Analysis

Washington’s Ron Rivera Stands Out in Final Impact Index Rankings for 2020

After Week 4 of the 2020 NFL season, the Impact Index was introduced, measuring the impact of new coaching hires over the first quarter of the season. Now that we have reached the end of the regular season, how have teams with new coaching hires during the offseason performed versus last season? The Impact Index attempts to measure improved performance for head coaches, offensive and defensive coordinators, and offensive line coaches.

Here are the final results:

Head Coach

The Impact Index for head coaches is the simplest calculation. At the end of the day, only one metric matters: winning.

For new NFL head coaching hires, their team’s winning percentage for this season is compared to its winning percentage in 2019, to see how much the team has improved (or regressed).

Ron Rivera and Kevin Stefanski sit atop the list, as both Washington and Cleveland managed to make the playoffs. An infusion of young talent, including second-overall pick Chase Young and rookie RB Antonio Gibson, has helped QB Alex Smith’s miraculous comeback and allowed Washington to win the NFC East. Sure, the Washington Football Team still had a losing record (7-9), but that’s significant improvement over last year’s 3-13 mark.

Baker Mayfield finally seems to be putting it together in Cleveland, as the Browns’ offense, buoyed by the RB duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, has helped them reach the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Despite losing star RB Saquon Barkley for the season, the Giants, led by Joe Judge, managed to improve their win total from last season by two, within striking distance of the playoffs up until the final week of the season.

The Cowboys’ hardships have been well documented, as four different quarterbacks saw time under center this season. With Dak Prescott out, this poor showing may not be a true reflection of Mike McCarthy’s abilities as a head coach. Matt Rhule’s Panthers have performed better than many expected but their winning percentage is unchanged from last season.

Offensive Coordinator

The impact index for offensive coordinators considers several different offensive metrics, including:

· Yards/Game

· Yards/Pass Attempt

· Third Down %

· Red Zone %

· Sacks/Game Allowed

For each of these metrics, the percent improvement for the new coach’s team from 2019 to 2020 is found. Then the percentages are averaged together to find an overall Impact Index for the new offensive coordinators:

With the Browns’ large improvement in the win column, it is no surprise that their offensive coordinator, Alex Van Pelt, tops the list of OC impact. Just below him are Dolphins OC Chan Gailey and Panthers OC Joe Brady. Gailey has done an impressive job utilizing both veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick and rookie Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback, and the offense has improved by almost 30 yards per game. The Panthers’ improvement makes sense with the steady hand of Teddy Bridgewater under center rather than the rotating cast of signal-callers from 2019.

Joining Giants’ OC Jason Garrett at the bottom of the list is Rams’ Kevin O’Connell and Minnesota’s Gary Kubiak. QB Jared Goff has struggled this season, with his fewest touchdowns since his rookie season and second-highest interception total of his career. Kirk Cousins has not been quite as impressive as his Pro Bowl season in 2019, doubling his interceptions from last season.

Overall, eight of the 12 new offensive coordinators hired saw an improvement in their team’s offensive performance from last season.

Defensive Coordinator

The Impact Index for new defensive coordinators is basically the opposite of the offensive coordinator metric.

The metrics used in the calculation are as follows:

· Yards/Game Allowed

· Yards/Pass Attempt Allowed

· Third Down % Allowed

· Red Zone % Allowed

· Sacks/Game

Same as with offensive coordinator Impact Index, the percentage improvement for each of these areas from 2019 to 2020 is averaged together to find the overall percentage of improvement for the 2020 season.

The same number of teams brought in new defensive coordinators as offensive coordinators this season. The biggest improvements have come from Miami’s Josh Boyer and Washington’s Jack Del Rio. The Dolphins’ defense has vastly improved from last season, going from the worst scoring defense in 2019 to the sixth-best in 2020. The Football Team boasts one of the league’s top defensive lines, spending the No. 2 overall pick on Ohio State standout EDGE, Chase Young, and have improved from the sixth-worst scoring defense last season to the fourth-best this season.

The co-DC experiment in Minnesota between Adam Zimmer and Andre Patterson does not seem to be working, as the defense has seen the biggest regression of teams with coaching changes this offseason. Mike Vrabel decided not to hire a new defensive coordinator after Dean Pees retired before the season and instead is taking the DC duties upon himself. It seems the Titans’ head coach may be spreading himself too thin, as the defense has regressed significantly, even more than the Cowboys’ porous defense.

Of the 12 new DCs, only five were able to improve their team’s defensive performance from last season.

Offensive Line

For measuring the offensive line, three metrics were used: Sacks Per Game Allowed, Pressures Per Game Allowed, and Yards/Rush Attempt. As with the previous calculations, the percentage improvement from 2019 to 2020 was determined for each component metric and averaged to find the overall impact.

Leading the way are new offensive line coaches Bill Callahan from Cleveland and Pat Meyer from Carolina. The Browns’ running game has been a revelation this season, gaining an entire extra yard per rush over last season. This improved offensive line unit has their backs, running circles around opposing defenses despite the injury to Nick Chubb, and their sack and pressure numbers have improved. The Panthers have improved in all three areas as well despite the loss of Christian McCaffrey, buoyed by the pocket presence of Teddy Bridgewater.

Chargers’ OL coach James Campen is at the bottom of the list, as the injury to star RB Austin Ekeler affected their ability to run the ball and despite the stellar play of rookie QB Justin Herbert, he was sacked 32 times and pressured often. Joining Campen is Washington’s John Matsko, likely because of the rotating cast of QBs and the loss of RB Darius Guice before the season.

Conclusion:

The Impact Index is a rough estimator for how a team has improved or regressed after making a coaching change. Most head coaches, offensive coordinators and offensive line coaches hired in the offseason saw their teams improve this season, while most of the new defensive coordinators struggled. It may be easier for offensive coaches to have a quick impact on the performance of their teams, and the defenses may have been at a disadvantage this season due to missing preseason games. It will be interesting to see how these new hires continue to fair in the future.

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