Realistic Expectations for Every NFL Offense with New Offensive Coordinator
More than a third of the National Football League’s teams are going into the 2014 season with new coaches calling the shots for their offenses. Eleven franchises brought in new offensive coordinators this offseason, while the Houston Texans, who opted not to hire an assistant coach to man that role, will have new head coach Bill O’Brien pulling double duty.
Those changes came for a variety of reasons.
As Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell became the head coach of the Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals coordinator Jay Gruden became the Washington Redskins’ head man and San Diego Chargers coordinator Ken Whisenhunt took over the Tennessee Titans’ top job, all six of those teams ended up with new offensive coordinators.
The Cleveland Browns, Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers also added new offensive coordinators in tandem with head coaching hires. The only offensive coordinator to truly be fired was Mike Sherman, who the Miami Dolphins replaced with Bill Lazor, while the retirement of Kevin Gilbride opened up the New York Giants to make a change to Ben McAdoo.
Not every team with a new offensive play-caller made the change for the same reason, but there is one expectation all 12 of them should have: for their offenses to improve upon their iterations of coordinators past.
Teams are listed in alphabetical order.
Baltimore Ravens (Gary Kubiak)
The Baltimore Ravens lost offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell when he became head coach of the Detroit Lions, but a change might have been in order nonetheless, as the Ravens ranked just 29th in total yards (307.4 per game) and points (20.0 per game) this past season.
Things went south in a hurry for Gary Kubiak’s offense last year when he was the coach of the Houston Texans, who ranked 31st in the NFL in points per game in 2013. That, however, had more to do with the decline of quarterback Matt Schaub than anything else. Houston’s offense ranked in the top 15 in total yards in all but Kubiak’s first year as coach, and in the top 15 in points per game in five of Kubiak’s first seven years as coach.
The Ravens will certainly hope that Kubiak, a former NFL quarterback himself, will be able to help Joe Flacco get back on track after a disappointing 2013 season. Flacco certainly showed the capability to be a great quarterback when he led Baltimore to a Super Bowl championship two seasons ago, but he was among the NFL’s worst passers this past year, throwing 22 interceptions with just 19 touchdowns while completing just 59 percent of his passes.
By adding veteran wide receiver Steve Smith and free-agent tight end Owen Daniels to a group of pass-catchers that also includes Torrey Smith, Dennis Pitta and Marlon Brown, the Ravens are providing Flacco with an improved group of targets that should help their passing offense become more efficient.
The bigger concern for Baltimore might be with its rushing offense, which Kubiak likely hopes will allow him to run a balanced attack that runs to set up the pass. The Ravens’ lead running back, Ray Rice, is coming off a down year in which he averaged just 3.1 yards per carry. Furthermore, Rice is expected to be suspended for “4-6 games, maybe even more,” according to Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post, following a domestic violence incident this offseason.
The Ravens offense might not have the tools to be a top-15 unit this year, but if Flacco can play up to his ability and Bernard Pierce proves to be a viable starter in Rice’s absence, Baltimore could become a more dynamic team with possession of the ball.
Cincinnati Bengals (Hue Jackson)
The Cincinnati Bengals had one of the NFL’s most prolific offenses in 2013, finishing the year ranked 10th in total yards (368.2 per game) and sixth in points (26.9 per game). So it came as no surprise when Jay Gruden, their offensive coordinator, was hired away to be the head coach of the Washington Redskins.
Although they will certainly be looking to build upon their success from last year—especially considering they weren’t so successful in scoring just 10 points against the San Diego Chargers in their wild card round playoff defeat—maintaining continuity should be the Bengals’ greatest objective in their coordinator transition.
That shouldn’t be too difficult to do, as Hue Jackson has already been on the Cincinnati staff for each of the last two years, and he served as the team’s running backs coach this past season.
Furthermore, the Bengals have retained virtually all of their key offensive players from last season. Although quarterback Andy Dalton ranks average-at-best as a starting quarterback, he still accounted for 4,293 yards and 33 touchdowns this past season, with no shortage of help from a talented group of offensive playmakers that includes wide receivers A.J. Green and Marvin Jones, tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard.
The Bengals weren’t great running the ball this past season—their 3.6 yards per carry tied for 27th in the NFL—but they should get a spark out of the backfield from the addition of LSU running back Jeremy Hill, a powerful bruiser between the tackles, with their second-round pick in this year’s draft.
