Having an on-point play-caller is essential for modern NFL success, and in 2020's uncertain landscape, experience here will be critical. Here is how the league's 32 teams' play-callers stand at the outset of training camp.
One of the fastest-rising football coaches in the profession's history, Brady was a low-level Saints assistant as recently as 2018. He spent last season not as LSU's top offensive voice but as the Tigers' wideouts coach and passing-game coordinator. That passing game having produced a stupefying result -- Joe Burrow's 60-TD time-capsule season -- moved him into an NFL offensive coordinator role at age 30. While Sean McVay beat him to the OC ranks, age-wise, Brady's coordinator debut with the Panthers will generate greater attention because of what happened at LSU.
An overlooked headline before the pandemic hit: Bill O'Brien ceding play-calling responsibilities to his 33-year-old offensive coordinator. On O'Brien's staff since his Houston arrival in 2014, Kelly has risen from the quality control level to tight ends coach to OC. Kelly ascended to this role with a franchise quarterback in place, but he will be tasked with helping Deshaun Watson keep progressing without the services of DeAndre Hopkins -- whom O'Brien traded for a less-than-expected return -- in only his second year in his current position.
The Bengals lost A.J. Green at training camp's outset and had an abysmal offensive line protecting Andy Dalton, giving their new head coach a bad first set of cards. Cincinnati's offense regressed considerably from 2018. But the Bengals took a gamble on Taylor. In 2019's "I worked with Sean McVay" hiring period, the Bengals hired the Rams' QBs coach and someone who was the team's assistant wideouts coach as recently as 2017. In Taylor's two seasons as a full-time play-caller, his Cincinnati Bearcats scored Division I-FBS' sixth-fewest points (2016) and the 2019 Bengals ranked 30th in scoring.
Also dealt a bad hand in Year 1, with Cam Newton's preseason injury defining Carolina's season, Turner has a second chance in Washington. This will be his first full season calling plays; he succeeded his father, Norv Turner, when the Panthers fired Ron Rivera in December. The Panthers went 0-4 in Scott Turner's four games calling the shots, scoring 16 total points in their final two contests. For a Washington team that may have the NFL's worst set of weapons , and a QB (Dwayne Haskins) coming off a brutal rookie year, their 37-year-old play-caller faces an uphill battle.
Joining Turner in entering his first full season as an NFL offensive coordinator, Steichen has an interesting task ahead. The 35-year-old assistant must pivot from the offense Philip Rivers ran for years to one more conducive to Tyrod Taylor's dual-threat skill set while also training prototypical prospect Justin Herbert -- and do this in a limited time because of COVID-19. Steichen replaced Mike McCoy last season but could not coax a turnaround from Rivers, who had his worst season since 2012. At least, the Bolts retooled up front -- though, bizarrely not at left tackle -- after deploying sieve O-lines for years.
This is a low-key pressure-packed spot for Leftwich , whose first two years involved overseeing a last-place offense (the 2018 Cardinals) and the Jameis Winston rollercoaster that produced the league's first 30-INT season since 1988. For all the talk about the Tom Brady-Bruce Arians partnership, Leftwich will call the Buccaneers' plays. Brady has been accustomed to Josh McDaniels' system; now, a coach three years younger than he will run the show. And the Bucs going from one primetime game to five (and likely six via flex) with Brady and Rob Gronkowski will create a different work environment.
Entering his third season as the Bills' offensive coordinator, Daboll is the point man behind Josh Allen's development. But the Bills have not ranked higher than 23rd in scoring during Daboll's stay, this coming despite the team's top-tier pass defense aiding the cause. Allen made big strides under Daboll last season but remains an erratic passer. Daboll's previous OC go-rounds did not end well. He was a one-and-done with the Chiefs and Dolphins, with the 2012 Kansas City offense ranking last despite employing Jamaal Charles, and the 2009-10 Browns finishing 29th and 31st.
It is too early to deem Fichtner a below-average coordinator. He did lead the 2018 Steelers to a sixth-place offensive DVOA finish, with James Conner making the Pro Bowl after Le'Veon Bell's no-show. But the 2019 offense showing little post-Antonio Brown in Ben Roethlisberger's six healthy quarters and it crashing to last place in DVOA in the ensuing 14 games -- featuring mostly anemic Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges starts -- leave the longtime Steelers assistant with much to prove.
