spending big on a proven winner in Parcells. They might not make the playoffs this year, but they’re competing again and soon enough, the postseason will become a reality.

2. Find a head coach who understands the fundamentals and basics.
2008 Example: Baltimore Ravens
When John Harbaugh was hired by the Ravens this offseason, it certainly didn’t turn a lot of heads or make big headlines. He wasn’t the hottest NFL coordinator or a big name college coach, but he did come from a franchise in Philadelphia that understands that winning football games comes down to understanding fundamentals and basics. Fans and pundits get lost in big free agent signings, “Wildcat” formations and gimmicky offenses, but football games are won when teams don’t turn the ball over, limit their mistakes and play physical. Baltimore isn’t a flashy team, but they’ve gotten back to the basics under Harbaugh and now are once again contenders. They do the little things right and are now competing on weekly basis. The job Harbaugh has done with rookie quarterback Joe Flacco has been amazing as well, because overall, the young man hasn’t looked overwhelmed very much this season and appears confident. That’s a testament to Harbaugh and his coaching staff for knowing how to handle a rookie quarterback and not falling into the pitfalls that most teams do with rookie signal callers.

Matt Ryan3. Find a quarterback.
2008 Example: Atlanta Falcons
Not everything is about the quarterback. There are 53 players on a roster and all 53 of those players have a role in whether or not a team wins on Sunday. But you can’t consistently win with poor quarterback play. People like to criticize Rex Grossman the year the Bears went to the Super Bowl, but the fact of the matter is that he made plays throughout the season. The Falcons were criticized for passing on Glenn Dorsey in this year’s draft to take a gamble on Matt Ryan. Then they were criticized for naming Ryan the starter in preseason. But new GM Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith saw something special in Ryan and knew that he had the maturity to suffer the ups and downs that rookie quarterbacks go through. And outside of some accuracy issues, Ryan has been nothing short of phenomenal. He has won the respect of his teammates and coaches, is already coming through in the clutch and perhaps most importantly, has put the Michael Vick era to rest. The Falcons did a lot of things right this offseason, but none was bigger than drafting a franchise quarterback they can hopefully lean on for years to come.

4. Find the missing piece.
2008 Example: New York Jets
Things haven’t all been good for Brett Favre in New York, but there’s no question he has lit a spark under a franchise that desperately needed one. Nothing against Chad Pennington, but even at this point in his career, Favre can do more things on a football field than most quarterbacks. He takes risks that sometimes blow up in his face, but more times than not, those risks turn into big rewards and he’s made the Jets more unpredictable this year on offense. Teammates rally around Favre and want to play for him because when it’s crunch time and the game is on the line, they know he’s done it all before. The Jets haven’t had that in a quarterback for some time and while Pennington deserves more credit for his play than he got in New York, Favre has filled a huge void for that franchise. Sometimes all a team needs is one piece. If the Jets make the playoffs this year, Favre won’t be the only reason but he would certainly have played a huge role.

I have to mention that all four of these teams have done well in the other categories, as well as the ones I specifically used them as examples in. The Dolphins and Falcons each have new head coaches that are turning out to be fantastic hires and Atlanta found a solid new GM in Dimitroff. The Ravens also look like they have found their quarterback of the future in Flacco and as previously mentioned, Parcells’ decision to sign Pennington looks like a smart one.

Granted, these aren’t the only keys for a team turning things around. I made no mention of defense or offensive line, which are two gigantic things that play into the success of a NFL franchise. But nevertheless, these four moves are critical and they have meant so much to the teams that are playing well again this season.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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