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Daily Slop - 14 Jan 24: Take a closer look Washington’s head coaching candidates

A collection of articles, podcasts & tweets from around the web to keep you in touch with the Commanders, the NFC East and the NFL in general

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Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens
Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald of the Baltimore Ravens looks on during pregame warmups prior to facing the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium on October 09, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

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Washington Post (paywall)

Tracking the Commanders’ coach and GM searches

Who are the candidates? Who has interviewed? What are the next steps?

Head coaching candidates interviewed

Anthony Weaver, the Baltimore Ravens’ assistant head coach/defensive line coach had a virtual interview with the Commanders on Thursday, a person with knowledge of the plans said.

Head-coaching interview requests

Ben Johnson, Detroit Lions offensive coordinator: The 37-year-old helped revive the career of quarterback Jared Goff and turned the Lions’ offense into one of the more prolific in the NFL over the past two seasons. He takes an analytical approach and has 12 years of NFL coaching experience, including seven (2012 to 2018) with the Miami Dolphins.

Dan Quinn, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator: Quinn has 21 years of NFL coaching experience and a lengthy track record with elite defenses. He helped lead the Seattle Seahawks and their “Legion of Boom” secondary to back-to-back Super Bowls, then spent six years as head coach of the Falcons, taking them to the Super Bowl in his second season. Dallas’s defense had top-five finishes in total yards, passing yards and points under his tutelage last season.

Anthony Weaver, Baltimore Ravens assistant head coach/defensive line: Weaver was a second-round pick by the Ravens and spent seven years playing in the NFL. As a coach, he has bounced from the Jets to the Bills, Browns, Texans and Ravens over the past 12 seasons, coaching the defensive line.

Aaron Glenn, Lions defensive coordinator: Glenn spent 15 seasons in the NFL as a cornerback, then dabbled in personnel before shifting to coaching. After seven seasons as a defensive backs coach in Cleveland and New Orleans, he was hired to his current role with the Lions in 2021.

Raheem Morris, Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator: The longtime defensive coach spent three years in Washington (2012 to 2014), leading its secondary. He was the head coach of the Buccaneers from 2009 to 2011 and was the interim coach of the Falcons in 2020. Morris won his first Super Bowl as a quality control coach on Jon Gruden’s Tampa Bay staff and his second as the Rams’ defensive coordinator.

Mike Macdonald, Ravens defensive coordinator: Macdonald has spent the past decade with a Harbaugh. He was with John for seven seasons in Baltimore, starting as a defensive intern and working his way up. Then he worked for Jim in 2020, serving as Michigan’s defensive coordinator. Then he went back to John. Over the past two seasons, Baltimore’s defense has ranked among the top five in total yards, rushing yards, scoring, opponent third-down conversion rate and defensive red-zone touchdown rate.

Bobby Slowik, Houston Texans offensive coordinator: Slowik began his NFL coaching career with Washington as a video assistant and then spent three years as a defensive assistant, working closely with former pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan. Slowik switched to offense in 2021 as a passing game specialist on Kyle Shanahan’s staff in San Francisco. In Houston, he has turned one of the worst offenses in the league a year ago into the seventh-best passing attack in 2023 with rookie C.J. Stroud at quarterback.

The Athletic (paywall)

Commanders’ head-coaching candidates take center stage in playoffs

Texans OC Bobby Slowik vs. Browns’ No. 1-ranked defense

The Texans were among the worst teams in numerous offensive categories last season. Houston hired a new coach, drafted quarterback C.J. Stroud and chose Slowik to reform the offense. He did. The new-look attack rated 10th in passing DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) and 14th overall, per FTN Fantasy.

If Stroud avoids rookie woes in his playoff debut and tacks on impressive work on top of becoming the fifth rookie quarterback ever to top 4,000 passing yards, expect ample praise for Houston’s first-year coordinator. Slowik, 36, spent the previous six years with San Francisco, arriving in 2017 along with Peters. That final year with the 49ers, Slowik was the passing game coordinator for an offense rated third in passing DVOA and fifth overall.

