As much as we draft fantasy football players on their talent, the right context plays a significant role in their production as well. For example, if Jamaal Charles found himself in a 60/40 carry distribution, or was expected to be removed in goal-to-go situations we would view him much differently than we did last year. Beyond the obvious, play calling has a distribution. Similarly, if Charles worked with an 80/20 split on a team that was heavily tilted toward the pass, he may be less productive than that same 60/40 breakdown on a ground and pound offense. With that in mind, we’ll take a look around the league at all the faces in new places at head coach and offensive coordinator and what impact these 2014 NFL coaching changes is likely to have on a team’s offensive philosophy.
There is a lot to cover – 13 of the leagues 32 teams will have a new coach leading the offense this season. For the purposes of this piece, we’ll be looking at high level player analysis only with a focus more on the overall scheme expected to be employed – you’re free to draw your own conclusions, or stay tuned as the offseason progresses for player specific elements.
2014 NFL Coaching Changes: NFC
Dallas Cowboys – Offensive Coordinator, Scott Linehan (previously Detroit Lions Offensive Coordinator)
If you were a DeMarco Murray owner, or a Cowboys fan hoping for a clock-killing drive late in games last season, you probably already feel like the team passed too much. With Linehan calling the shots (amidst a muddled group of offensive minds that retains Bill Callahan and has Jason Garrett as its head coach) on offense, it seems that the Cowboys are destined to throw the ball more often.
Linehan has been a Head Coach or Offensive Coordinator for four different teams across 12 seasons in the NFL and his teams have finished in the top half of the league in pass attempts in each of them. Over the last five seasons as OC in Detroit the numbers are even more stark, with his teams finishing in the top six every season and twice leading the league. On the flip side, they’ve ranked in the top 20 in rush attempts just once (last year). While I don’t want to make any comparison’s between Dez Bryant (a freak athlete in his own right) and Calvin Johnson, Linehan’s willingness to use his top target in Detroit bodes well for Bryant this season.
Count on the Cowboys employing a vertical passing attack that makes the best use of its best weapon – if history is any indication you’ll see Bryant moving around the formation to exploit matchups and create confusion for opposing defenses. Noting the issues with workload, Linehan has still been able to engage his running backs through the air and on the ground and the presumed greater tilt toward the pass (Dallas’ defense won’t be getting any better this year, either, so expect some quiet second halves in terms of running the ball) won’t necessarily render DeMarco Murray an undesirable fantasy commodity.
Bear in mind that Bill Callahan remains employed by the Cowboys and this is still Head Coach Jason Garrett’s scheme so the changes may not be sweeping, but this offense will certainly bear Linehan’s mark.
Detroit Lions – Head Coach, Jim Caldwell (previously Baltimore Ravens Offensive Coordinator); Offensive Coordinator, Joe Lombardi (previously New Orleans Saints Quarterbacks Coach)
Caldwell comes to the Lions with a clear mandate: get the most out of Matthew Stafford. Given his history with the position he is generally seen as a better man to do so than was Jim Schwartz. For his part, Caldwell understands his mandate. He arrived at his interview having watched all of Stafford’s snaps in 2013 with a detailed plan on how to correct his mechanical issues.
Again, he’s done well with the Quarterbacks he has worked with but we should not this his presence doesn’t always guarantee an improvement in the player’s fantasy output. After a productive end to 2012 with his elevation to the job, the entire Baltimore offense took a step back last season. Part of that has to do with the challenges in the run game and with pass protection, but the team finished 18th in passing yards and 25th in touchdowns despite having the 8th most pass attempts league-wide.
Flacco had career lows (highs) in yards/attempt, quarterback rating and interceptions while regressing year-over-year in most major statistical categories. Again, Caldwell’s offenses have performed well – finishing in the top 10 in yards in three of his five seasons – but there is no guarantee that his quarterback whispering will pay immediate dividends for Detroit (the presence of a retooled offense may have that affect on its own, mind you).
Stafford will actually spend the season working with two coaches familiar with the league’s elite Quarterbacks as Offensive Coordinator and play caller Joe Lombardi arrives by way of New Orleans where he served as Drew Brees‘ Quarterbacks Coach. Much has been said about Lombardi’s role in the development of Jimmy Graham into one most dynamic weapons in the game, and the impact that this may have on rookie Eric Ebron’s development. As noted above with departed Lions’ OC Scott Linehan, Lombardi’s use of Ebron this year will have more benefit to the offense as a whole in terms of its creation of mismatches for Matthew Stafford to take advantage of than it may for the TE himself in terms of fantasy relevance.
Lombardi knows his experience in New Orleans is what got him the job, and he isn’t shy about it:
“There will be a lot of similarities (to the Saints‘ playbook),” the former New Orleans quarterbacks coach told assembled media earlier this offseason (per NFL.com). “You are going to see some difference, but the playbook that we are starting from is the Saints‘ playbook, so it will certainly be very similar.”
