After ranking the NFL's 2009 defensive coordinators from one to 32 last week, Pro Football Weekly has moved to the other side of the ball this week, with an exclusive ranking of the '09 offensive coordinators, some of whom no doubt remain on the radar screen for the head-coaching vacancy in Buffalo and could be considered for top jobs that we hear could possibly be opening up in a few NFL venues, most notably Oakland and Jacksonville.
Our rankings are based on extensive feedback from league sources and talent evaluators and a special formula devised by PFW that takes into account numerous variables, including the effect of injuries on each team.
If the performance of quarterbacks were compared with the output of every NFL offense, the rankings would be comparable, and it's a big reason why nearly every offensive-minded head coach in the NFL has experience coaching quarterbacks, and why the rankings of the top coordinators may closely mirror the performance of this year's top passers.
That said, many factors came into play, with three coordinators — Todd Haley, Alex Van Pelt and Greg Olson — not taking over their duties until the week before the regular season began. And balancing so many moving parts, with injuries taking a greater toll on some offenses than others, was also factored into the final rankings.
Coordinators are ranked from top to bottom, with insiders' comments on each. All quotes were obtained from pro personnel evaluators on the condition of anonymity. On teams where the head coach has the responsibility for the play-calling and is heavily involved in the coordination of the offense, we've rated the head coach rather than the coordinator. Additional responsibilities of coordinators are indicated in parentheses where applicable.
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR RANKINGS
1. Jason Garrett / Cowboys
Without Terrell Owens, the Cowboys' offense has been much more cohesive this year. Tony Romo has found a way to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers and has looked much more comfortable down the stretch, a credit to Garrett. He struggled last season managing Owens but has fielded one of the NFL's more efficient offenses this year and kept his quarterback focused in December.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "(Garrett) has probably improved the most from the first quarter of the year to the last. He finally figured out how to use three running backs and who his top two receivers are. He is getting the ball to Miles Austin, Jason Witten and Patrick Crayton instead of Roy Williams, Roy Williams and Roy Williams. On the flip side, you got to ask yourself: If Williams did not get hurt against the Chiefs, would Austin still be sitting on the bench right now? Is Garrett a genius for getting him the ball more, or is he an idiot for taking five weeks to figure out this guy was a Pro Bowl talent. (Austin) is big, he can run, he never gets knocked down. He is very talented."
2. Sean Payton / Saints (head coach)
Regarded as the most innovative offensive schemer in the NFL, Payton is praised by evaluators for his ability to create favorable matchups. He presided over the NFL's most high-powered offense, has Drew Brees playing at an MVP-caliber level and sets up the run with the pass as well as anyone.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "He's an excellent play-caller, knows how to utilize his personnel, can move the ball in the air or on the ground. He is one of the best." ... "He is very creative. He utilizes all of his personnel to create a lot of diversionary tactics to run the same plays. He uses the clock well, and he maximizes the resources that he has on the offense to be productive."
3. Tom Moore / Colts
The Colts have as good of an offensive coordinator on the field (Peyton Manning) as many teams have on the sidelines, and Manning's presence gives the Colts a commanding advantage. Despite inconsistency in the run game, they have found ways to make plays.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "What they were able to do with two rookie receivers and an average left tackle tells you a lot. Anthony Gonzalez only played in the first game. ... "(Tom Moore) has developed a great offensive mind because he has been able to evolve through different decades of the game. He gives a Hall of Fame quarterback the flexibility to do what he sees fit. (Moore) is smart enough to realize he has great weapons and does not overcoach them. He listens to and allows input from others to create a sound offensive package."
4. Mike McCarthy / Packers (head coach)
With all due respect to coordinator Joe Philbin, McCarthy is still heavily involved in the coordination of the Packers' offense and calls the plays for one of the NFL's more high-powered offenses. His ability to adapt midstream and change his philosophy after the Packers struggled to protect Aaron Rodgers is a tribute to McCarthy.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "He puts his players in positions to make plays. He is very talented. To be able to recreate the offense on the fly and go from more of a vertical game to a short, quick, rhythm passing game and utilize the (lesser) talents of their offensive line was brilliant. The quarterback (Rodgers) did not take nearly as many hits the second half of the year because of how he changed what they do."
