Rams-Bengals clash will only strengthen NFL’s desire to capture ‘football idea incubator’

Consistent dominance is hard to achieve in the NFL. Since the 1993 season, the same teams have not played in the Super Bowl in successive years and no team has won a consecutive Super Bowl since the New England Patriots of 2004. Parity is one of the main arguments league sales but, while it largely maintains a balance between clubs in terms of on-field results, there is no doubt that there is a pattern establishing dominance over the NFL.

Sunday’s clash between the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams will mark the third time in the past four seasons that an NFL campaign has ended with a game featuring at least one team using a version of the attack led by Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay.

With McVay taking on his former assistant Bengals head coach Zac Taylor, Super Bowl LVI will serve as a compelling illustration of the pre-eminence the offensive program enjoys, and this recent round of coaching hires has also brushed the same. picture.

The Miami Dolphins have hired Shanahan’s offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, Mike McDaniel, to be their new head coach. Nathaniel Hackett, having worked as offensive coordinator in that offense under Matt LaFleur with the Green Bay Packers, was named head coach of the Denver Broncos. Kevin O’Connell, the Rams’ offensive coordinator, can’t be officially hired by the Minnesota Vikings until after the Super Bowl, but that deal has already been done.

These hires brought the number of offensive head coaches in the Shanahan-McVay tree to five. Robert Saleh served as Shanahan’s defensive coordinator in San Francisco until 2021, and he took Niners passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur with him when he was hired by the New York Jets. Brandon Staley got the job from the Los Angeles Chargers last year after a season that revolutionized the Rams on defense for McVay.

Shanahan and McVay’s fingerprints are all over the NFL, and they will be openly smudged during the Super Bowl. An attacking system with this level of influence on the league seems unprecedented, but is it?

“If you think back on it, I guess if you did the actual lineage of it, what the league was like in the mid-90s, early 2000s, most of it probably comes from Bill Walsh’s tree enough to say that it’s similar,” Robert Mays, NFL writer for The Athletic, tells Stats Perform.

“It’s starting to fragment because even if you look at the genealogy of the Shanahan tree, it’s coming from the Bill Walsh tree, because you have Mike Shanahan coming from San Francisco, they’re combining it with the zoned operating pattern so even now that DNA is still somewhat similar, if you go back far enough it’s all from the same place, but no, I don’t remember anything like that in this modern era, the last 10 or so years, because there isn’t There was just nothing There were a lot of Seattle defensive guys on that side of the ball, but it still wasn’t as popular as it is right now.

So why is it so popular? The obvious answer is its success.

The 49ers (first), Rams (fourth), Bengals (seventh), and Packers (eighth) all finished the regular season in the top 10 in yards per game. All four were playing the weekend of the divisional round.

But it’s not just the offensive efficiency and results that have made the assistants of Shanahan, McVay and now LaFleur attractive to teams looking to turn things around, it’s also a combination of the scheme, the adaptability of the scheme and the willingness of the coaches to take a flexible approach.

“What you need to understand about why the Niners are successful, why Sean is successful, is not because they run this offense, it’s their understanding of defensive rules and how to manipulate them, it’s what makes them really successful, they all come from the same place,” says Mays.

“I think the friendly aspect of the quarterback is really important. How they attack the midfield, the game, I think that’s the easiest way to get the most out of a quarterback in a league focused on quarterbacks.

Speaking of the quarterback’s friendly nature of the offense, Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford threw to an open receiver on 82.5% of his attempts, second behind Patrick Mahomes (85.5) among flaggers with at least 200 pass attempts. Zach Wilson (79.5), playing in Mike LaFleur’s offense, was 10th, and likely starting 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was still above average at 79.1%.

It goes beyond quarterback, however, with wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, who played under Shanahan and Mike McDaniel during his time with the Cleveland Browns, enjoying personal experience of how they make the most of the surrounding talent.

“The thing that anyone has played for Kyle, the Mikes and the LaFleurs and the McVays, they find their offense around the players,” Hawkins told Stats Perform.

“It’s traditional for coaches to say ‘here’s my system’ and they’re going to take jobs out of their system and they say ‘this is my system, this is how we run it, that’s kind of the end tight we need, we need this quarterback to do these things, we need this guy to do this and if they’re not that type of guy, I’m going to find people who will do what I say , my system bang, bang, bang’.

“Shanahan and those guys, they don’t do it that way. They’re, I don’t want to say real coaches, but to me, they’re the best version of it because they come to a place and say hey Hawk, you’re limited here, but you do these things really, really, really well and although my last receiver might have been 6’4”, 215 pounds, your skills are as follows so we’re going to change the things that correspond to your skills and make the most of you for the best version of our attack possible.

“That’s what you want as a player, you want your coaches to understand your skills and maybe not ask the 5’7” guy to go do some jump-ball catches in the red zone, it’s not exactly what I do, it’s not my thing, I like being in space, let’s find ways to get me into space and that’s what they will do.

“They’ll take care of their players, their O-Line, their running backs, their outside guy, their inside guy, their tight end, as players you want coaches who are going to tell you the truth and put you in the best position to win for your skill set. Don’t try to insert a square peg into a round hole and these coaches, just out of philosophy, do it better than most guys in the league.

Agreeing with Hawkins’ assessment, Mays adds: “It’s interesting because it takes on different flavors, that’s the most important thing, you have to understand how it fits your staff.”

And, although Taylor cut his teeth under McVay, the way he tailored his Bengals offense to his staff made their offense markedly different from that of the Rams.

Burrow didn’t throw to an open receiver as often, only doing so 76.9% of the time, but that reflects a more aggressive downside passing game that regularly relied on the skills of Ja’Marr Chase and his quarterback. infallible precision.

This season, Burrow led the NFL in delivering an accurate, well-thrown ball on 86.1% of his pass attempts as his skill matched perfectly with a more ambitious passing game. No player has produced more passes over 50 yards than Burrow with 12. Next on the list is Stafford with 10.

“It’s very different, it’s a lot wider than you would see with Sean’s offense, the Bengals are a spread team, they play shotgun, they have one of the widest formations on average throughout the NFL, they don’t do a lot of things the Rams do,” Mays said of the Bengals offense.

“I think it’s really suited, that’s who we are, we have a real X receiver on the outside, we honestly have two because of what Tee Higgins is, we don’t need to worry about all these groups and stacks and things like that, and they run very little play action, you think about the fact that Zac was under Sean in 2018 when the Rams were running play action 38% of the time or what whatever, and the Bengals are under 20 with one of the lowest rates in the entire NFL.”

Matt LaFleur weaponized the plan in Green Bay via the genius of Aaron Rodgers, McVay shaped it around Stafford following the trade that sent Jared Goff to Detroit and stepped away from the game somewhat while Shanahan leaned heavily on the run with the 49ers. McDaniel, O’Connell and Hackett will surely recreate the system to fit into their respective talent pools and ultimately what owners and GMs buy when they invest in an offense assistant McVay and Shanahan is not the scheme, but the ingenuity these coaches benefit from their association with two of the most talented footballing minds of this generation.

“I think what people are looking for when they hire all these Sean assistants is not necessarily that we want this offensive system, it’s that we want whatever environment that comes with these guys from here,” observes Mays. “Brandon Staley is not an offensive coach and they hired him as head coach anyway.

“I think they’re trying to capture what that kind of football idea incubator is, which I think is what they’re trying to exploit as much as the real Xs and O’s of the attacking scheme.”

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