Because I joined the NFL from an unconventional background, people always want to know: What did I learn about the league that I didn’t know before? My response is always the same. I underestimated how crucial coordinators are.
I was reminded of that this offseason when I noticed the enormous turnover in coordinators which, in turn, got me thinking about the impact it could have on this year’s top-tier franchises.
Like who? Let’s start with Kansas City and Philadelphia, the two teams in Super Bowl LVII. Three of their four coordinators this season are new. Then there’s the NFC runner-up in San Francisco. The 49ers have a new defensive coordinator. So do the Buffalo Bills ... but with a catch. He’s also their head coach.
You get the idea. Change is everywhere, and I’m not talking just about the players. In Philadelphia, the Eagles subtracted starters from both sides of the ball after losing their offensive and defensive coordinators. That could be significant, especially on defense where their new coordinator has the pedigree but is unproven.
If you accept that coordinators matter more than most people think – and I do – he could have a huge impact on how this season goes.
Coordinators can make a difference, with five who took over last year reaching the playoffs. So what impact will new coordinators have on playoff-caliber teams in 2023? Let’s take a look at three in each conference.
Coordinators to Watch
The Philadelphia Eagles have new offensive and defensive coordinators, which makes their situation intriguing. But I’ll be honest: I don’t worry about them on offense, mostly because the head coach (Nick Sirianni) drove their offensive philosophy last year, and he’s still there.
Former quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson replaces Shane Steichen, and expectations are high — as they should be. Because I don’t see them changing much from what they’ve been doing. They’ve talked about using running backs more in the passing game, but I guess we see an offense similar to what the Eagles ran last year.
And that’s good. Philadelphia’s 477 points in 2022 were second only to the Kansas City Chiefs (496).
However, I have questions on defense. They not only have an unproven coordinator in Sean Desai; they lost a number of starters – including perhaps their best defensive lineman (Javon Hargrave), two linebackers and two safeties. So, let’s see: If you pair a new coordinator with five new starters on defense, what do you have?
If I were running the team, I’d hold my breath, asking if we got this right.
I’d be concerned with the combination of changes in personnel – with young and less experienced starters – and a completely new coordinator who plays somewhat of a different scheme, though one still driven by denying the big play.
San Francisco 49ers
Steve Wilks takes over as the new defensive coordinator, and he has big shoes to fill. Correction: He has crucial shoes to fill. That’s because his predecessor, DeMeco Ryans, was a difference-maker. Houston thought so much of him they made him their head coach.
He’s a quality guy — a leader — and someone players want to follow. That’s crucial with this team. The San Francisco 49ers smartly built their defense around a strong defensive line, and the talent is still there but only if used properly.
With Kyle Shanahan in charge and with the talent San Francisco has on offense, I don’t worry about them there. They could be the top offense in the league. But my question is: Can the 49ers match that with their defense? Frankly, I don’t know. What I do know is the change in defensive coordinators could be the most consequential of any turnover on this list.
If Wilks comes in and does a credible job, the 49ers are more than contenders for Super Bowl LVIII; they could be the favorites. Which is why it all comes back to Wilks. How will the defense play for him this year? We’re about to find out.
Contrary to the Eagles and 49ers, I’m concerned about the Dallas Cowboys' offense. Kellen Moore is gone (he was hired by the Los Angeles Chargers), and Brian Schottenheimer takes his place. OK, fine. But coach Mike McCarthy will call the plays … for the first time in five years.
I don’t know that I like this.
Schottenheimer says the Cowboys will play “fast,” but I don’t know what that means. What I do know is I don’t believe running the ball more often is a move in the right direction. I believe in a formula where you get the lead early by throwing the ball, then create a dynamic defense to pressure the quarterback. That way, you can jump to a lead by halftime, where history tells us 75-80 percent of those ahead wind up winning.
Once upon a time, the Cowboys were that team. They’d get the lead at the half, then rely on defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to keep opponents from catching them. Now, I’m not so sure. In fact, I think they’ve taken a step backward.
Granted, there are ways of ameliorating the situation. Their defense could be better than we imagine, or Dak Prescott could take better care of the football (he had 15 interceptions in 2022). But, on paper, I believe the coaching change will have more of a negative impact on the Cowboys than on other quality NFC teams.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs are the defending Super Bowl champions and just lost their offensive coordinator. So football fans want to know: How much of an impact will the loss of Eric Bieniemy have? Answer: Not much, if any. That’s no knock on Bieniemy. But you have to know Andy Reid to understand, and I do.
He’s a collaborative guy, even though most people think he’s controlling. But he’s actually collaborative. With him, it’s always been a team effort primarily led by Andy.
Whether it’s Bieniemy, Matt Nagy or Doug Pederson, Andy has always been the primary driver, not only of the individual play-calling but the philosophy of the offense. So, what you have here is a continuity of players and most of the staff that assemble the game plan.
With those two things in place, I don’t expect to see a negative impact. I mean, you have three of the four key people back, and the lead person is still there. I can’t imagine much of a change, whether Bieniemy stayed or not.
This is a fascinating situation because coach Sean McDermott is now the defensive coordinator, replacing Leslie Frazier. I know Sean and Leslie (from Philadelphia, where both were assistants), and they’re outstanding. But this is going to be a transition for Sean.
He’s a good head coach, but the move to head coach from assistant had him focusing on coaching and game-calling. Period. This will be an adjustment.
People are talking Buffalo down, but they’re wrong. The Buffalo Bills still can be a Super Bowl threat. That said, I admit: What happens with Sean and the defense is worth watching. But I’m more interested in the return of Von Miller (recovering from last year’s torn ACL) than I am in Sean taking over as defensive coordinator. I don’t expect the move to have a major impact.
OK, maybe the Baltimore Ravens aren’t one of the three best teams in the conference. In fact, they might not be the best in their division, either. Cincinnati might be. But the Ravens took a giant leap when they moved on from offensive coordinator Greg Roman to Todd Monken.
Roman was a run specialist who was successful and creative. With his departure, the Ravens didn’t just change coordinators; they’ve changed offensive philosophy, too. They had second-tier wide receivers last season but now have what could be a top group. Their new coordinator loves to throw the ball and spread the field. Monken could go four-wide more times in one game than the Ravens have in one year.
So Monken has a chance to make an impact.
But the real question here is: Can Lamar Jackson raise that part of his game? We’ve seen him improve as a passer, but he’s not elite in that category. Now he has that opportunity. He has a coordinator who believes in that part of the game, knows how to teach it and has wide receivers who can be effective.
If Jackson can raise his game, and the Ravens create a top-five or top-seven passing game to pair with their running game and defense, they can be a Super Bowl contender. But it’s all about how Jackson and Monken come together and what they produce.
Joe Banner is a former front office executive for the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns. He was a part of an Eagles franchise that made a Super Bowl and played in four NFC Championship Games. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeBanner13