So for the first time in Owl Blog history, I’ll be assessing coaches primarily when evaluating teams. By tracking these coaches, their core competencies, and their overall level of success, I feel I can better predict the outcome of games. After all, terrible coaches tend to lose more while good coaches win more and end up leaving some sort of subtle impression on the game of football.
Los Angeles Rams
Leaders: Sean McVay (HC/OC), Raheem Morris (DC), Matthew Stafford (QB)
The Rams have solid management. McVay’s offensive coaching could use some work, especially given the pathetic showing by the Rams offense in the Super Bowl. On top of that, his playbook has been criticized as being too simple, a weakness which is all too easily exposed against the league’s better defensive minds. Still, the play-action and the outside zone runs still hit gold against lesser coaches and teams.
Still, Raheem Morris coming into the organization last year and successfully running Brandon Staley’s style of defense was remarkable, considering it’s a philosophy that was (more or less) forced upon him as a prerequisite for taking the coordinator job. That defensive line was far more productive too. Not only was Aaron Donald playing some of the best football of his career, but the team also found a complementary piece in Von Miller. Without Von Miller as the book-end rusher working in tandem with Donald, it remains to be seen whether the Rams could have won the Super Bowl. Credit to Raheem Morris though for finding ways to pull even more production from these men. It was the defense that ultimately carried the club to the Super Bowl.
Matthew Stafford’s arrival also worked some wonders when it came to the team overcoming adverse momentum. Under Jared Goff, McVay and his men weren’t that successful navigating against negative game script. For the Rams to win, it would almost always take them require them to hold the lead by the start of the fourth quarter. That changed considerably under Stafford in 2021, as the Rams were able to mount a total of 4 noteworthy comebacks, 3 more than the total number of comebacks they were able to wager in 2019 and 2020 combined.
Nothing substantial has changed in the offseason, so expect the Rams to be one of the better franchises in the league in terms of management.
Leaders: Sean McDermott (HC/DC), Ken Dorsey (OC), Josh Allen (QB)
So Buffalo promoted an assistant coach to offensive coordinator after Brian Daboll left in the offseason to become the head coach of the New York Giants. Ken Dorsey isn’t really expected to change the structure of the offense much, especially given the way Josh Allen was able to blossom over the past couple years in Daboll’s system. That being said…last season was a little strange for the Bills offense - Josh Allen and the rest of the unit disappointed relative to expectations. Until late in the season, their performance on the field missed that crisp quality that defined them the season before. It wasn’t until their game against the Buccaneers that the offense began developing some rhythm. Come wild card weekend, Buffalo’s offense finally hit their stride, embarrassing the Patriots in a laugher.
Part of the problem with the Bills was their offensive protection. Allen’s tendency to hold steady while a big play develops didn’t serve him kindly when his offensive line struggled to ward off pass rushers. All the more strange too considering Daboll comes from the Patriot school of offensive football, which emphasizes shorter passes towards the middle of the field - Allen seemed to prefer heaving the ball to the receivers running deeper routes downfield. Then again, Daboll seems to call quite a few spear plays, and those types of plays tend to be a hallmark of a coach who favors longer passes.
What ultimately worked for Buffalo last year was that Allen adjusted to the pressure. While it wasn’t a complete transformation, Buffalo’s young quarterback seemed more willing to settle for shorter passes towards the end of the season. Those short throws worked wonders against defenses conditioned into thinking Buffalo would never compromise on its love of the deep ball.
Defensively, McDermott is expected to field another stellar defense, though their pass rush will once again be called into question. No one player on that defense really broke out as a marquis pass rusher. The hope this season is that their first round draft pick from last year Gregory Rousseau would finally emerge as a premiere edge player, with Von Miller on the other side of the defensive line helping him in a complementary role.
One thing worth mentioning - Buffalo did not stage a single comeback last year. In fact, they’ve choked up three fourth-quarter leads. do blame the coaching here, in part because McDermott was exceptionally horrific in his management of game clock. Things are probably going to be a bit different this season so long as Allen doesn’t regress into old form.
Leaders: Mike McCarthy (HC), Kellen Moore (OC), Dan Quinn (DC), Dak Prescott (QB)
The Cowboys underwhelmed relative to expectations in the postseason last year, exiting all too early in the wild-card round despite being seen as dark horse contenders for the Super Bowl. Why? I’m not too sure. When analyzing their offensive and defensive EPA over the season, one thing that comes to mind is that non-division rivals actually fared pretty well against them in the second half of the season. The only non-division teams they managed to thrash were a Saints team led by Taysom Hill and an Atlanta team that Dan Quinn held a grudge against.
Speaking of which, kudos to Quinn for adopting a new style of defense, even if it may have become a tad bit simple towards the tail end of the season. Simplicity of scheme is fine so long as the defense is loaded with stallions, and the Cowboys boasted one of the better defensive rosters last year.
Kudos to Kellen Moore too for tailoring his game plans according to situation. That road win against Minnesota last year was a master class in game planning, considering the Cowboys were forced to start a fourth-stringer at quarterback. Same with the game against the Buccaneers, when Moore willfully abandoned the ground game in order to try and maximize offensive production against a Tampa defense known for neutralizing opposing rushers. Questions remain about whether he can adjust his strategies successfully mid-game, but his pre-game planning is something to be admired.
Sadly, I expect good things from Dallas this year, simply going by the strength of their coaching and the fact that they boast the best quarterback in their division. That being said, that postseason loss still concerns me. It isn’t so much the upset factor as it is the way Dallas lost that game. Analyzing the box score along, it seems penalties and a lack of a rushing game doomed them. But when I dig deeper into their skill player production over the season…I think the real reason was simply the lack of legitimate playmakers on offense. Ezekiel Elliott wasn’t effective, no matter how many times they rode him into the dirt over the season. Amari Cooper just wasn’t on the same page as Dak, which is all the more evident now that the front office flipped him over to the Browns in a trade. CeeDee Lamb was the only worrisome threat, but with precious few exceptions, no one man can carry an offense all by himself. Without anybody else to compliment Lamb, it was all too easy for good defensive coordinators to neutralize Dallas’ offense.
Will that happen against this year? Possibly. But we’ll assess that as the season waxes on.
Leaders: Ron Rivera (HC), Scott Turner (OC), Jack Del Rio (DC), Carson Wentz / Taylor Heinecke (QB)
Dan Snyder is a sad sad man. But this profile isn’t about him. It’s about the poor men serving under his leadership.
Washington underwhelmed relative to expectations. Not only could Taylor Heinecke establish himself as the franchise quarterback for the foreseeable future, but even the defense took a step back. The organization (arguably) boasted the best pass rushers in 2020, but those players regressed pretty badly in 2021, partly thanks to injury.
So what’s the prognosis like this season? I don’t expect much to change. None of these coaches really impressed me. Ron Rivera’s tendency to take on risk produced middling results. Normally, that type of attitude is crucial toward mounting comebacks and maintaining leads, but the team still choked away three leads last year, two of them against Philadelphia. On top of that, Carson Wentz is a liability. The best-laid plans of mice and offensive coordinators go to hell so long as he’s helming the offense - his inclination for hero ball backfires way too much. The fact that the owner of the Colts denounced him as harshly as he did is testament enough to Wentz’s ineptitude.
If Wentz actually proves to be a downgrade from Heinecke, let’s not expect much change from this Washington squad. If anything, they may struggle to even notch more than five wins if Wentz continues to bungle games as only he can. On top of that, it’s clear the other coaches in the division have some sort of read over on Washington, if the second half of last season was any indication.