Russell Wilson is a surefire Hall of Famer. In his two years with Schottenheimer as offensive coordinator, the Seahawks have ranked second and third in rushing attempts. The son of one of the most run-oriented coaches in modern NFL history (Marty Schottenheimer), Brian has been the OC for two Seattle playoff teams. That counts for something; so do his two top-six yardage seasons with the Mark Sanchez Jets (2009-10). But the Seahawks consistently give off the vibe of being held back offensively. Schottenheimer is a key reason "Let Russ Cook" is a thing.
Gase's Peyton Manning-created grace period is over. While Gase was the offensive coordinator for the highest-scoring offense in NFL history -- Manning's virtuoso 2013 showing -- he has not delivered on his own. Ex-Gase Dolphins cogs Ryan Tannehill, DeVante Parker and Kenyan Drake progressed when playing for other coaches, and Sam Darnold is falling behind most of his 2018 first-round QB peers. The Dolphins never ranked higher than 24th in total yardage under Gase, and Le'Veon Bell -- though not exactly a Gase-approved free agent target -- was borderline replacement level last season..
Putting a head coach this low after his team went 13-3 may be crazy, but the Packers plummeted from their Mike McCarthy- Joe Philbin 2018 season rankings in DVOA and scoring. Aaron Rodgers was healthy for the first time since 2016, but the future first-ballot Hall of Famer ranked 20th in QBR. In LaFleur's lone season as Titans OC, Tennessee regressed in both scoring and offensive DVOA. The Packers did not do the ex-Sean McVay lieutenant any favors this offseason, and the team entered camp again limited at wide receiver and tight end.
Despite the Cowboys hiring offense-oriented head coach Mike McCarthy, they kept Moore as offensive coordinator. That was probably a good decision, though the Cowboys' offense struggled in big spots last season. The Cowboys rocketed from 24th in offensive DVOA in Scott Linehan's final season to second under Moore, who unleashed Dak Prescott in a season that surely changed his contract talks. While the Cowboys went 0-5 against 10-win teams last season, their offense produced a 4,900-yard passer, two 1,100-yard receivers and still allowed for 1,777 Ezekiel Elliott scrimmage yards.
Koetter has enjoyed flashes of production, overseeing a David Garrard Pro Bowl berth in his NFL OC debut with the 2007 Jaguars and guiding the No. 1-seeded Falcons to a 17-0 lead over the 49ers in the 2012 NFC championship game. But in 14 years as a head coach or coordinator, Koetter has orchestrated only two top-10 scoring offenses. That is a rather large sample size. Still, the Falcons, who rehired Koetter in 2019, are counting on the former Buccaneers, Boise State and Arizona State head coach to salvage the remainder of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones' primes.
With the Cardinals going 5-10-1 last season, this may be premature. But the longtime Texas Tech coach's arrival vaulted the Cards from DVOA's last-ranked offense to No. 13, doing so despite Arizona housing another shaky offensive line. Kingsbury elevated Kyler Murray to Offensive Rookie of the Year acclaim and immediately put midseason acquisition Kenyan Drake, who was going to waste in Miami, in position to stand out. Kingsbury incorporating DeAndre Hopkins into his Air Raid offense will be a critical NFL storyline, with the Cards bringing sleeper appeal.
A skeleton-crew Eagles offense somehow bested the Cowboys when it mattered most last season, but Garrett has a history as a quality play-caller. The new Giants offensive coordinator has not been a team's primary play-caller in years, holding a CEO-type role during Scott Linehan and Kellen Moore's OC tenures. But Garrett was a hot coaching prospect in the late 2000s, helping Tony Romo go from undrafted free agent to high-end passer. Even when Romo missed 10 games in 2010, Dallas ranked seventh in scoring. They ranked fifth in scoring in 2013 and '14. A Giants-Garrett fit may be slightly more interesting than it sounds.
The Vikings passed over Stefanski to hire John DeFilippo as offensive coordinator in 2018. That backfired, but Stefanski had Minnesota back as a top-10 DVOA offense with Kirk Cousins and Co. thriving in a run-based, zone-blocking attack last season. Hired in 2019, Gary Kubiak surely helped Minnesota's cause. But the Vikings won 10 games largely without Adam Thielen, booking Stefanski the Cleveland job. The new Browns head coach has not committed to calling plays, but it would be logical. Alex Van Pelt, Cleveland's new OC, has not been a coordinator since 2009.