5. Norv Turner / Chargers (head coach)
Clarence Shelmon carries the coordinator title, but make no mistake, this is Turner's offense, and behind the intensity and surgical work of QB Phillip Rivers, it has become one of the league's best, with a group of big receivers whom few have shown they could stop.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "He was able to transform an offense that was relying on the run game first to a passing offense while making the same group of individuals believe in what he was doing. I have to give him credit for that and for rebounding from a slow start to clicking on all cylinders now. Historically, he has had a slow-starting group."
6. Cam Cameron / Ravens
Given great autonomy by John Harbaugh to run the offense, Cameron has established the physical, smashmouth identity that Harbaugh sought and brought the Ravens to the playoffs two consecutive years with a very young quarterback.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "Cameron did a solid job in Baltimore. People don't realize Ray Rice had 2,000 yards from scrimmage. (Cameron) established the power run, and Joe Flacco progressed in his second year. I don't think he is a great head coach, but I do think he is a dynamite offensive coordinator. Sometimes it is more difficult in your second year than it is in your first (as a quarterback) because every defensive coordinator has had a chance to study you. Matt Ryan is a prime example. He went backwards this year. Flacco did not."
7. Brian Schottenheimer / Jets
The Jets ran a relatively conservative offense that did not take a lot of chances down the field with a rookie quarterback, and consequently they did not rank highly overall in statistical categories. However, Schottenheimer has impressed NFL brass with the way he brought along a rookie passer (Mark Sanchez) and weaved a veteran receiver (Braylon Edwards) into the offense at midseason.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "He had to deal with a rookie quarterback, a receiver who can't catch (Edwards) and losing one of his key running backs (Leon Washington) — that's a lot to overcome. Matt Cavanaugh did a great job working with the rookie. They did a heck of a job managing him. There is so much a rookie quarterback is seeing for the first time. You got to give Brian a lot of credit. Rex is hands-off with the offense. (Schottenheimer) is running it, and he did a great job of playing to their strengths and weathering the quarterback storm."
8. Mike Heimerdinger / Titans
Despite having one of the NFL's better offensive lines, led by Mike Munchak, the Titans struggled early in the year with Kerry Collins calling the shots. After plugging Vince Young into the lineup and opening up the running game, they produced a 2,000-yard rusher (Chris Johnson) and featured the most explosive running game in the league. Heimerdinger, a college roommate of Mike Shanahan's at Eastern Illinois, is in line to become the fourth head coach from the new cradle of coaching, Eastern Illinois, which also produced Sean Payton and Brad Childress.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "Heimerdinger did a hell of a job in a sense that when they went to Vince Young, he changed the whole offense to fit with what he had on the field. He would want to pound the football and throw it deep if he could, but with Vince and Chris Johnson and even the offensive linemen that he has, that is not what gave them the best chance to win. So he changed to more zone stretches and high-percentage passes."
9. Mike Mularkey / Falcons
Despite injuries to Michael Turner that slowed the ground game, and QB Matt Ryan playing hurt much of the season, the Falcons' offense still produced with an average offensive line.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "They (the Falcons) get more out of their guys than most teams do, and that is a credit to Mike Mularkey and the efficient manner in which he coaches. Just look at their offensive line — Tyson Clabo and Harvey Dahl are not special. They are not liabilities, but show me the scout who thought either one of those guys would turn out to be players. They are able to take guys that should be liabilities and conceal their shortcomings."
10. Bill Belichick / Patriots (head coach)
One of the few teams that did not have a coordinator in title, QB coach Bill O'Brien did a lot of heavy lifting, but Belichick was very involved in overseeing the unit, which finished ranked in the league's top five based on PFW's statistical formula. However, that is not to say the offense did not endure some growing pains.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "The first thing the Patriots had to do was get Brady's confidence back and just get him ready mentally. They really struggled to maintain a consistent running game, and it really shows up on the road. For being one of the elite teams, they were more inconsistent offensively than most teams who had a top-tier quarterback. I thought going into the year that this would be a transition year with Brady coming back from injury, and in that context, they had a really good year. They should be a lot better next year with all of their pieces back, but not being able to run the ball consistently was their Achilles' heel."