With that being the case, what you’ll see is a versatile offense with certain West Coast elements (i.e. short, efficient passes and using the running backs in the passing game as an attempt to open up the run game itself) and elements of an Air Coryell attack as well. Detroit is well suited to employ the vertical passing game, and the point of New Orleans’ attack is to make opponents defend the entire field. On the note of running backs, again, they’ll be deployed in a variety of sets as part of an overall offense that preaches flexibility and different personnel groupings.
Reggie Bush is familiar with the New Orleans offense of course, and he made some significant real-world contributions for the team in his first five years though he didn’t finish better than the 24th best fantasy asset at his position in any season but his first while in New Orleans. More of the same could be in the offing for Bush this season given the development of Joique Bell last year and talk of a workload split that is befitting of the new offensive philosophy in Detroit. All of that is great news for Stafford’s fantasy value but perhaps not so for the back himself.
Minnesota Vikings – Head Coach, Mike Zimmer (previously Cincinnati Bengals Defensive Coordinator); Offensive Coordinator, Norv Turner (previously Cleveland Browns Offensive Coordinator)
Regarded as one of the finer coordinators in the game, Zimmer now gets his first shot to direct the coaching operations of a franchise. He’ll have very little to do with the offense though, and has brought in an established coach in his own right, Norv Turner. Turner did a great job in Cleveland last season after being discarded as Head Coach of the Chargers, getting the most out of a passing game that featured three different Quarterbacks and a run game that operated with a dearth of talent at the tailback position. Unlike the New Orleans offense, Turner’s approach is unabashedly Air Coryell in its style and features the vertical passing game with power run and play action elements. Blessed with one of the premier rushers in the game, power running should not be a concern. Uncertainty at Quarterback though, may leave him without an important tool in his chest. On the note of Peterson, he should be expected to trade a few carries for receptions and while I’m not sure that suits his style as well as it would some others, he’ll have no threat to his work load this season as the team attempts to get him the ball more in space.
Those needing confirmation that Turner’s offense will put less of an emphasis on short, high percentage throws need look no further than Philip Rivers‘ numbers in 2013. He completed 69.5% of his passes in his first year under Ken Whisenhunt (and Mike McCoy) which was a career high by more than four points after working with Turner throughout all but one of his years as a starter. Looking at it another way, 62% of Rivers’ pass attempts were between 0 and 10 yards last season compared to 58 in 2012. That doesn’t bode well for the fantasy value of a rookie who will be prone to mistakes in his first season (Teddy Bridgewater), or a veteran who hasn’t shown an ability to avoid them either (Matt Cassel or, shudder, Christian Ponder) but it doesn’t necessarily mean bad things for the offense as a hole. Cordarelle Patterson has shown breakaway speed and should have no trouble getting open down field and the offense will no doubt find creative ways to get him the ball in space.
A final note: recall that we spent a great deal of time leading up to the 2013 season talking about Turner’s history working with Tight Ends and oversaw a career year from Browns’ TE Jordan Cameron. He made huge leaps under Turner – from 28 receptions and 258 yards in his career to 80 grabs (one of just three TEs to hit that milestone) and 917 yards with seven scores. Don’t expect the same output from Kyle Rudolph by default, but some progression can be anticipated.
New York Giants – Offensive Coordinator, Ben McAdoo (previously Green Bay Packers Quarterbacks Coach)
Eli Manning has worked within one offensive system through his entire career, most of it spent with Kevin Gilbride. In 2014, that will change. Ben McAdoo arrives in New York with intentions to employ a decidedly West Coast scheme. You’ll see a lot of timing routes and quick drops – ideal for playing behind an offensive line that doesn’t look to be much improved over 2013. With that scheme should come a quick, chain moving, up tempo offense that should run more plays than New York has in years past.
Over the last two seasons, the Giants have finished 19th or worse in both rush and pass attempts. More plays mean more opportunities for skill position players, which should be good news all around. I’m expecting Reuben Randle, who has reportedly shown growth this offseason, to be on the field in most two receiver sets leaving Odell Beckham Jr. to WR3 duties (if he can factor in ahead of Jerrel Jernigan). The good news for those hoping to see a lot of Beckham this season, Pro Football Focus reports that we’ll see a lot of three wide receiver sets:
While McAdoo has installed a multiple offense, so far his OTA practices have featured three wide receivers on almost every play. In a “spread out” offense, as described by the beat writers, it will be interesting to see if his offense features the same three wide receivers or if there is a rotation behind Victor Cruz between Rueben Randle, Jerrel Jernigan, and Odell Beckham Jr.
