FanPost

The Armchair Analyst HC Report - Brian Daboll

Jamie Germano via Imagn Content Services, LLC

This Fanpost was written by a Windy City Gridiron member, and does not necessarily reflect the ideas or opinions of its staff or community.

It is no secret that if the season ended today, the Chicago Bears would likely be seeing some changes made around Halas Hall. Most notably, the search would begin for the replacement for Matt Nagy as head coach of the beloved Monsters of the Midway.

In this first episode of what I hope to be many, I will be diving into a candidate that has shown enough promise and demand to find themselves as a named possibility in the eyes of sports insiders and the public alike. I will do my best to present an unbiased background on each candidate, followed by my personal analysis of them -- both positive and negative. These are not meant to be the final say on which candidate I believe the organization should entrust the future of this team, but rather a hopefully well-reasoned set of arguments based on the merits of the candidates themselves.

Brian Daboll

Background

Brian Daboll (age 46) is the current offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills. He has served in a variety of coaching roles since 1997, when he started his venture into football education and leadership as a volunteer assistant at the College of William & Mary. Daboll was most notably part of the coaching staff for the New England Patriots during their dynasty run -- winning three Super Bowls within four years. During that time, Daboll served as a defensive assistant for one year before becoming the wide receivers coach from 2002 through 2006. Since that time, Daboll has always been an offensive coach, earning offensive coordinator positions with the Browns (2009 - 2010), Dolphins (2011), Chiefs (2012), the University of Alabama (2017), and of course, the Buffalo Bills.

Daboll has worked several different head coaches during his various stops across the league, but most of his hires have tied back to coaching relationships formed while working on the staffs of either Bill Belichick or Nick Saban. Daboll was a graduate assistant for Saban at Michigan State after his volunteer days with William & Mary, and then was Saban's offensive coordinator at the University of Alabama when they won the 2018 College Football Playoff national championship against Georgia (look away, Roquan, look away).

It should also come as no surprise that Daboll formed relationships with the rest of the staff under Belichick while he was in New England. Daboll's offensive coordinator posts with the Browns and Chiefs were both under head coaches who were on those dynasty staffs with Daboll -- Eric Mangini and Romeo Crennel.

To add even more connections to this background, Daboll and his current head coach, Sean McDermott, have known each other since Daboll was a volunteer assistant at William & Mary. McDermott was in his final year as a player, and according to him, they have stayed in touch ever since that time.

Offensive Philosophy

As an offensive coach, Daboll has had a variety of opportunities to define himself into a set scheme. And while he may have some preferred starting places as a philosophy, when it has come to QB Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills, Daboll has shown a willingness to adapt both to his QB and to the athletes within the NFL.

Per PFF, Daboll had originally designed the run game around what he had success with in 2017 at Alabama -- zone rushing concepts combined with gap scheme runs (primarily Power and Counter) for added rushing diversity. For those who may not understand what all of this means, I found a few examples of Power below to quickly discuss, as the result is all the same:

Running the Power Gap

Running Gap 11

The gap blocking scheme works with one major principle in mind on every play: the offensive line will be blocking any player in their gap away from the play. This is also known as a down block. In both plays, the run is going to the right side of the center. That's play side. In both diagrams, the blockers are all attempting to move the defenders away from that side by hoping to move them to the left, or to the non-play side. In both plays, the guard is pulling to make a block to spring the running back.

This is bread and butter offensive scheme success at Alabama. Daboll found that it did not work nearly to the same degree in the NFL. Why?

Defensive Ends in the NFL are just too athletically gifted. In both plays, if the play side edge defender quickly reads and crashes to the RB, this play is over. The pulling guard in the second example can't get there in time to create a hole, clogging up the running lane, and the first example leaves the DE completely unblocked as a read for the QB. Edge defenders are too quick and too smart to be fooled by this consistently.

PFF found that Daboll used different run schemes to find more frequent success, but Daboll still had a pass-run play call split of 67-33 during his time in Buffalo, rather than the 50-50 split he had at Alabama.

Then again, it would be rather tempting to make sure you had a 50/50 split in college if you had the likes of Damien Harris, Jalen Hurts, Bo Scarbrough, Najee Harris, Josh Jacobs and Tua Tagovailoa as rushing threats to work with, as Daboll did at Alabama.

Daboll has since gone for a much more Spread-centric approach to his offense. Sharp Football Stats shows us that in 2018, Buffalo was running plays from under-center formations over 40% of the time, but by 2020, that number had dropped to a mere 28%.

Daboll's offensive philosophy should make almost any data analytics guy happy to see. Buffalo leads the league in Play Action pass attempts on the season, per Pro Football Reference. Over a quarter of their passing attempts are from play action. They have done this despite being only 18th in rushing attempts on the year. This comes after Daboll started his tenure in Buffalo with back-to-back seasons finishing as the 6thbest rushing team in the league. He has since followed that with a greater shift to the passing game and it has paid off in dividends, moving his offense from 30th and 24th in yardage for those run-heavy years to 2ndlast year and 5th currently.

In short, Daboll's philosophy has changed as he has found what works with his team and QB, but his success running the spread with heavy play-action is what makes his offensive engine work.

Stats

The following is a table of the rankings Daboll has led offenses to while serving as the offensive coordinator for various teams in the NFL. This list is readily available on Pro Football Reference in its entirety, but I have trimmed it down to make it easier to read.

Note, these are rankings relative to the rest of the league. For instance, if there is a 6 in Rush Att for a single year, that means Daboll's offense had the 6th most rushing attempts that year.