If there is one thing Jackson must ensure improves this year, it’s Cincinnati’s ball security. The Bengals had 30 turnovers in 2013, the eighth-most in the NFL. Overall though, one should expect Cincinnati to continue to have one of the league’s best offenses, so long as Jackson adds some new tricks to the playbook and Dalton cuts down on his interception total (20 this past season).
Cleveland Browns (Kyle Shanahan)
The Cleveland Browns’ offense is certainly likely to look significantly different under new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan than it did under his predecessor Norv Turner, but the biggest change to the unit could come at the quarterback position.
In his six years as an offensive coordinator with the Houston Texans and Washington Redskins, Shanahan’s success has never been as noticeable as it was in 2012, when a Washington offense led by then-rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III and then-rookie running back Alfred Morris ranked fifth in the NFL in yards (383.2) and points (27.3).
That offense wasn’t as successful in 2013, as Griffin came back from a torn ACL and LCL in his right knee to end up having a disappointing sophomore season, but nonetheless, it’s clear what kind of success Shanahan can have when he has an athletic, dual-threat quarterback to run his system.
That’s what the Browns could have in Johnny Manziel, the No. 22 overall pick in this year’s draft out of Texas A&M. A mobile passer known for his ability to extend plays on the run and make something out of nothing, Manziel isn’t quite as speedy as RG3, but he would allow Shanahan to continue running an offense that heavily utilizes the read option and other plays outside the pocket.
Manziel, however, still has to beat out Brian Hoyer, who Browns head coach Mike Pettine has said is “securely ahead” of Manziel heading into training camp, according to Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer. Should the starting quarterback job go to Hoyer, a more traditional pocket passer who spent the first three years of his career learning behind Tom Brady in New England, Cleveland’s offense could more closely resemble the balanced, often-run-heavy attack Shanahan ran in Houston.
With Manziel taking the snaps, the Cleveland offense could certainly be much more difficult for opposing defenses to game plan for in 2014. But regardless of who the quarterback ends up being, the Browns also need the rest of their offense to step up.
Josh Gordon, who led the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards in 2013, is expected to be suspended for the entire 2014 season due to a failed drug test for marijuana, according to ESPN’s T.J. Quinn and Don Van Natta Jr. Should that be the case, the Browns will be reliant upon new additions like wide receivers Andrew Hawkins and Miles Austin and running back Ben Tate, to step up and make an immediate impact for the Cleveland offense to make any forward progress this year.
Detroit Lions (Joe Lombardi)
Coming off back-to-back losing seasons, the Detroit Lions have had plenty of issues in recent years, but gross offensive production has not been one of them. The Lions have ranked among the NFL’s top six in total offensive yards in each of the past three seasons.
The Lions had plenty of offensive success under then-offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, but the hiring of Joe Lombardi, under new head coach Jim Caldwell, should bring immediate innovation.
Lombardi spent the past five NFL seasons with another one of the league’s most prolific offensive teams, the New Orleans Saints, as their quarterback coach. In his five seasons with the team, the Saints never finished a season ranked lower than sixth in total yards and 11th in total points.
His job was made somewhat easy by the presence of Drew Brees, who has given the Saints one of the NFL’s best passers year in and year out.
Lombardi’s new quarterback pupil, Matthew Stafford, has also been a highly productive passer in recent years, at least in regards to yardage. A more erratic, inconsistent thrower than Brees, however, Stafford could benefit from the guidance of Lombardi, who can bring a new voice to the ear of a quarterback who has thrown at least 16 interceptions in each of the past three years.
With a Saints discipline at the helm, the Lions are likely to continue to be a pass-heavy offense. While Calvin Johnson will continue to be the team’s star downfield threat at wide receiver, Lombardi could look to utilize rookie tight end Eric Ebron in a similar fashion to New Orleans Saints star Jimmy Graham, while he will know how to take advantage of Reggie Bush’s skill set from his time working with Bush in the Big Easy.
The Lions offense is sure to have some new elements in place with a new coaching staff, but with plenty of talent on that side of the ball and a coordinator coming from a team that has been even more successful offensively, it’s likely that Detroit’s production will go nowhere but up.
Houston Texans (Bill O’Brien)
From his time leading the New England Patriots offense followed by his two years as the succeeding head coach to Joe Paterno at Penn State, Bill O’Brien has quickly become renowned as one of the nation’s top football coaches and, specifically, an offensive mastermind.
If there’s anyone who can help the Texans and their offense get back on track, that someone very well might be Bill O’Brien. That said, he has a great challenge ahead of him in 2014, and there’s reason to be concerned that the first-year NFL head coach might be biting off more than he can chew by also serving as the offensive coordinator.