Twice an unsuccessful head coach, Denver's play-caller ranks here because of one of the best OC efforts this century. The Vikings paid $84 million for Kirk Cousins, but their offense was somehow better when Case Keenum was making $2M in 2017. After Sam Bradford's injury, Shurmur guided Keenum to the No. 1 quarterback DVOA finish in a 13-3 season. In New York, Daniel Jones fumbled a lot . But in just 12 starts, the scrutinized passer finished with the fourth-most TD passes ever by a rookie (24). Shurmur's experience will be critical for a Broncos team depending on second-round QB Drew Lock.
The Jaguars could do much worse for an offensive coordinator than the younger of the play-calling Grudens. Gruden quickly helped the Bengals transition from Carson Palmer to Andy Dalton, piloting the team to top-10 offenses behind the scrutinized quarterback in 2012 and '13. Washington's offenses peaked during Sean McVay's OC stay, but Gruden had the 2018 team in first place with Alex Smith and little else offensively and beat the No. 6 DVOA defense (Jacksonville) with journeyman deluxe Josh Johnson at QB. Gruden's acumen will make it harder for the Jaguars to tank for Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields.
The Dolphins lured the 68-year-old offensive guru back to the sidelines. Their new OC will reunite with Ryan Fitzpatrick in a third AFC East city. Gailey coached Fitz with the Bills in the early 2010s and helped him set a Jets record with a stunning 31 TD passes in 2015. Gailey did not work as a head coach but has boosted the likes of John Elway, Kordell Stewart and Fitzpatrick. Gailey also oversaw the immediate post-Dan Marino Dolphins stretch, in which they made back-to-back playoff brackets with Jay Fiedler at the controls. Brian Flores giving Gailey the responsibility of grooming Tua Tagovailoa shows immense trust.
The last of the second-year play-callers, Smith played the lead role in turning Ryan Tannehill's career around. Matt LaFleur's successor as Titans offensive coordinator upgraded the unit. Smith unshackled Derrick Henry and changed Tannehill's first-round bust narrative. Tannehill's 9.6 yards per attempt ranks eighth all time for a single season, and the Titans leapt from 22nd in offensive DVOA under LaFleur to sixth last season. Barring a major Titans letdown, the 38-year-old ex-tight ends coach is bound for the 2021 coaching carousel.
Nagy only enters Year 3 as a full-time NFL play-caller, and the 2019 Bears disappointed. But the 2018 Coach of the Year turned near-certain draft bust Mitchell Trubisky into a competent passer that was a makeable field goal away from the divisional playoffs. Considering his 2019 regression, Trubisky's 24-TD/12-INT 2018 season -- without an A-list skill-position crew -- reflects well on Nagy's game-day chops. So does Alex Smith's age-33 breakout in 2017, when Nagy called Chiefs plays during most of a season in which their game-manager QB led the NFL in adjusted yards per attempt.
The perennial soundbite provider has not had much to work with -- thanks, in large part, to his personnel moves -- since rejoining the Raiders. But the Super Bowl-winning coach proved plenty with the franchise in his first go-round and has quietly helped Derek Carr. The passer Gruden seems intent on replacing finished 2019 10th in QBR -- despite the Antonio Brown tornado decimating Oakland's offense. Gruden may tread water, however, until he replaces Carr. And the reputation he built before his "Monday Night Football" years stands to take a hit soon if the Raiders cannot resurface as a threat.
The man behind the most scrutinized play call in Super Bowl history , Bevell nonetheless built the then-cutting-edge ground attack that revitalized Marshawn Lynch and turned Russell Wilson into a star. The Seahawks were a top-six scoring team from 2012-16, with Bevell also there when Wilson turned into one of the game's best passers after the Super Bowl slates. He was Vikings OC for Brett Favre's 2009 throwback year as well. Matthew Stafford was having one of his best seasons before a back injury intervened; he finished the year sixth in QBR. The Lions have issues, but Bevell has proven useful.
Kubiak's system is no longer new or especially exciting, but former Texans and Broncos head coach has popped up at successful moments for certain franchises. Joe Flacco's only productive season following the Ravens' 2012 Super Bowl win came under Kubiak in 2014, and it should not be viewed as a coincidence the Vikings rebounded last season -- running a zone-blocking scheme Kubiak enjoyed success with in Houston and under Mike Shanahan in Denver -- after the Super Bowl-winning coach's arrival as an offensive assistant. Kubiak will call plays for a fourth team this season.
