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Figuring out which coaching candidates will be success stories is as tricky as it comes in the NFL. Once upon a time, some writers criticized the Patriots for hiring Bill Belichick. Others wrote that the Adam Gase hire in New York was brilliant. The Minnesota Vikings once ignored their long-proven offensive coordinator Jerry Burns to hire the worst coach in team history Les Steckel. Sometimes mistakes are made.

But one thing that Vikings owner Mark Wilf mentioned in his press conference to discuss the firing of Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman was that teams have more information than ever available to them when it comes to coaching candidates. So what can the numbers tell us about the coaches that the Vikings reportedly have interest in interviewing or have interviewed already?

Let’s have a look…

Former Eagles HC Doug Pederson

Key stat: Ranked in the top 12 in point differential four of five years in Philly and had a top 10 pass blocking O-line every year except 2020

The toughest thing to figure out with Doug Pederson is whether he was a one-year wonder with the Eagles. The 2017 team stands far and away above the rest of his seasons statistically. In the Eagles’ run to the Super Bowl, Philadelphia had the third best scoring offense and fourth best defense in terms of points allowed. Being good at everything is — hot take alert — generally a good recipe for winning. But Pederson’s club wasn’t able to repeat their 2017 stats the following two years.

The Eagles didn’t fall off the side of a cliff on either side of the ball in the subsequent years, finishing with winning records and the 12th and 11th best point differentials in 2018 and 2019 despite a declining roster and quarterback.

A major part of their effectiveness came from the construction of the offensive line, which scored as high as third by PFF grade in 2019. That’s enough to make Vikings fans jealous. The Eagles lost much of their receiving corps to injury in ‘19 and worked around the issue in part with screens. Carson Wentz threw for the fifth most screen yards and ranked ninth in screen yards per attempt despite opponents having no fear of their deep passing game. That gives us a hint about the ability to adapt to the talent on the field, even if finishing in the middle in back-to-back seasons strikes a little close to home for folks in Minnesota.

From a game-management perspective, Pederson’s aggressiveness won’t ring too many bells. His fourth down decision making in 2017 was considered a game-changing moment toward the rest of the league following suit.

Here is a snippet from a piece in Forbes interviewing a former Eagles analytics analyst Ryan Paganetti about his work with Pederson:

According to a study done by Football Outsiders, an analytics community favorite, Pederson was the most aggressive head coach in NFL history during his time in Philadelphia. The Eagles ranked either first or second in the league in fourth-down attempts all five years under Pederson. The Eagles also led the league in two-point conversion attempts in both 2017 and 2020.

“I think that was a good example of Doug’s receptiveness. Ultimately, it was going to be his decision ... but he wanted to know the information and be able to digest the information and make the best decision for the football team,” Paganetti said.

Putting together competitive offenses that were driven by the offensive line and following the numbers with game-management decisions doesn’t guarantee that Pederson’s next stop will be as successful as his first. His final season featured QB struggles and drama at the end. But the Vikings will aim to improve in those areas post-Zimmer while possibly building around a young quarterback as the Eagles did in the early years with Wentz.

Cowboys OC Kellen Moore

Key stat: Offense ranked No. 1 in yards, No. 1 in points, fourth in net yards per pass attempt. Ranked No. 1 in yards both years with Dak Prescott healthy

Kellen Moore couldn’t have ended his season much worse. Not only were the Cowboys held to 17 points by the San Francisco 49ers but the team’s final play turned out to be a bizarre QB run that allowed time to expire. Aside from that horrendous ending to Dallas’ season, Moore’s offenses have been incredibly efficient and productive. Since 2019, Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers are the only quarterbacks with a higher adjusted net yards per pass attempt than Dak Prescott and he ranks No. 1 in passing yards per game.

Over the last three seasons, Dallas is fourth in total points despite missing Prescott for the majority of 2020 and they are third in yards per offensive play.

There’s reason to wonder if Moore needs experience, however. There’s a difference between dropping 50 on the Eagles, who weren’t playing their starters, and game planning against a team with a terrific pass rush like the 49ers. An article in The Athletic pointed toward Moore in the all-around collapse.

“The way this offense skidded at the end is unacceptable,” Dallas analyst Bob Sturm wrote. “The Cowboys had the season right where they wanted it, but the offensive line, passing game, running game and coaching staff all joined together in their collapse.”

Green Bay Packers OC Nate Hackett

Key stat: Produced a top-five scoring offense with Blake Bortles at QB. Rodgers play-action passer rating 137.2 in 2020 (1st), 118.3 in 2021 (2nd)

Is it better to get the most out of a bad quarterback or maximize an elite quarterback? Well, Nate Hackett has been on teams that have done both. He was dialing up the 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars offense when they went to the AFC Championship game and came a few plays away from the Super Bowl. He’s also been the right-hand man to Matt LaFleur for the resurgence of Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay.

