This is Part 1 of a five-part series breaking down each of the five factors that make up our exclusive Head Coach Ranking. This week’s focus: Play Calling.
When evaluating in-game coaching performances for play calling, our HCR graders take into account creativity, effectiveness, consistency, utilization of personnel, game flow/momentum/score, and down and distance recognition. This category also will grade fourth-down decisions, 2-point PAT judgments, challenge flag decisions and the use of gadget plays.
Even if a head coach only calls one side of the ball – or neither – HCR holds him accountable for play calls in all three units. Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay, for example, leaves the defensive play calling to his veteran coordinator, Wade Phillips. McVay gets credit for having a coordinator he can trust.
Of course, McVay did an outstanding job calling plays on offense, which helped him earn the top spot among play callers in 2017. Here are HCR’s top-ranked play callers from last season:
|1. Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams||7.8|
|t2. Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints||7.7|
|t2. Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings||7.7|
|4. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots||7.6|
|t5. Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles||7.1|
|t5. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs||7.1|
|t5. Anthony Lynn, San Diego Chargers||7.1|
And here’s the complete 2017 ranking for Play Calling.
One of the reasons we praised McVay was for the way he got the most out of receiver Tavon Austin. As we noted following the Rams’ 33-0 rout over Arizona in Week 7:
“… McVay continues to show he is one of the best play callers in football. He has rejuvenated WR Tavon Austin’s career by getting Austin the ball in a variety of ways from different formations. Austin now is able to show his value not only as a wide receiver, but also as a ballcarrier. The Rams will shovel or toss run plays to Austin every game. McVay also is creatively sprinkling in zone read concepts to further confuse defenses. In this game, he had the Cardinals defense so off-balance that QB Jared Goff actually kept the ball on one zone read play for a rushing TD.”
Super Bowl LII offered a perfect example of how game situations can dictate the merits of certain calls. The Patriots and Eagles both ran trick plays in the second quarter in which their quarterbacks went out for a pass. But consider the circumstances:
With the Patriots trailing 9-3 and facing third-and-5 at the Eagles’ 35, they ran a reverse to Danny Amendola, who threw an incomplete pass to Tom Brady. Given the field position, New England elected to go for it on fourth down and failed. It wasn’t a bad idea to go for it in that situation. However, considering the Patriots had the NFL’s top-ranked offense last season, why try a trick play on third down?
Later in the quarter, with the Eagles ahead 15-12, Eagles coach Doug Pederson called for the now famous “Philly Special” – QB Nick Foles caught the fourth-and-1 TD pass from TE Trey Burton. Regardless of the play being successful, we gave Pederson credit for this call for two reasons: 1) the Eagles already had the lead; and 2) if the Eagles played it safe and settled for a field goal, it would still be only a one-score game.