Considering the decline of the Texans offense in 2013 came in large part because of a drop-off in quarterback play, a rejuvenation of the unit must also start with the signal-caller. There might not be reason for a great deal of confidence, however, in recently named starter Ryan Fitzpatrick being the answer.
An experienced passer with a solid arm, Fitzpatrick is a decent short-term option at the position, but his play hasn’t frequently led to offensive excellence. He has started at least eight games in each of the past six seasons, but none of the offenses he has led have finished better than 14th in either total yards or points scored.
The Texans have some solid pieces around Fitzpatrick, including running back Arian Foster and wide receivers Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins, but it will be key for O’Brien to find ways to maximize Fitzpatrick’s strengths and minimize his weaknesses, which include deep accuracy and decision-making.
It would be a surprise if the Texans offense doesn’t make some immediate strides and performs better than it did last year, but it’s ultimately tough to get excited about a Fitzpatrick-led group that also lost tight end Owen Daniels and running back Ben Tate, seemingly without upgrading over their departures.
By choosing to call Houston’s offensive plays in his first year, O’Brien is rolling the dice and giving himself a vote of confidence that will put a great deal of pressure on his shoulders for the team to perform with the ball in its possession. If the Texans offense fails to meet expectations, it’s likely that O’Brien might be forced to hire a separate offensive coordinator in 2014.
Miami Dolphins (Bill Lazor)
It isn’t hard to see why the Miami Dolphins fired Mike Sherman. They ranked outside the top 25 in both total yards and points scored in each of his two seasons as offensive coordinator.
The task of making that offense potent will fall upon Bill Lazor, who has never been an NFL offensive coordinator but has been a quarterbacks coach with the Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles.
Considering his background, Lazor’s most important task might be getting the most out of third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. While Tannehill has shown flashes of brilliance in his first two seasons, as Bleacher Report’s Cian Fahey recently demonstrated, the talented but inconsistent passer still has a ways to go in his development.
The most crucial step forward for the offense as a whole, however, is that the unit must have better pass protection up front. One of the biggest issues Tannehill dealt with in 2013 was an incompetent offensive line that allowed a league-high 58 sacks.
With four new starters in place for the upcoming season, including high-profile free agent signing Branden Albert at left tackle and first-round draft selection Ja’Wuan James at right tackle, Lazor needs to ensure that the Dolphins do a better job of keeping opposing pass-rushers in check.
All in all, there wasn’t much that went well for Miami’s offense in the Sherman era. The pieces are in place, however, for the Dolphins to have better production in 2014.
Tannehill should continue to develop, his blockers should be significantly better and offseason additions like free-agent running back Knowshon Moreno and rookie wide receiver Jarvis Landry should add sparks at the skill positions. Should the unit’s progression go according to plan, the Dolphins could realistically finish the season among the league’s top 20 in both points and yards.
Minnesota Vikings (Norv Turner)
Like the aforementioned Cleveland Browns, the biggest factor that could potentially improve the Minnesota Vikings offense in 2014 isn’t it’s new coordinator, but possibly a new quarterback.
The No. 32 overall pick in this year’s draft, Louisville product Teddy Bridgewater is an NFL-ready, mechanically sound pocket passer who is providing immediate competition for incumbent quarterbacks Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder. According to ESPN.com’s Ben Goessling, Cassel and Bridgewater took a majority of quarterback snaps in offseason workouts, but Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has said that all three passers will have a legitimate opportunity to win the starting job.
All three of those quarterbacks—especially Bridgewater as a rookie—should benefit from the addition of Norv Turner as an offensive coordinator. Known for his roles in developing Troy Aikman and Philip Rivers into star quarterbacks, Turner has an impressive history of grooming signal-callers to run his usually prolific offenses, which have often placed an emphasis on downfield passing.
With that being said, Turner’s offense might have a more balanced, even run-heavy look in 2014. Entering his 30th consecutive year on an NFL coaching staff, Turner certainly knows that his offense must play to its strengths, and there is no greater strength for the Minnesota offense than the talent of superstar running back Adrian Peterson.
The future of the Vikings offense is likely to be a Bridgewater-led air attack, but as the quarterback develops in 2014, Turner should focus on finding the most creative ways to get the ball in the hands of his best offensive playmakers, especially Peterson, but also dynamic young guns like wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and rookie running back Jerick McKinnon.
