The week 2 matchup between Buffalo and Carolina was, among other things, surprising. The total of 12 points scored, on 4 field goals (with no misses!), wasn’t likely to be predicted. Both teams looked a little sloppy, and both teams seemed to have all the answers.
The ties between these two teams are well documented. From the obvious: Sean McDermott left Carolina’s defensive coordinator position to coach the Bills, to the less obvious: the GMs working together from ’98 to ’12.
I had a few concerns in my head going into this game in regards to McDermott. The first was that he would be able to play well against the offense from an attack standpoint, and the second was that he would be able to help his offense attack former colleague Steve Wilks’ new defense. Depending on who you believe, he may have done both of those. The Bills’ defense got after Cam Newton repeatedly, sacking him six times, an increase from zero in week 1. McDermott had worked with (against) nearly the same offensive line last year, in the hands of the same coordinator, so he was most equipped to handle it. Add in Leonard Johnson, who had a close relationship with Newton, on that Buffalo defense and they may have something unique.
By that same token, the Panthers were plenty familiar with McDermott’s defense. And while his hands may not control the Bills’ defense, his mark is on it. Perhaps if the Panthers had performed better, they may have exploited it better. Perhaps McDermott and company had prepared for that adequately and made it a non-factor.
On the offensive side of the football, Buffalo has three players who were at least familiar with recent Carolina play calling. Mike Tolbert, Kaelin Clay, and Joe Webb are all transfers who could have conceivably helped the Buffalo defense prepare. While Carolina switched up its calls to prevent this, the familiarity is still there. Tolbert, who even worked with Rivera in San Diego, was the most vocal about the matchup, and thus spilled as many beans as possible. Unfortunately for Buffalo it didn’t help.
So, what’s the point? In the NFL, more than any other league, I think, the pedigree of a coach is important. Everyone touts the coordinators who work with Belichick, the quarterbacks coach who taught Manning, etc. As the apparent parity in the league is in a segment of dwindling, it might be the best opportunity to bring it back. If, eventually, 50% of the head coaches in this league have worked next to, say, Belichick, the chess match of a football game becomes that most exciting. Add in a few players switching sides and you’ve truly brought back the “any given Sunday” mentality. And while there is no proof that this familiarity between the Panthers and the Bills effected their matchup, it seems likely it played some part, if for nothing else than game plans. In the end, the league is better for it.