It stands to reason that when a team has a bottom five scoring offense, they’re going to make some changes. But today we’re going to quantify what we all know. By definition, there were 55 teams to rank in the bottom five in scoring from 2002 to 2012. What changes did those teams make?
- 29 of the teams (53%) switched head coaches, 43 switched offensive coordinators (78%), and 32 teams (58%) had a different starting quarterback in week 1 of the following season. In 19 of the 55 cases (35%), the team got rid of the whole trio.
- I don’t think it’s too surprising that the offensive coordinator is the most likely casualty. In the 12 cases where the offensive coordinator was retained, the head coach was only fired in one of those seasons. That was in Cincinnati after the 2002 season, when Bob Bratkowski was kept after Dick LeBeau was replaced by Marvin Lewis. The Bengals drafted Carson Palmer with the first overall pick a few months later, but Jon Kitna kept the quarterback job for the 2003 season.
- In only four of the other 11 cases where the offensive coordinator was fired did the team switch quarterbacks. In 2009, Steve Spagnuolo and Pat Shurmur struggled in St. Louis under Marc Bulger; the team landed the number one overall pick, drafted Sam Bradford, and played him immediately. Also that year, Eric Mangini and Brian Daboll could not get the Cleveland offense humming under Brady Quinn. The solution was to bring in Jake Delhomme in 2010. In 2008, the Bengals offense struggled when Palmer missed most of the year due to injury. Lewis and Bratkowski were retained, as Cincinnati pinned the blame on Ryan Fitzpatrick. Finally, in 2006, Tampa Bay ranked 31st in scoring despite the presence of coaching guru Jon Gruden and Bill Muir. A rookie Bruce Gradkowski (playing after Chris Simms) was replaced in 2007 with Jeff Garcia.
There were only 7 of 55 situations where a team had a bottom five offense but brought back the head coach, offensive coordinator, and quarterback. Below is the full information for the 55 teams; analysis to come after the jump. For the Year N QB, I’ve listed the quarterback with the most attempts. For the Year N+1 QB, I chose to list the quarterback that started in week one of that season. All team/player/coach cells are linked to the relevant PFR page.
So what can we learn from the 7 teams that kept all three men in charge of the offense?
In 2009, the Bills ranked 28th in scoring under Jauron, Van Pelt, and Fitzpatrick. In the off-season, Buddy Nix was hired as GM, and he brought in Gailey and Modkins. The Bills actually began 2010 with Trent Edwards at quarterback, but Fitzpatrick started 13 games and Buffalo again ranked 28th in points. Nix wasn’t going to fire Gailey after one year, nor was Gailey going to get rid of Modkins, his longtime assistant in Dallas, Georgia Tech, and Kansas City.
The only option was a new quarterback, but the 3rd pick in the draft meant Cam Newton wasn’t available. Buffalo wisely chose Marcell Dareus over Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, or Christian Ponder. A second round pick on Aaron Williams may have been better spent on Andy Dalton or Colin Kaepernick, but in any event, Buffalo decided to give the trio another shot and was rewarded with a 14th place finish in points scored in 2011.
After an ugly end to the Gruden era in 2008, Tampa Bay cleaned house. Morris and Olson were brought in, and Freeman was selected with a first round pick. This is an easy example to understand, as it represented year one of a rebuild. In year two, Tampa Bay finished 15th in points, before falling to 31st in scoring in 2011. Without the rebuilding excuse that time around, Morris and Olson were fired.
The circumstances surrounding Zorn’s hire were very odd, even by Daniel Snyder standards. After the second Joe Gibbs era ended, Zorn was hired as offensive coordinator — before the team hired a head coach! Gregg Williams and Jim Fassel were both rumored for the job, but eventually, Snyder and Vinny Cerrato decided to simply promote Zorn (a decision that later cost Cerrato his job). Zorn then hired Smith, his former teammate when the duo was in Seattle.
At the time, Campbell was established as the quarterback, and while Washington did rank 28th in points, the team went 8-8 and Campbell did lead the league in completion percentage. Of course, bringing the trio back turned into a disaster, as Washington went 4-12 in 2009 and ranked 26th in points scored.
The 2004 season was the first year of the Gibbs Era 2.0, and while the offense struggled, nobody was talking about firing Gibbs or his longtime offensive assistant. In 2004, the quarterback reps were split between Ramsey and Mark Brunell, and in ’05, Brunell wound up starting the final 15 games of the year — and succeeding. Washington went 10-6 and ranked 13th in points.
