By Andrew Geisler, For The Miami Student
Going Long with Geisler
As is common in the NFL, Jay Gruden treated his three-year stint as Bengals offensive coordinator as a head coaching job try out. Too often, NFL types are more impressed by schematic complexity than simplicity and excellent execution. When the Washington Redskins hired Gruden away to be their head coach this off-season, they fell into this trap.
Gruden is a good coach, and like every NFL coach, probably a wiz on the white board. However, offensive wizardry is an over-rated coaching skill—they’re all wizards—and too much complexity can make even the professionals play too slow and make poor decisions.
That’s precisely what appeared to happen with Andy Dalton under Gruden’s tutelage. Dalton has played well, but inconsistently, in his first three years in the league. He made too many mistakes and hasn’t been able to get the Bengals out of the first round of the playoffs.
In 2012, the Carolina Panthers finished 7-9, and under-produced offensively. Then-receiver Steve Smith put the blame on offensive coordinator Rod
Chudzinski in a Sports Illustrated report: “I think it was really a power move by the former offensive coordinator [Chudzinski] – he was really positioning himself and trying to show, ‘Hey I’m capable.’ I think he was applying for a head coaching job, and our offense kind of suffered because of that. At times, we got kind of cute and did things that weren’t necessarily us.”
Smith was unusually frank here, but he was right since the next year, the Panthers vastly improved, finishing 12-4 and making the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Meanwhile Chudzinski got that head coaching job. He went 4-12 with a Browns roster that was better than their record showed and was shown the door after just one season at the helm.
Chudzinski’s circumstances don’t mean the same will happen to Gruden, but trying to get too showy on offense before you’re really good at anything is a great way to lose a lot of games in the NFL.
This is often true even if you have a Brady, Manning, or Brees—none of these teams do anything particularly ground-breaking on offense (Aaron Rogers is omitted not because he isn’t one of the best, but because the Packers run a highly complex offense).
Obviously you can afford to dress things up a little more with stars, but most quarterbacks aren’t stars.
Which brings us back to Dalton. The Bengals may have overvalued Dalton by giving him a six-year, $115 million extension this off-season before he even won a playoff game, but having a passible quarterback is something you should overvalue. That’s especially true when you’ve got a top-tier defense like the Bengals do. NFL teams don’t need a generational talent at quarterback, or a revolutionary offensive scheme, to win the Super Bowl. They just need a quarterback who won’t lose them the game if the other pieces are there.
That’s where the Bengals find themselves, but Gruden’s offensive ambitions and Dalton’s inexperience held the team back these last few years.
Fortunately for Bengal fans, under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, the Bengals look committed to not making Dalton do too much. They ran it 45 times last Sunday, threw it 25 and beat the Atlanta Falcons 24-10.
Contrast that with their embarrassing first round playoff loss to the Chargers in January, when Gruden dialed up 51 passes and only 25 runs. This is a simple metric to make a nuanced point, but suffice it to say the Patriots could win a game with this kind of a run-pass breakdown. The Bengals couldn’t because Andy Daulton isn’t Tom Brady.
Though we’re in the era of the venerated quarterback in football, that doesn’t make Daulton bad—it just means he’s unlikely to make the Hall of Fame. That the Bengals current coaching staff appears to understand this fact bodes well for their chances this year. Sometimes in football you’ve got to do less to get more.