They’ll need quarterback stability to make it happen, but an offense led by Turner on the sidelines and Peterson and Patterson on the field should have a shot at doing great things. In his career as a head coach and offensive coordinator, Turner has had eight teams finish in the NFL’s top 10 in total yards and 10 finish in the top 10 in points scored, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.
New York Giants (Ben McAdoo)
It looks better to retire than to get fired, but had Kevin Gilbride not chosen the former, the New York Giants offensive coordinator likely would have gotten the latter. After the G-Men finished 28th in the NFL in both total yards and points scored this past season, it was time for New York to make a change at the position.
The man charged with breathing new life into that offense—an offense Giants owner John Mara described as “broken” at the end of last season, according to ESPN.com’s Matt Ehalt—is Ben McAdoo, who spent the past two years as the quarterbacks coach of the Green Bay Packers.
If the Giants offense is going to bounce back from a down year, it needs Eli Manning to play far better than he did last season, when he threw 27 interceptions and completed just 57.5 percent of his passing attempts. New York will have to hope that McAdoo, who’s been working with arguably the NFL’s best quarterback in Aaron Rodgers for two seasons, can get Manning back on track.
The Giants also need improved play from their offensive line, which remains an area of concern. While they added left guard Geoff Schwartz in free agency and drafted Weston Richburg with a second-round selection to potentially start at center, that still leaves them relying upon improved play from left tackle Will Beatty and health from right guard Chris Snee.
Formidability is also lacking in the Giants’ arsenal of skill-position players. While they added a spark of athleticism and big-play ability with the first-round selection of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., they lost a number of important players at the skill positions including wideout Hakeem Nicks, tight end Brandon Myers and running back Andre Brown.
McAdoo has said that the Giants’ “goal is to be a top-four offense,” in the words of Beatty, according to Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger, but a turnaround that impressive seems unrealistic for 2014. While it would be a surprise if Manning doesn’t play better this year, question marks all around him make it likely that the team will continue to have some problems offensively in McAdoo’s first season.
San Diego Chargers (Frank Reich)
Best known for filling in at quarterback and leading the Buffalo Bills to a 38-point comeback against the Houston Oilers in the 1992-93 NFL playoffs, Frank Reich is stepping into the coaching spotlight in 2014 as the San Diego Chargers’ offensive coordinator. The quarterbacks coach of the Chargers in 2013, he was promoted from within this offseason when coordinator Ken Whisenhunt was hired to become the Tennessee Titans head coach.
In his first season, Reich shouldn’t be looking to make any big changes. The Chargers, who are led by an offensive-minded head coach in Mike McCoy, ranked fifth in the league in total yards (393.3 per game) and 12th in points scored (24.8) this past season.
As Philip Rivers’ position coach last year, Reich helped the quarterback bounce back from a rough 2012 season and end up winning the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award. Reich should keep doing whatever he did to help Rivers last year, as the veteran quarterback silenced all doubts about his future with the team by having a career year in which he completed 69.5 percent of his passes for 4,478 yards and 32 touchdowns.
The rest of the offense comes with more reasons for doubt than Rivers, but there’s plenty of playmaking potential at the skill positions.
Keenan Allen should continue to be Rivers’ go-to target after the wide receiver caught 71 passes for eight touchdowns as a rookie in 2013. Antonio Gates remains a viable pass-catcher at tight end, while third-year tight end Ladarius Green also seems primed for a potential breakout season. Running back Ryan Mathews hasn’t always been able to stay healthy, but he had a strong campaign last year, running for 1,255 yards.
Considering how much went better than expected for the Chargers last season, especially in regards to Rivers, Allen and Mathews, it shouldn’t be a shock if the Bolts take a step back offensively in 2014. That, however, won’t ease the pressure on Reich to keep the Chargers offense in position to potentially be a top-five unit once again.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Jeff Tedford)
While most of the NFL’s new offensive coordinators came to their new teams from other jobs within the league, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers chose an assistant coach who has never before worked on an NFL sideline.
The former head coach of the University of California, Jeff Tedford brings an element of mystery to the Buccaneers offense. As explained by Andrew Astleford of Fox Sports Florida, it remains unknown what Tampa Bay plans to do with the ball in its possession in 2014.
Regardless of how his scheme looks on the field, Tedford must lead the Tampa Bay offense to immediate improvement, or he won’t last long in the NFL. The Buccaneers ranked dead last in the NFL with just 277 total offensive yards per game this past season and ranked 30th in the league with just 18 points per game.