11. Brad Childress / Vikings (head coach)
How much Childress was able to allow Darrell Bevell to do his job remains a question, with play-calling still being Childress' baby, but regardless of who is calling the shots, there is no questioning that Brett Favre played at an extremely high level. The decline of the running game with the NFL's most feared runner on the roster (Adrian Peterson), and the inability to correct Peterson's fumbling problems remain concerns and invited more criticism.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "Who you think is calling the plays — Brad Childress or Darrell Bevell? You got to take your hat off to Brad for getting Favre to play the way he has." ... "Darrell Bevell coordinated this group, and Brad put his stamp on it. They did an exceptional job getting the most out of the quarterback, but I don't understand why they went from a strong running team to a team that has failed to generate productivity out of the running game. The focus shifted — from running first to throwing first — and I don't understand why they made the change. Maybe it was the turnovers (Peterson's fumbles)."
12. Bruce Arians / Steelers
Despite some questions about whether Arians would be retained, evaluators contend that the Steelers' offensive coordinator should not be at fault for having to modify his philosophy because of the way the defense repeatedly put the offense in a trailing position.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "His running back (Willie Parker) was hurt all year. He's got (Rashard) Mendenhall, who is not real sure what to do and definitely does not know what to do against the blitz. The line is built to get leads, and then they can dictate the plan on offense, mixing up the power run and play-action. The offense basically struggled because the defense gave up so many quick points, and they were always in a hole, trying to catch up. Steelers football is winning ugly, 21-17. They are not built to have a 4,000-yard passer. They run the ball, play good defense and score enough points to win."
13. Ken Whisenhunt / Cardinals (head coach)
Whisenhunt is widely regarded around the NFL as one of the league's better football minds. He is credited for understanding personnel and putting his players in position to maximize their talents. Assistant head coach/offensive line/running-game coordinator Russ Grimm, who has been considered for head-coaching positions for years, also carries high regard in league circles.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm set the blueprint for how to play offense. It took half of the year for everyone to figure out how to stop Jared Allen. The Cardinals chipped him and shut him down, and then everyone else followed suit. These guys know how to coach, man." ... "(Whisenhunt) is creative utilizing the running game and underneath passing game — what he has done is taken away a lot of big-play abilities of their receivers. All of their passes are 10 yards. He is using the mind power of the quarterback (Kurt Warner), but their skill guys are all averaging very little yards per catch. It has become all dink-and-dunk passes. They are not going down the field anymore — the only time they get a long play is if they get a catch-and-run."
14. Gary Kubiak / Texans (head coach)
Kubiak's simple system maximizes the ability of his quarterback, but evaluators were confused as to why his game plans were not more aggressive late in games and called into question his ability to adjust in the second half. Statistically, the Texans rank in the top third of the league in offensive output with Matt Schaub having a career year that helped produce the Texans' first winning record. And offensive coordinator/QB coach Kyle Shanahan deserves mention for his work with Schaub.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "They are innovative early in the game with their initial packages, but they tighten up under pressure and go much more conservative. I question how well they adapt. They usually become very predictable in what they are trying to execute. If you look at Andre Johnson's productivity, a lot of it is coming early instead of late. He racks up yards, but they don't come through in clutch situations."
15. Kevin Gilbride / Giants
The Giants were often put in bad positions because of their struggles on defense, and the running game, after losing Derrick Ward, lost some of its oomph, as Brandon Jacobs too often tiptoed through holes while battling injuries. But the emergence of a young group of receivers and the rapport they showed with Eli Manning were positive signs in a playoff-less season.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "They did not lose games because of the offense. Eli had his first 4,000-yard passing year (while) dealing with a lot of young receivers. Brandon Jacobs was hurt most of the time and not running the same way. They did not have the same firepower in the backfield. They lost a tackle. The receivers showed development. Gilbride had to fall somewhere between 10 and 15 (on this list)."
