Often times, ineffective offenses are blamed on quarterbacks. But offensive coordinators and head coaches actually have a tremendous effect on the game – good play-calling leads to easier execution of plays, and a more effective offense. Here, I’ll take a look at the top five NFL play-callers – and it’s no coincidence that all of these coach’s teams either made the playoffs or had at least ten wins last season.
1. Sean Payton, Head Coach, New Orleans Saints
Is there even a doubt that Payton is the best play-caller in the league? If there is, there shouldn’t be. Although Payton is a very risky play-caller, his risks are calculated and they pay off most of the time. The onside kick in Super Bowl XLIV was an example of that – I’m not sure that any other head coach would even think of starting the second half with an onside kick (well, nobody has done so in recent memory other than Payton). That now-famous bunch onside kick helped New Orleans win the game. In 2012, Drew Brees looked a little rattled at times, and last year with Payton, he had a much better season. The Saints did have a significantly improved defense, but Payton’s return helped the team make a playoff run. Payton is in a class of his own when it comes to play-calling.
2. Greg Roman, Offensive Coordinator, San Francisco 49ers
Yeah, I know what happened in Super Bowl XLVII. That last play where Colin Kaepernick threw a fade to Michael Crabtree wasn’t the best play-call. But Kaepernick could’ve diagnosed the blitz pre-snap, and if he did, he could’ve audibled for Crabtree to run a slant and he could’ve thrown hot right after the snap for a touchdown. And a good play-call – a QB draw – was going to be a touchdown, but it was negated because of a false start. Anyway, Roman is the best offensive coordinator in the league when it comes to calling plays. His wishbone formation is unique, and the power runs out of it never seem to fail. While Roman isn’t as creative in the passing game, he’s unstoppable in the running game. His QB draw and option calls are terrific, and he utilizes the misdirection game well (see Alex Smith touchdown run below).
A lot of people might disagree with me on this one, but Roman is one of the game’s most innovative offensive minds.
3. Bruce Arians, Head Coach, Arizona Cardinals
Somehow, some way, the Cardinals went 10-6 last year and missed the playoffs. The NFC is just too good. But last year, with a mediocre-at-best quarterback and a so-so running game until Andre Ellington came along, Arians managed to have a somewhat effective offense. Like Sean Payton, Arians isn’t content with throwing dinks and dunks – he’s always stretching the field, whether it be with Carson Palmer or Andrew Luck in his first year. Palmer had some good games and a lot of bad games, but Arians managed to compensate for Palmer’s deficiencies with terrific play-calling.
4. Ken Whisenhunt, Head Coach, Tennessee Titans
This might be surprising. But I thought Whisenhunt was an offensive genius in San Diego last year, which is what earned him this head coaching opportunity in Tennessee. Toward the end of Whisenhunt’s time in Arizona, he barely had anything to work with on offense. When you’re coaching John Skelton, Derek Anderson, Max Hall, Kevin Kolb, and Ryan Lindley as starting quarterbacks, there’s not much you can do on offense. Anyway, last year, Whisenhunt was largely responsible for Philip Rivers’ success (he won Comeback Player of the Year), partly because Whisenhunt helped Rivers see the field better and make more precise passes. Whisenhunt also relied on Ryan Matthews a little more towards the end of the season, a trend which he stuck to for the last five games or so – and that proved instrumental in the Chargers’ playoff push. Whisenhunt’s new head coaching opportunity is well deserved, and he should continue to balance play-calling and head coaching duties in Tennessee.
5. Mike McCarthy, Head Coach, Green Bay Packers
The Packers had some tough sledding last year with a bad defense and the injury to Aaron Rodgers, but McCarthy managed to pull the offense together just enough. When Rodgers went down, Matt Flynn was his primary replacement – and it seems like Green Bay is the only place where Flynn has had any success. McCarthy’s passing concepts somehow made sense to Flynn, and he played well enough to win that one crucial game against Dallas which proved necessary to Green Bay winning the NFC North. Of course, McCarthy also designed unique plays for Eddie Lacy, and he gained over 1,100 yards despite having a mediocre offensive line.
Honorable mention: Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
Since I decided to include only coaches and coordinators above, Manning couldn’t be in the top five. But if I had included quarterbacks, Manning would probably be tied with Payton at first. He deserves some spot on this list, so here he is. He’s pretty much a coach on the field, even though about 70 percent of what he says at the line before the snap is just dummy calls. Manning’s football smarts make up for whatever he can’t do physically.
Tags: Arizona Cardinals Bruce Arians Denver Broncos Green Bay Packers Greg Roman Ken Whisenhunt Mike McCarthy New Orleans Saints NFL Peyton Manning San Diego Chargers San Francisco 49ers Sean Payton Tennessee Titans Top 5 NFL Play-Callers Top Play Callers