Year

Tm

Yds

Pts

Rush Att

Rush Yds

Pass Att

Pass Yds

2009

CLE

32

29

6

8

30

32

2010

CLE

29

31

22

20

28

29

2011

MIA

22

20

6

11

28

23

2012

KAN

24

32

5

5

29

32

2018

BUF

30

30

6

9

28

31

2019

BUF

24

23

6

8

24

26

2020

BUF

2

2

17

20

11

3

2021

BUF

5

2

17

11

8

7

Analysis

The Good

Let's start with what I like about Brian Daboll. Daboll has shown an increasing willingness to shape his offense around not only what his quarterback is good at, but also what works. One game that always stood out to me was the 2020 game at home against Seattle. The Seahawks had shown some real ability to stop the run that year. They had been gashed by Arizona and the Vikings in back-to-back games but were coming fresh off holding the 49ers to just 52 yards on the ground, and I hear that Kyle Shanahan knows a thing or two about running the ball. So, how do you respond, Mr. Daboll?

That's easy. You just abandon the run!

Buffalo won a shootout at home, 44 - 34, and only ran the ball (removing kneel downs) 16 times -- three of which were scrambles by Josh Allen.

Allen instead managed to pick apart a secondary that had struggled since the start of the season. Daboll focused entirely on the passing game as the way to win that game, and it worked. He attacked what Seattle couldn't stop and abandoned what they could. It almost feels like comical common sense to write this down as a positive, but then again, we've been in an abusive coaching relationship for some time now, and I've almost forgotten that simple logic makes sense sometimes.

Daboll has also been credited with the development of Josh Allen. If you had asked me what Josh Allen could be before the 2018 NFL Draft, I don't know that I would have ever thought to dream of him in his current state. He just seemed far too inaccurate, and historically, accuracy rarely, if ever, improves from college to the NFL. His arm strength was the kind of Herculean stuff you only see in Madden's create-your-own player mode, but there were so many question marks apart from his shoulder cannon that I struggled to see the upside.

There's a reason I'm an armchair analyst and guys like Brandon Beane work in the NFL.

Daboll has had plenty of experience, as well. After seeing a "phenom" move up the rankings to the role of head coach rather quickly in Matt Nagy, there is always some comfort in finding a more seasoned leader to take the helm. Daboll certainly qualifies with over 20 years of coaching experience under his belt. He's also worked with two of the brightest minds in the game -- Saban and Belichick. Those close connections to greatest-of-all-time coaches have always made the apples look a bit sweeter coming off the tree.

The Bad

Everything I just said that I liked could have a huge asterisk placed next to everything. He abandoned the run? Nagy has done that. He's not an idiot, guys, remember? The only difference is that Daboll did it and his team won the game, and that is all that matters.

Former Saban and Belichick guys aren't always the best on the block, either. There is a huge list of coaches that have been hired away from Belichick's staff to take on head coaching positions that have turned into colossal flops. Mangini, Crennel, McDaniels' stint in Denver, O'Brien, Patricia, Judge (so far) - all those NFL opportunities just given to guys who have been understudies of the G.O.A.T. There are a few out there that have found success in Vrabel (does he really count?) and Flores, but they could easily slip into the failures category, and no one would be shocked based on the rest of those NFL mess-ups.

Daboll also has another thing to go with all that history: the results of said history.

Go back up and look at that chart again of his offensive rankings. Before Josh Allen was ready to conquer the world, what did Daboll do? He ran the ball pretty well, but his offenses were always in the bottom third of the league in points and yards. His only success has come when Allen had finally found his way and had some real weapons around him (Stefon Diggs is one hell of a receiver who somehow doesn't get enough love).

I tend to want to see what someone has done when the cards in the deck aren't stacked in their favor. Now, to be fair to Daboll, you have to know how to play your hand, and Daboll correctly adjusted his play calling to meet the moment with Allen being primed and ready. I'm willing to say that it must have been difficult to fight his run-heavy instincts with something more closely resembling a Big XII college offense, but maybe that is who he's been all along and we didn't get to know it until he had the QB necessary to make those plays.

Speaking of QBs who can make plays, have you all *seen* Josh Allen throw a football?

How much credit does an OC get when a QB is capable of making throws that defensive backs would normally never believe to be possible?

Final Thoughts

Brian Daboll has a rich history of coaching experience that has roots among some of the best minds ever to grace the game of football. He has an offense that has shown a willingness to adapt to the players on the team and to what is the most effective way to score points.

Brian Daboll would certainly know how to implement an offense that I believe would be more potent than what we have seen from the past few years of Matt Nagy. His spread offense looks much more akin to what you might expect Fields to be more comfortable in, although I'm not sure his route concepts match up the best with that comparison.

The real question is this: Can Daboll become a great head coach, or is he too much a tactician by nature and wants to be in the mix of the offensive scheme, as Nagy has been? I'm not suggesting the two are mutually exclusive, but I tend to prefer a coach who doesn't need to give up play calling to feel more connected to his defense and special teams, as Nagy has said this season.

Only time will tell, but I fully expect Daboll to be hired away as a head coach by someone come years end. Whether that team is an NFL or College team waits to be seen, but I do expect this to be his last year with the Buffalo Bills. At some point, with numbers that good, a guy gets a shot at a bigger opportunity.

This Fanpost was written by a Windy City Gridiron member, and does not necessarily reflect the ideas or opinions of its staff or community.