That all starts with the quarterback position, where veteran Josh McCown is competing with second-year player Mike Glennon for the first-team job. McCown had a great run filling in for injured Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler this past season, completing 66.5 percent of his passes to throw 13 touchdowns and just one interception, but Glennon also showed promise in throwing for 2,608 yards, 19 touchdowns and only nine interceptions in 13 games.
The hope in Tampa Bay is that Tedford, whose collegiate quarterback pupils have included Super Bowl-winning signal-callers Aaron Rodgers and Trent Dilfer, can make the team’s passing offense better.
That passing offense should heavily emphasize the usage of big receiving targets. The Buccaneers drafted 6’5”, 231-pound wideout Mike Evans and 6’5”, 262-pound tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins this year, adding them to a receiving corps that was already highlighted by 6’5”, 230-pound receiver Vincent Jackson and 6’3”, 256-pound tight end Brandon Myers.
With a system that should feature capable blockers on the perimeter and many two-tight end formations, running the ball is also a likely priority for Tampa Bay this season. How much of a priority it becomes could be determined by how well Doug Martin can replicate his excellent rookie season after he missed the final 10 games of last year with a shoulder injury.
The Buccaneers have a tough hill to climb to improve upon their struggles last year, but their personnel looks significantly stronger with the additions of Evans, Seferian-Jenkins, Myers and left tackle Anthony Collins, along with the expected healthy return of Martin. If Tedford finds the right ways to put all the pieces together, the Tampa Bay offense could quickly become a very difficult one to defend.
Tennessee Titans (Jason Michael)
Brought from San Diego by new head coach Ken Whisenhunt to be the Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator, Jason Michael will be tasked with attempting to replicate the success of Whisenhunt’s offense with the Chargers this past season.
The toughest part of that effort projects to be at the quarterback position, where Jake Locker has had trouble staying healthy and hasn’t proven to be nearly as good of a passer as Philip Rivers when he is on the field. While the Chargers ranked fourth in the NFL with 4,328 passing yards in 2013, the Titans have been outside the top 20 in each of the past two years.
Another key to the Chargers’ success this past season, however, was how they ran the ball to set up passing plays. San Diego’s 544 passing attempts actually ranked just 22nd in the NFL last year, while their 486 rushing attempts were the sixth-most in the league.
That’s another area of uncertainty for the Titans offense, however, as it is expected to lean heavily upon second-round pick Bishop Sankey in his rookie year. Shonn Greene could also be a significant factor in Tennessee's rushing offense, but he rushed for just 295 yards in his first season with the team.
The offense Whisenhunt and Michael will bring to the table should be an effective one in principle, and it starts with a talent-loaded offensive line like the Titans have up front.
Ultimately, however, the Titans’ potential for offensive success relied upon the progression of Locker and the ability of Sankey to make an immediate impact. It’s more realistic that any significant spike in offensive production for the Titans will happen in 2015, when they’ll likely have moved on at the quarterback position and Sankey will have a year of experience under his belt.
Washington Redskins (Sean McVay)
After four years with the organization as a tight ends coach, Sean McVay was tabbed for promotion to offensive coordinator upon the Washington Redskins’ hiring of Jay Gruden to be their new head coach.
By hiring an offensive coordinator from within the team, it’s likely that Washington will continue to utilize the read-option and other outside-the-pocket plays that helped Robert Griffin III lead the Redskins to immediate success as a rookie quarterback in 2012. But after the Redskins offense dipped to finish last season ranked 23rd in points scored (20.9), they’ll be looking for a little more than continuity from McVay.
As a former offensive coordinator himself, Gruden will likely have a big influence on any changes the Redskins make to their offensive scheme. For both coaches, the most important step to the 2014 season will be building an offense that maximizes RG3’s playmaking ability and allows him to get back in the groove after a disappointing 2013 season.
From running back Alfred Morris and tight end Jordan Reed to wide receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, Washington has surrounded Griffin with plenty of playmakers. There’s no reason the Redskins offense, which has finished among the NFL’s top ten in total yards for two consecutive years, can’t continue to be one of the league’s most prolific units in 2014.
It’s unknown what exactly McVay brings to the table, as he is only 28 years old and has never been more than a position coach at any level, but he has experience working with Gruden from his time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008 and the United Football League’s Florida Tuskers in 2009.
If those two offensive minds can continue to work together effectively, and create a system that puts each of Washington’s playmakers in positions to make big plays, defenses will have a tough time slowing down the Redskins as long as Griffin is fully healthy and playing at his best.
All measurables and statistics courtesy of NFL.com unless otherwise noted.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.