Although Doug Pederson calls plays in Philadelphia, Reich held an integral role in one of the most impressive Super Bowl runs in NFL history. The Eagles changing their offense for Nick Foles late in 2017, and the alterations being enough to beat three playoff foes, represents a crowning coaching achievement. Reich being the Colts' Josh McDaniels backup plan, and then guiding Andrew Luck to a career season despite a 2017 hiatus, stabilized the franchise. Even the Jacoby Brissett-led 2019 squad would have had a winning record were it not for Adam Vinatieri's rapid decline. There is a lot to like about the Reich-era Colts.
The Ravens asked a lot of their first-year offensive coordinator last season. Roman delivered a masterpiece, unveiling a new offense a year after the Ravens' previous Lamar Jackson-centered midseason scheme change. Few NFL breakouts rival Jackson's MVP surge in 2019. Baltimore's franchise-best 14-2 season doubled as a rebirth for Roman, whom the Bills fired early during his second season as their OC. With Roman also playing a key role in the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick scheme transformation, when he was their OC under Jim Harbaugh, he seems destined for a head-coaching job soon.
Pederson presided over Carson Wentz's would-be MVP breakout season, then orchestrated a stunningly effective Wentz-to-Nick Foles transition and called the game that made Foles a Philadelphia legend (and the play that gave both a statue ). A tour de force 2017 season cemented the former Andy Reid disciple as an upper-crust play-caller. While the Eagles have been less consistent since, their 2019 team managing to overtake a more talented Cowboys team -- while missing its top three wide receivers -- further illustrated the Super Bowl champion coach's impact.
We will learn more about McDaniels' value to the Patriots this season, his first away from Tom Brady since 2011. But with Brady morphing from a clutch game manager to arguably the greatest quarterback ever under McDaniels, Bill Belichick's right-hand man should not be doubted too much. McDaniels may have destroyed bridges in Denver and Indianapolis, but the polarizing coach has helped the Patriots assemble a uniquely malleable offense that has consistently caught teams off-guard in big spots. This makes McDaniels and Cam Newton a must-see attraction.
McVay turning the Rams from 2016's worst offense (by a mile) to 2017's No. 1 scoring attack is one of this era's finest coaching achievements. McVay transformed Jared Goff from potential megabust into a Pro Bowl and NFC champion quarterback. Ascending to Washington's OC job at age 27, McVay was behind Kirk Cousins' record-setting work as well. While Rams GM Les Snead has not done his coach any favors with some of the contracts he authorized, McVay has changed the franchise's trajectory and the viability of the Los Angeles market. So, the NFL essentially owes him a debt of gratitude.
One of the best head-coaching hires in modern NFL history, Payton changed the course of football in New Orleans. The former offensive coordinator, who debuted during the Giants' 2000 NFC championship season, has entrenched the Saints as the NFL's highest-floor offense. They have not ranked outside the top 10 in yardage since Payton's 2006 arrival. Payton played an integral part in Drew Brees growing from inconsistent Charger to the NFL's all-time passing kingpin. And Payton's work with Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill, when the Saints went 5-0 sans-Brees last year, further burnished his Hall of Fame credentials.
Washington has employed some serious coaching talent. Washington's OC before McVay, Shanahan helped his father construct the Robert Griffin III offense. That was maybe Shanahan's third-best coaching achievement. The Falcons have not been the same since his 2017 exit, dropping from the eighth-best scoring offense ever to a middling attack. The current 49ers boss formed a Super Bowl offense (seventh in DVOA) around Jimmy Garoppolo and has displayed nearly unmatched chops at scripting modern game plans. If Shanahan wants it, he can likely surpass Bill Walsh as the 49ers' longest-tenured coach.
Reid changed the fortunes of multiple franchises, installing the Eagles as a perennial contender and topping that work in a Canton-cementing Chiefs second act. Reid has done a masterful job tailoring his offense to his talent, with his late-2010s incorporation of college concepts igniting Alex Smith in 2017 and changing the NFL landscape when Patrick Mahomes debuted a year later. Mahomes has undoubtedly helped, but Reid did the same for the superstar QB. The NFL's seventh-winningest coach, Reid led the Eagles to five NFC title games -- three with unremarkable wideouts -- and turned the Chiefs from a 2-14 team into a playoff staple.
Sam Robinson is a Kansas City, Mo.-based writer who mostly writes about the NFL. He has covered sports for nearly 10 years. Boxing, the Royals and Pandora stations featuring female rock protagonists are some of his go-tos. Occasionally interesting tweets @SRobinson25.