16. Josh McDaniels / Broncos (head coach)
Despite the surprising play of Kyle Orton early in the season when he was healthy, the Broncos' offense was not nearly as responsible for the team's eight wins this season as the defense, and a middle-of-the-pack finish was a mighty fall from where the Broncos' more explosive offense finished a year ago with Jay Cutler at the helm and Mike Shanahan calling plays.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "Do you think he would like to have Jay Cutler back now? He managed Kyle Orton extremely well, but the wheels came off the bus late in the year. How many guys have thrown two pick-sixes in the same game? They have an issue at quarterback that needs to be fixed. I think the kid is a great coach — you can see what he is trying to do with his packages, setting up defenses. But I'm not sure if he is emotionally stable enough to lead. One thing he did not learn from (former boss Bill) Belichick was how to address his players. He flies off the handle a lot."
17. Marty Mornhinweg / Eagles
Andy Reid still carries a very heavy voice in the Eagles' offense, but Mornhinweg took a more prominent role. The Eagles lost some of the balance in their offense, as they infused much youth into the lineup.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "The offense really comes down to how well they can protect Donovan McNabb. That's why they went out and traded a first-round pick and paid Jason Peters. Athletically, there is no (left tackle) better — and they needed someone who could block DeMarcus Ware and Osi Umenyiora twice a year. (McNabb) is a great quarterback when he can stand tall in the pocket, look downfield and throw the ball, but when he feels like he is being pressured, like he did against Dallas, they have no chance. Absolutely none. He gets nervous, loses his accuracy and is a different (quarterback) when he has to get rid of it quickly." ... "They were a very inconsistent group this year offensively. They got in streaks. They find ways to create packages for their big-play makers, but there was not enough consistency to generate offensive output vs. better teams."
18. Bob Bratkowski / Bengals
Evaluators praise Bratkowski for having to deal with the inconsistency of Carson Palmer and reinventing the offense to be more of a ground-based attack after the departure of T.J. Houshmandzadeh, running wild over their smashmouth division rivals while limiting turnovers.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "If you look at the running backs on their roster, from Game One last year to Game 16 this year, they turned over a new leaf and really established themselves as a running team. Cedric Benson was a workhorse. Brian Leonard is the best nickel running back in football. They did a heck of a job with a revamped O-line. Most of their offensive linemen starting in the playoffs (were) just guys. Three or four of them (had reject grades coming out of college), and he has had to overcome dealing with Ochocinco, or whatever he is calling himself now. The quarterback (Palmer) is good, not great, and he had to overcome his reputation for playing as good as he needs to. Palmer is not a top-10 quarterback in this league. He's good, not great. For the limited resources he had and the job the offensive line did, you have to commend (Bratkowski). The offensive line coach (Paul Alexander) deserves a lot of credit, too."
19. Dan Henning / Dolphins
Known for being a more traditional, run-first offensive mind, Henning was forced to move away from a more gimmicky offense after injuries took their toll, and he still kept the Fins competitive despite youth at quarterback and few offensive playmakers.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "The head coach (Tony Sparano) does a great job with the offensive line, but Henning is very underrated. To make the transition they did after losing Chad Pennington and still move the ball was impressive. They caught everyone off guard with a gimmick offense last year, but most of the league caught on, and they went to more of a traditional offense after Ronnie Brown got hurt. You got a young quarterback (Chad Henne), an old running back (Ricky Williams) and Ted Ginn not consistent enough to trust — they didn't have a big playmaker in the offense after they lost Ronnie (Brown), but they were still in almost every game. When you can't make big plays and are still efficient moving the ball, that's a tribute to the offensive coordinator."
20. Jimmy Raye / Niners
The conservative style of offense preferred by head coach Mike Singletary was criticized most by evaluators, more so than the Niners' inability to execute. Having to deal with two quarterbacks and the fluid situation of a young receiver being thrown into the lineup also would challenge any coordinator, but for what Raye was asked to do, there were not a lot of complaints.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "He has installed an offense that is very suitable to the thought processes of the head coach while at the same time producing big plays within that conservative structure. He worked Michael Crabtree into the offensive effectively after he missed all of camp and the first part of the season. For what Singletary wants — which is to run the ball and make safe throws — he is very good."
