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2022 Coaching Analysis - Part 3

Green Bay Packers

Leadership: Matt LaFleur (HC/OC), Joe Barry (DC), Aaron Rodgers (QB)

These Packers concern me. I’ve been trashing them the past couple years and the club’s done nothing but prove me wrong. This year though…this year may be that year the team finally falls hard from grace. They’ve traded away their best weapon on offense, a move all the more foolish given he was responsible for roughly 40% of their production in the passing offense last year. On top of that, free agency stole away yet another favorite target of Aaron Rodgers - Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Arguably, the only proven weapons left on that team are Allen Lazard and Robert Tonyan. Maybe Randall Cobb and Sammy Watkins can develop into reliable outlets in the passing game, but it’s certain nobody on that roster can carry the air game quite like Davante Adams. In fact, no one player stands out in that receiving corps, so any success Green Bay enjoys in the air will need to come from Aaron Rodgers working his magic and LaFleur devising new concepts to throw off opponents.

But who the hell are we kidding? Nobody respectable actually believes in Matt LaFleur. LaFleur might be a decent head coach, but his game planning and strategizing is just pathetic. Nowhere was this more evident than Green Bay’s postseason losses. The Packers offense has consistently squandered away so many opportunities to advance far into the playoffs and contend meaningfully for a championship, something that’s all the more disappointing considering Aaron Rodgers has been playing at an MVP level the past two seasons. Against Tampa Bay and San Francisco’s capable defenses, too many drives stalled quickly. I’m assuming a lack of creativity makes this offense way too predictable. Normally, a lack of imagination isn’t necessarily a bad thing so long as the unit is brimming with talent, but that’s not the case with Green Bay’s offense. Any adjustments are negligible at best.

Furthermore, the defense doesn’t inspire me much at all. Joe Barry started out strong, but two games late in the season led me to question his aptitude. Against Baltimore, his refusal to corral Lamar Jackson in the pocket was almost criminal - the Ravens came so close to mounting a successful comeback precisely because Lamar was allowed to run free. The week after against the Browns, his defense gave up way too much ground to Cleveland’s running game - Cleveland’s tailbacks were chewing off 8 yards on average with each run. Had the Browns actually had a competent quarterback helming their offense, they’d have won the game easily.

If it isn’t clear enough already, I have very few expectations for this team. Somehow, this club manages to string together far more wins than people expect, but it matters little come January. Against teams with solid rosters and quality coaching, Green Bay falls apart. This season though, a postseason berth isn’t a slam dunk now that their roster no longer features players who were so critical to their success the past couple of years. A playoff invite is still a very real possibility, but let’s not be shocked should the Packers finally collapse under the weight of their hubris.


Cincinnati Bengals

Leadership: Zac Taylor (HC/OC), Lou Anarumo (DC), Joe Burrow (QB)

Cincinnati presents some championship promise here, especially if their attempts to remedy the offensive line bear fruit. Zac Taylor still remains a liability on offense due to his stubborn insistence on running an air raid offense without any regard for his personnel, but Joe Burrow and his skill players can overcome his poor planning with their talent. One would hope that Taylor would evolve into a better coach following another embarrassing Super Bowl loss, but that seems unlikely for a man who only clinched the division despite his best attempts to choke the game away against the visiting Chiefs.

In fact, it’s hard to admit this for someone who made so much money riding Burrow and his Bengals through the playoffs, but fortune was on their side for much of last year. It’s hard to see that happening again, given one of the grand rules of thumb in football is that things always regress toward the middle. But losing lady luck’s good graces might not matter much so long as Burrow and company elevate their level of play with help from the reformed offensive line.

Lou Anarumo in particular has cemented himself as an elite coach in my eyes. His masterful adjustments in the second half against Kansas City in the AFC conference finals was the critical reason the Bengals advanced to the Super Bowl. Let’s not also forget his unit’s impressive performance against the Rams in the championship, even though the game ended up being a losing effort for them. The Bengals defense never garnered a reputation for stopping the run, but Anarumo and his men managed to stonewall the Rams on virtually all their rushing attempts - Los Angeles was only able to generate 43 yards from 23 rushes. Incredibly impressive especially against a unit that commits so much effort to its ground game.