The 2002 Texans were an expansion team, and the trio of Capers, Palmer, and the former number one overall pick were given mulligans after each of their first two seasons. Small gains were made in 2004, before the team bottomed out against in 2005.
The 2001 Panthers lost their final 15 games of the season, and not much was expected the following year. Fox was hired in 2002 after his strong work as the defensive coordinator in the Giants, and Henning (who was 60 years old and had a long coaching history) was a noncontroversial choice to run the offense. Peete was an odd choice, but the 36-year-old started 14 games. The team predictably struggled, but the big surprise was that Carolina didn’t draft a quarterback. Perhaps they knew what they were doing: Peete started the 2003 opener, but was benched at halftime for Jake Delhomme, who guided the team to the Super Bowl that year.
2013 Bottom Five Scoring Teams
Let’s apply this analysis to the five lowest-scoring teams in 2013.
#28) New York Giants
Eli Manning isn’t going anywhere, of course. The Giants want Tom Coughlin back, but as I wrote in the New York Times last week, someone will have to pay for the results this year. That person is almost certainly going to be offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. Coughlin is meeting with Giants management today, and presumably Gilbride’s fate will be the main topic of discussion. [Update: Gilbride is announcing his retirement today.]
#29) New York Jets
As I wrote last week, the Jets fired Brian Schottenheimer and Tony Sparano at the end of 2011 and 2012, so you would think Marty Mornhinweg would return in 2014. Obviously the Jets are going to retain Rex Ryan and it seems more likely than not that Geno Smith will be the week 1 starter in 2014. The return of this trio would make sense if Ryan was a first-year head coach, but that’s not the case here. Of the 55 teams to finish in the bottom five, the only times the HC/OC/QB were all retained were when the head coach was in his first season and the 2003 Texans, who still carried with them the air of expansion. Retaining Ryan continues to baffle me, and I wonder how the general manager is content bringing back the same head coach, coordinator, and quarterback from one of the league’s worst offenses. Unless, of course, the GM isn’t the one making all these calls.
The Jets could draft a quarterback in the first round, but that would be the third top-40 pick the Jets have spent on a quarterback in the Ryan era. Perhaps that will be the charm? More likely, the Jets organization decides to give Ryan/Mornhinweg/Smith another year, which is simply unprecedented for an offense this bad (of course, it is possible the other team in New York might also make the same unprecedented situation, although the Giants have clearly earned more benefit of the doubt). For what it’s worth, it’s not like the Jets were a good offense that just happened to finish in the bottom five in points: the Jets ranked last in ANY/A, passer rating, and completion percentage, 30th in PFR’s Expected Points Added, and 27th in DVOA. Bringing in new receivers and a tight end will help the offense, but I struggle to believe that the goal for the Jets offense should be based around Ryan/Mornhinweg/Smith and some better receivers.
#30) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Greg Schiano and GM Mark Dominik were fired on Monday; Mike Sullivan had a disastrous season as offensive coordinator, and he was dismissed with Schiano. Mike Glennon? He’s been a pleasant surprise, although his TD/INT ratio is much more impressive than his Net Yards per Attempt rank. Tampa Bay just hired Lovie Smith, but it’s too early to speculate what he’ll do at quarterback.
#31) Houston Texans
Not much drama here. Gary Kubiak was fired, Rick Dennison is not coming back, and no one expects Matt Schaub or Case Keenum to be the quarterback in 2014. This will be a full house clean for 2014, and the team has already hired Bill O’Brien as head coach.
#32) Jacksonville Jaguars
You could compare the situation Gus Bradley and Jedd Fisch are in to the 2002 Panthers. Like Fox and Henning, Bradley and Fisch took over the worst team in the NFL and an offense that had no hope of succeeding. Blaine Gabbert’s now identified as a bust, and Chad Henne is just a younger version of Peete. Bradley isn’t going anywhere — Shahid Khan and David Caldwell aren’t going to blame him for this season — and there are no indications that Fisch isn’t going to be retained, either. The quarterback situation is another story, of course. Fisch is already looking at college quarterbacks, and the smart money is on the Jaguars taking a quarterback in the first round. It would be shocking if Gabbert or Henne is the team’s starter in 2014.
Conclusion: Let’s assume the Texans end the Schaub/Keenum charade, and Glennon returns as Tampa’s quarterback in 2014. That means that of the last 60 teams to rank in the bottom five in scoring, 20 of them switched head coaches, offensive coordinators, and quarterbacks. And with the exception of first-year head coaches, the only teams to bring back the full trio would be the 2003-04 Texans and 2013-14 Jets.