21. Dirk Koetter / Jaguars
In a transitional year featuring two rookie offensive tackles, the Jaguars ran the ball surprisingly well, but David Garrard's performance was marked by too much inconsistency.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "He gets his players prepared every week. He had a balanced offense. They are much better running the ball than passing it. But for a group that had a lot of young players, I thought they made progress."
22. Jeff Davidson / Panthers
Criticized for not better establishing the run with arguably the best RB tandem in the league early in the season, the Panthers came on down the stretch with more consistency under center, as they produced the NFL's first pair of running backs on one team to rush for more than 1,100 yards each.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "I thought he was creative against us. He did not start the year out very creatively, but by the end of the year, they were making good usage out of all their weapons. The creativity was limited because John Fox's philosophy is to not turn it over and keep it simple. They have a lot of simple reads and simple throws, and Jake Delhomme would just chuck it. Once they changed quarterbacks, they became more of a force on offense and let the young quarterback push the ball downfield more. Overall, they were very simplistic in what they were trying to accomplish."
23. Jim Zorn, Sherman Lewis / Redskins
Zorn started the season calling plays but soon had the authority stripped in favor of Sherman Lewis, who was appointed by owner Daniel Snyder. The offense did show more life initially after the change but finished on a low note and was marked by inconsistency overall as the Redskins battled through perhaps more injuries than any other team in the league, losing both of their running backs and their left tackle.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "They moved the ball well and scored points and (Jason) Campbell got better under Sherman Lewis until the last few games. What is difficult is having a cancer like (RB Clinton) Portis, who is almost as bad as T.O. Guys like that tear teams apart. No coach is going to be successful when players are running to the owner and forcing the game plan to change. Washington and Buffalo had impossible situations to be successful this season."
24. Greg Olson / Buccaneers
Promoted before the season to take over for the fired Jeff Jagodzinski, Olson shaped an offense that showed some progress late in the year.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "They don't stack up well statistically, but you have to look at the progress they made from early in the year, when he took over the offense without the quarterback that best fit his system. Luke McCown was traded the day before he took over, and he was forced to play with Byron Leftwich. The receivers were hurt all year. And then he had to bring along the rookie (Josh Freeman). You could see him make progress. From an improvement standpoint down the stretch, he had a somewhat successful run in that context."
25. Ron Turner / Bears
Jay Cutler's supporting cast left something to be desired, without a true No. 1 receiver on the field, but the Bears' biggest problem, evaluators said, was the inability to protect Jay Cutler.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "Jay Cutler knew he was not protected on the left side. The offense started clicking at the end of the year when they moved Chris Williams to the left side, giving him chip help, and they started throwing to Devin Aromashodu. Their receivers are just guys, but it's not about the receivers. It's about protection, and if a quarterback knows the backside is not protected, he is going to get rid of the ball more quickly." ... "I think this year (Turner) was put in a bad spot because he was forced to change his philosophies based on the addition of the personnel, as opposed to the personnel fitting what they already did. They were hurting the running and passing game as they experimented with what did and did not work the entire season. If you watch the Vikings game, that offense was humming."
26. Brian Daboll / Browns
The inability to settle on a quarterback wounded the Browns' passing game, as they struggled to move the ball through the air most of the season. However, they began to show more life the final quarter of the season.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "He had a tough situation with the quarterbacks and trading Braylon Edwards midstream. They did get better and figured out that they had a running back (Jerome Harrison) by the end of the year. Going Quinn-Anderson, Quinn-Anderson is what really hurt them. They needed more on third down, but you saw signs of it turning at the end."
27. Todd Haley / Chiefs (head coach)
After Chan Gailey was let go prior to the season, Haley took over the controls, but the offense still regressed from a year ago, despite the addition of a big-money quarterback (Matt Cassel).