While Rodgers could make a ham sandwich into an NFC North champion coach, his numbers from 2015 to 2018 under Mike McCarthy were closer to good than great. He averaged 7.1 yards per attempt and completed 63.2% of throws from ‘15-’18. In the last three years, those numbers have shot up to 67.1% and 7.6 YPA, in part because LaFleur’s offense gave him better play-action opportunities.

In 2018, the Packers used play-action on just 20% of plays and Rodgers only had a 95.1 rating. He’s been over 25% the last two years and has been the best of the best play-action QBs in the NFL in his stretch under LaFleur/Hackett.

Quarterbacks in general are thriving with the help of good play-action schemes as 20 QBs had over a 100 rating when using play-action this year. Does that guarantee Hackett as a great head coach? No. But it is a good sign of understanding what’s working across the board in the NFL.

It would seem LaFleur isn’t considered up there with the McVays and Shanahans only because his QB is more talented. His offense has many of the same elements of marrying the run and pass game together with play-actions and motions. Presumably Hackett would bring those schemes to Minnesota with him should he become the next head coach.

Cowboys DC Dan Quinn

Key stat: No. 1 defense in takeaways (never ranked higher than 16th in Atlanta)

The Dallas Cowboys’ defense was a big part of the team’s NFC East title and 12-5 record. They ranked No. 3 in the NFL in Expected Points Added* on the defensive side and allowed a remarkable 76.6 quarterback rating against. Basically they turned opposing QBs into Blaine Gabbert.

*Expected Points Added calculates a team’s performance versus situation i.e. where the ball is on the field and down-and-distance*

The question is how much credit to give Quinn. The Cowboys were a turnover machine with Trevon Diggs leading the NFL in picks but on a play-to-play basis, they were just OK. They allowed 7.1 yards per pass attempt, which ranked 20th and finished 19th in yards allowed. On the ground, the Cowboys ranked 23rd in yards per rush allowed.

The per-play results are more reflective of Quinn’s previous defenses, which only ranked in the top 10 in points and yards allowed once during his seven years in Atlanta.

Running an organization as a head coach is far more complex than someone’s yardage totals allowed, so the Vikings may appreciate Quinn’s demeanor and ability to connect with players. He led the Falcons to a Super Bowl appearance, after all. However, if his name is on the map because of Dallas’ defensive showing, it might be a very hard thing to repeat elsewhere.

Buccaneers DC Todd Bowles

Key stat: Ranked in top 10 defense six of 11 seasons. No. 2 ranked coverage team by PFF despite numerous injuries in secondary

Johnny Cash would be proud of the number of places Bowles journey as a coach — he’s been everywhere, man — but in each stop, his defenses have had some success. In 2011, Bowles’ Miami defense ranked sixth in points and then in Arizona they were seventh and fifth in 2013 and 2014, respectively. The Jets finished ninth in Bowles’ first year as a head coach and then they’ve been top 10 twice with Tampa Bay.

Tom Brady is certainly the reason the Bucs have been a Super Bowl favorite each of the last two years but the contributions of Tampa Bay’s defense shouldn’t be ignored. This year the Bucs were hit with a rash of injuries in the secondary, which is usually crushing for a defense, but they still finished fourth in net yards per pass attempt allowed. None of this is even to mention the Bucs’ incredible defensive game plan deployed to win the Super Bowl against Kansas City.

Bowles has Mike Zimmer vibes from the perspective of long-proven defensive success. His teams haven’t always been elite but he’s shown the capability to maximize a talented bunch when the roster is strong. The question for the Vikings is whether that’s a major priority in their next head coach.

49ers DC DeMeco Ryans

Key stat: No. 4 ranked PFF pass rushing defense, 25th in QB rating allowed

Nobody that the Vikings reportedly have on their interview list had a better weekend than DeMeco Ryans. The 37-year-old former linebacker followed in the footsteps of Robert Salah by putting together a phenomenal playoff game plan against the No. 1 Cowboys offense, holding them to just 17 points. Over his first season as a DC, Ryans’ team ended ninth in points allowed and third in yards given up.

They were far from perfect though, ranking 20th in Expected Points Added allowed against the pass.

Ryans is a quick riser in the coaching ranks but having only one season under his belt as a coordinator makes it difficult to pinpoint small sample sizes versus trends.

Rams OC Kevin O'Connell

Key stat: No. 3 EPA passing offense with 11th ranked PFF graded QB

Ah, the great coach-hiring conundrum: How much credit to give a McVay coordinator? The Rams ranked second in net yards per pass attempt this year with Matthew Stafford under center and finished with the seventh best point total in the NFL. Similar to Hackett, his team produced very good numbers when using play-action (Stafford had the eighth highest rating with play-action) and the offense ended the regular season third in passing Expected Points Added.

All of those things speak well of the Rams’ offensive design considering Stafford individually graded by PFF as being closer to mid-pack than elite.