Bleacher Report backs up the notion by sharing that Green Bay employed three wide receiver sets on 33.5% of their offensive plays last season compared to just 22.8% for New York. With David Wilson‘s status uncertain and Andre Williams unlikely to challenge for the starting role, Rashad Jennings could see a lot of work for New York. The early expectation is for him to be employed on a variety of run routes aimed at stretching the defense and to be engaged in the screen game. He has worked well as a receiver before, posting a yards per reception above eight in each of the seasons in which he has had 20 or more catches.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Head Coach, Lovie Smith (previously Chicago Bears Head Coach); Offensive Coordinator, Jeff Tedford (previously California Head Coach)
A fact not often heard when referring to a College coach, Jeff Tedford arrives as Offensive Coordinator in Tampa Bay with an offensive system that his past QBs have reportedly found to be complex. That fact seems to benefit Josh McCown, a long time NFL vet over second year pro Mike Glennon in terms of preparedness for Week 1.
Tedford’s NFL offense is an unknown at this point, but the complexity noted above also means that Quarterbacks who understand the system have their options laid out clearly for them heading into a play. McCown thrived in Marc Trestman’s similar, detail oriented offense last season. In terms of the ground game, he has a track record of making use of two or more backs rather than involving a true feature back. That remains consistent with sentiments expressed by Tedford and defensive minded Head Coach Lovie Smith this offseason. Smith’s use of talented Running Back Matt Forte seems to back this up. Forte dominated the tailback workload in his rookie season, but never finished with more than 135 carries above that of the back up running back from 2010-2012. Last year, after Smith’s departure Forte trumped Michael Bush by 226 carries and 296 touches as one of the highest workload backs in the game. Anticipate a committee in some form in Tampa, though Doug Martin is very likely to lead the charge.
Some personnel shifts along the offensive line seem to indicate the potential for a zone blocking scheme to be implemented, as well as the primacy of the pass over the run in general. Expect the team to focus on athleticism and getting players to work in space. While Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans seem more well suited to winning battles with size, the notion of creativity and moving players around in terms of where they line up bodes well in terms of presenting mismatches for one of the larger WR duos in the game.
Washington – Head Coach, Jay Gruden (previously Cincinnati Bengals Offensive Coordinator); Offensive Coordinator, Sean McVay (previously Washington Tight Ends Coach)
The man with the hottest seat in the NFL at the end of last season was quickly replaced with the hottest name on the coaching candidacy list in Jay Gruden. The younger Gruden brings with him a reputation for developing Quarterbacks. Able to get the most out of an offense in Cincinnati led by Andy Dalton who many view (fairly or not) as an average NFL talent at best. He’ll be tasked with getting Robert Griffin III back on track, after a tough year in terms of his relationships with the coaching staff and his production on the field. Sean McVay remains, taking over duties as Offensive Coordinator, and he should fit right in as Gruden is expected to implement a scheme grounded in West Coast principles.
He’s not entirely devoted to short passes mind you, his willingness to call the deep ball fits the personnel Washington has available, with DeSean Jackson having the jets to get open downfield, if not the jump ball ability of A.J. Green. Robert Griffin III should have opportunities to go deep off play action passes. Interestingly, Gruden’s QB friendly West Coast scheme calls for quick drops and timing passes more often than not suggesting that he may do less running (as fewer plays will break down, in theory, causing fewer improvised runs/scrambles). With the elder Shanahan one of the foremost pioneers of the zone blocking scheme and his son Kyle adept in its principles also, the approach reigned supreme in Washington during their tenure. This worked well for Alfred Morris as plug and play late round draft choice, something that Shanhan has been famous for. Gruden will use a zone blocking scheme as well, but likes to pound the ball inside more than Washington has in recent years. As a result, we could see fewer opportunities for Alfred Morris relative to Roy Helu Jr.
Indeed, Gruden likes to involve multiple running backs in a thunder/lightning approach, though sources close to the team seem to think his workload will be just fine. While Morris is more of a ‘Green-Ellis’ than a ‘Bernard’ type back, and no true Bernard style back exists on Washington’s roster, his dedication to BenJarvus Green-Ellis last season despite a dismal campaign (awarding the veteran 220 carries despite a 3.4 YPC average) suggests to me that you’ll see a more balanced distribution of workload in Washington than you have in years past. For his part, Gruden describes his own offense simply:
“We have a base philosophy on offense: Trying to get everybody involved, short passing game, receivers doing a lot of the work after the catch, the good hard, play-action, taking some shots down the field, being very diverse in what we do.”
That’s it for the NFC edition of 2014 NFL coaching changes, with our AFC edition available here.
Questions, comments, concerns? Did you even read the full 4000 words to get this far? Let us know in the comments below and stay tuned for specific player/system analysis as we move into the season.