SCOUT'S TAKE: "I guess what they are is a multifaceted offense that does not have personnel to be faceted. Haley wants to push the ball downfield and run play-pass action, but he does not have the personnel to do it yet, so I guess it will be up to Charlie Weis to get it figured out now. Whether it is the Dallas, Arizona or New England offense (the Chiefs are trying to run), it was not effective this year because they didn't have the personnel. Regardless of the talent, it was not a very creative offense."
28. Scott Linehan / Lions
Linehan had his work cut out for him in Detroit working with a rookie quarterback and an injury-riddled offense that looked like a shell of itself by season's end. The Lions finished near the bottom of the league in offensive output and led the league in turnovers, but with a healthy roster, the arrow is still pointing up in Detroit.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "(Linehan) created an offense that was versatile but yet not too much for a young quarterback (Matt Stafford) to grasp. Within the structure of what they had, you would have to say he did a good job creating some explosive plays. Their problem really was that all across the board, they were hurt, hurt, hurt, hurt. Their two No. 1 picks both finished on I.R. Their big-time receiver (Calvin Johnson) was hurt all year. They have a bad offensive line. Their starting running back (Kevin Smith), who had the ball more than 45 percent of time when he was on the field, finished on I.R."
29. Tom Cable / Raiders (head coach)
JaMarcus Russell will handcuff any offense, and the inability to extract any consistent production from the QB position limited the offense, but evaluators questioned what Cable was able to do even without Russell in the lineup.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "(Cable) has not been able to develop any pattern of consistency outside of knowing they are going to run the ball all the time. The reality is that their passing game has been very inept, to the point of futility, and it is not just the lack of productivity at the quarterback position. It is one of those offenses where if they are not playing well on defense, you know they are not going to generate enough points to beat you."
30. Greg Knapp / Seahawks
Injuries have to be taken into consideration given a hard-hit offensive line, but evaluators were not quick to give Knapp a pass for the offense's shortcomings.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "Knapp runs a ball-control offense to the hilt. You don't see creativity to go downfield or open it up as far as big plays go. I think a lot of that is tied into the quarterback (Matt Hasselbeck), but historically that has always been his game. It probably hurt that offense this year because they did not have the personnel to have sustained drives. They needed to get the ball downfield more — and it forced the quarterback into a lot of bad situations." ... "They could not run at all. The quarterback quit on them. (Knapp) did a terrible job, and it is the reason why Mora was fired and should have been fired."
31. Alex Van Pelt / Bills
Entering a very difficult situation in which Bill Walsh may not even have had success, the Bills' offense struggled to get on track all season.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "Oh boy, I think they were a unit in transition all season. They started out trying to run a no-huddle all the time, and they did not have the personnel to do it with a young quarterback. It cost them from a mental standpoint, trying to put people in bad spots to make plays because they were not mentally able to handle that." ... "At the end of the day, it is so unfair to evaluate the job (Van Pelt) did. He got the job the first week of the season and then loses 15-some offensive linemen and has to deal with two quarterbacks. He never had a chance. There were a couple good games early where they moved the ball, and they did a better job getting T.O. involved late in the year, but it was an impossible situation."
32. Pat Shurmur / Rams
With Marc Bulger shell-shocked behind a battered offensive line and the Rams forced to finish the season with third-team rookie QB Keith Null, expectations could not be great for an offense that also finished near the bottom of the league a year ago. But the decision to start Jason Smith at right tackle instead of left tackle slowed his development, and collectively, the Rams were forced to rely on their defense to stay competitive.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "They had a lot of injuries, but for a team that had a veteran quarterback and one of the best running backs in the league, I thought they should have been much better. If I'm Steve Spagnuolo, I'm putting Pat Shurmur on notice. They never moved the ball with any consistency or scored any points. They were atrocious on offense. I like Pat — he has a lot of good qualities as a position coach — but I'm just calling it like it is. A lot of position coaches cannot coordinate, and a lot of coordinators cannot be head coaches, and there are head coaches that cannot be coordinators. The jury is still out on whether Pat can coordinate. ... In the court of public opinion in St. Louis, if he were a steak, he'd be well-done."
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