I see another good year in line for Cincinnati this year, so long as injury doesn’t cripple the more important players on this team.


Minnesota Vikings

Leadership: Kevin O’Connell (HC/OC), Ed Donatell (DC), Kirk Cousins (QB)

These Vikings are an interesting bunch. Parting ways with the old regime in charge after multiple seasons of disappointment, Minnesota decided it was in its best interests going with the latest trends and hiring younger blood. As a result, Kevin O’Connell is now the head coach as well as the architect of the offense.

Given O’Connell’s background and his selection of offensive coordinator, it’s clear the man isn’t looking to deviate much from the style of offensive football proselytized by his former colleague and mentor, Sean McVay. So expect the offense to run the vast majority of its plays from 11 personnel. Also, expect the playbook to mostly consist of crossing routes, outside zone runs, and play-action. Luckily, the Vikings have the players on offense to actually succeed, even if McVay’s philosophy has lost its creative panache. Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, and Adam Thielan can carry this offense through sheer talent alone. That being said, I do expect Cook to thrive under O’Connell, as outsize zone-running schemes cater well to his slash-and-dash style of running.

Ed Donatell is a man I don’t know much about. His coaching impact in Denver over the past three years is difficult to assess considering former head coach Vic Fangio ran things on the defensive side of the ball over there. It’s assumed Donatell will try to institute a variant of the Fangio defense in Minnesota. It won’t be easy feat considering many of the defensive veterans have been habituated to Zimmer’s scheme for the past several years. On top of that, Fangio’s style of defense is fruitful generally when the front lines of the unit boast defensive linemen who can effectively shut down the run. It’s unlikely that Minnesota has the horses along the trenches to stop opposing rushers - last year, the Vikings ranked among the worst when it came to run defense. The good news is that Minnesota will be starting two potentially elite edge rushers in Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith. If these two stay healthy together, the Vikings may be able to suffice with underwhelming production from its interior linemen.

So where do we stand here? Not too sure. Minnesota is a team that could start slow as Kevin O’Connell adjusts to his new life as head coach. It’s very possible the Vikings could be competing for a playoff berth in December though, and should the offense finally settle into a groove and the defense regresses from its lousy showing last year, Minnesota could surprise people in the postseason.


Seattle Seahawks

Leadership: Pete Carroll (HC/DC), Shane Waldron (OC), Geno Smith / Drew Lock (QB)

Seattle’s expected to be one of the worst teams in the league, thanks mostly to its woeful quarterbacking situation. Then again…Pete Carroll and John Schneider might feel differently considering Drew Lock was highly rated by both men when he came out in the draft.

It’s hard to gain any sort of beat on this team now that it’s rebuilding. Offensive coordinator Shane Waldron can’t really be judged by his results last year, especially given Russell Wilson refused to relinquish some of the reins he held over offense. One thing worth noting - things didn’t really change much in terms of EPA when Geno Smith had to relieve Wilson for three games as starter. Will things be different now that Waldron has assumed full control of the unit? Perhaps, especially now that Noah Fant’s presence gives Seattle yet another weapon on offense. Still…the more I think about it, the less confidence I have in the man improving. The whole Geno Smith

Defensively, things are muddy now that the organization released 3 of their best 4 pass rushers from last year. I’m not sure what Pete Carroll is planning here - Poona Ford and L.J. Collier have been failed experiments so far as pass rushers. Jamal Adams can cause some havoc in the backfield as a blitzing safety, but his production in that respect is capped, as a defensive backs can only raid the backfield so much. Darrell Taylor is the only player with any real upside there. So unless Taylor breaks out, the Seahawks will have one of the worst set of pass rushers in the league. That being said…one good thing is that Pete Carroll has brought Sean Desai into the fold as an advisor on defense. It’s a good move considering the cover-three base defense is on its way to obsolescence. Carroll would definitely benefit from incorporating some of Vic Fangio’s complex coverage concepts into his defense. The longer it takes for opposing quarterbacks to decipher the defense, the more it would help what is expected to be a lackluster pass rush.

Seattle isn’t expected to do much and I don’t really see things playing out any other way. You know, low expectations may help this team against opponents who play down to pathetic opponents, but don’t expect Carroll and his crew to pull out many wins this year as the team looks to rebuild from the Russell Wilson era.