CHARLOTTE – When head coach Ron Rivera took over as defensive play-caller for the final month of the 2018 season, there was a sense he would continue in that role into 2019.
That's indeed the case, as Rivera joins a growing group of head coaches who are calling plays full time.
The offensive gurus have generated a lot of attention, namely Sean McVay of the Rams, Andy Reid of the Chiefs and Sean Payton of the Saints. Those three orchestrated the top scoring offenses in the league this season. Also can't forget about Doug Pederson, who is the offensive play-caller for the reigning Super Bowl champion Eagles.
And Dan Quinn, head coach of the division rival Falcons, recently announced that he'll call defensive plays for Atlanta. Vic Fangio, newly hired head coach of the Broncos, will do the same for Denver. Both Quinn and Fangio, like Rivera, became head coaches after establishing themselves as top defensive minds.
"There is that trend. I get it – the reason we were hired is there are certain things we did," Rivera said Friday. "You have to stick to your specialty to give yourself the best chance."
Rivera said he "simplified" things for the defense when he took over, and the results were positive. The best example of that came in Week 15 when Carolina limited the Saints to 12 points on Monday Night Football.
"The things we had done in the past we were struggling with. I just simplified things and brought it back into our wheelhouse," Rivera said. "We'll study the previous season and see where we can improve – look at what we need to get rid of, look at what we need to adapt. We'll look at the trends and study the games more closely.
"This is a league of beg, borrow and steal. That's just the nature of the game."
Rivera again praised defensive coordinator Eric Washington, who was in his first year in that role. Washington, known for his expertise with the defensive line, is a valuable resource Rivera will be counting on during and in between series in 2019.
"My whole attitude is still making sure I'm training and helping Eric to grow," Rivera said. "He's a terrific coordinator in terms of mapping things out, and with a little more experience he can be a very good play-caller as well."