O’Connell doesn’t have much history to fall back on when trying to doll out credit. He was Washington’s OC in 2019 when they went 3-13 behind the QB combo of Case Keenum, Dwayne Haskins and Colt McCoy, and a QB coach in Washington and Cleveland before that.

One thing we do know is that the McVay style philosophy has been successful around the league. Whether that means O’Connell is ready to be a head coach is tough to figure.

Eagles DC Jonathan Gannon

Key stat: 21st in passing EPA allowed

The Eagles did not have a good defense. They were 18th in points allowed and didn’t crack the top 10 in any passing defense category, from net yards per attempt (14th) to QB rating allowed (23rd) to sacks (31st).

As a first-year DC, Gannon was gifted a very favorable schedule, playing a stretch of Denver, New Orleans, Giants, Jets, Football Team, Giants, Football Team during the latter part of the season.

In the playoffs, his defense was clobbered by Brady’s Bucs. It’s puzzling why Gannon is getting attention for head coaching jobs based on his team’s mediocre performance.

Los Angeles Rams DC Raheem Morris

Key stat: No. 1 offense in the NFL with Atlanta in 2016, top 10 EPA defense with Rams this year

At the ripe old age of 45, Raheem Morris has put together a remarkable resume. He began in the NFL at 26 working defensive quality control and then went from a defensive backs coach to head coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs to a secondary coach in Washington and then switched to the other side of the ball, acting as Atlanta’s assistant head coach/passing game coordinator/receivers coach. In 2021, he was Atlanta’s DC and interim head coach after Dan Quinn was fired. He’s running the Rams’ defense this year.

During Morris’ time, the Falcons finished top 10 in passing yards and top 10 in net yards per pass attempt in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

The Rams’ defense did not repeat its No. 1 performance of 2020 with Morris calling the shots but they didn’t fall off the map either. Aside from ranking top 10 in EPA, they graded No. 1 by PFF in overall defense. It doesn’t hurt that they have two of the NFL’s best players in Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey.

The All-Pro corner has been campaigning for Morris.

Putting a finger on Morris’ impact statistically is trickier than some other coaches who have long-established schemes on one side of the ball but he has been at the center of successful offenses and defenses, making him an intriguing candidate.

Still to come?

The Vikings haven’t reportedly interviewed the following candidates but they could be on the list in the coming week…

Buffalo OC Brian Daboll

Key stat: Ranked 2nd and 3rd in points scored over the last two years, Josh Allen completion percentage rose from 56.3% to 66.1% over last two years

At this point, Daboll’s entire interview could just be showing Josh Allen highlights. Over the last two years, the Bills’ offense has put Allen in position to thrive as a passer, playmaker and runner. His development from raw prospect to superstar has been the driving force of the complete turnaround of a once woebegone franchise.

Part of maximizing Allen has been putting Stefon Diggs in position to take his star to a new level. Diggs went from 94 targets in Minnesota in 2019 to over 160 in each of the last two years. The results: Allen has gone 230-for-320 targeting Diggs with 18 touchdowns 2,790 yards and a 106.6 rating.

Daboll might be the easiest candidate to point toward his ability to convert talent and individual skill sets to big-time results.

Kansas City OC Eric Bieniemy

Key stat: Scored 30.4 points per game following the bye week, ranked No. 1 in third down efficiency, Patrick Mahomes is 57-15 career

With Andy Reid’s long career of offensive success, separating Bieniemy’s impact on Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense is impossible. But throughout this season, the coaching staff was particularly impressive in its adjustment to defenses playing more two-deep coverage to limit Mahomes’ explosiveness. After Week 10, the Chiefs ranked No. 1 in yards per play and they finished the season producing the highest rate of drives ending in points in the NFL.

"I'm not a GM or anything, but I will say coach Bieniemy has helped me out a lot (as) a man, player, just everything I've become for the Chiefs' organization," receiver Tyreek Hill said in 2021. "It's very shocking that he didn't get a job.''

Tampa Bay OC Byron Leftwich

Key stat: Ranked No. 1 in passing EPA, No. 2 in total points and ninth in rushing EPA

Bruce Arians has been trying to tell anyone who will listen that Leftwich is behind the Bucs’ offense

“I get way too much credit for the offense, I mean, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich runs this offense top to bottom and doesn’t get enough credit for it.”

While it’s reasonable to put the majority of the credit for the Tampa Bay offense on the shoulders of Tom Brady, the Bucs’ passing game was one of the most prolific in history, producing over 5,300 yards on 719 throws. Brady’s supporting cast struggled at times with Antonio Brown’s off-field issues and injuries, yet the Bucs’ scheme held strong throughout the year and into the playoffs. Brady was particularly excellent in the quick game, where he managed a 119.0 rating on throws between 0-9 yards.

It’s probably the case that Brady can operate a good scheme better than any QB in history outside of Peyton Manning but Leftwich has helped push Brady to his best performances since he was a young man in his late 30s. 


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