Cowboys’ DC Dan Quinn vs. Green Bay’s surging offense

Quinn led the Atlanta Falcons to Super Bowl LI as a head coach two years after inheriting a team with 10 victories combined in the two previous seasons. The Cowboys’ defense ranked seventh, fifth and fifth in points allowed over the past three seasons with Quinn. They led the league in takeaways in 2021 and 2022 before finishing tied for 12th this season.

Lions OC Ben Johnson vs. Rams DC Raheem Morris

Two candidates going head to head makes for an entertaining watch. Johnson is the headliner among the potential first-time head coaches thanks to back-to-back dynamic offensive seasons. The Lions led the league in yards per game (387.4) and finished top five in points per game (26.9) and offensive EPA (0.06) during those two years.

Johnson’s play designs and play calling, with help from head coach Dan Campbell, turned the 37-year-old offensive coordinator into a hot commodity. He received interest in head-coaching opportunities last year but remained with the Lions. Detroit finished 12-5 for its first NFC North title since 1993.

Lions DC Aaron Glenn vs. Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford

Detroit’s defense jumping from 27th in DVOA last season to 13th in 2023 is among the reasons why Glenn is a popular head-coaching candidate. The Lions typically play in high-scoring games. That’s not ideal this weekend considering McVay’s play calling and Stafford’s surge. The Rams finished eighth with 23.8 points per game and tied for the league’s sixth-fewest turnovers (18).

Ravens waiting in the wings

League sources said Washington held its first virtual interview with Ravens associate head coach/defensive line coach Anthony Weaver on Thursday. Another known candidate, defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, told local reporters he met virtually with multiple teams on Thursday.

Macdonald, 36, moved into a coordinator role less than a decade after John Harbaugh hired him as a coaching intern in 2014. He oversaw a masterful 2023 campaign as the Ravens became the first team in NFL history to lead the league in points allowed per game, sacks and takeaways.

Bullock’s Film Room (subscription)

Head Coach Candidate Profile: Ben Johnson

Taking a closer look at Lions OC Ben Johnson and the scheme he runs in Detroit

Individualized packages

Another thing that stood out to me with Johnson was how he designed packages of plays specific to the skill sets of his individual players. One example of this would be with receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. St. Brown is a very shifty receiver with great route running ability as he can make sharp and swift cuts in and out of his breaks. This makes him a huge threat outside but also in the slot or in condensed formations where he has space to work outside or over the middle. Johnson has doe a terrific job making use of that talent, designing packages of plays specifically for St. Brown.

Here we see some more examples of layered concepts, as we saw earlier, but this time specifically with St. Brown in mind. On the first play of this clip, the Lions align St. Brown outside the numbers to the right of the formation, but have him motion into a stacked set with a tight end before the snap. From that condensed position, St. Brown has room to work both inside and outside. On this occasion, they have him run what’s known as a C.O, meaning a choice out.

The route uses the stem of a choice route, where St. Brown widens at the snap to get into the seam and give himself room to break inside or outside as he would on a choice route, but then it has a mandatory break outside. The underneath coverage defender plays with heavy inside leverage to protect against the threat of a choice route working inside while the outside corner sinks deep to match the threat of the tight end working vertically. This allows St. Brown to break outside freely and be wide open for an easy seven-yard gain.

On the second play of the clip, we again see the same look and motion from the Lions with St. Brown starting outside the numbers and then motioning short into a stacked set. Having already seen this look before, the Ravens’ defenders think they know what’s coming. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey follows St. Brown inside and lines up in press coverage. St. Brown again uses his choice route stem to set up the potential choice route but then breaks outside to the sideline. Humphrey loses ground as St. Brown breaks outside but desperately scrambles to make up ground and get back on top of the route. He does so successfully, only for St. Brown to suddenly break off the route and work back inside.

Quarterback Jared Goff places the ball just slightly behind St. Brown, but the pass is still catchable. Unfortunately St. Brown drops the pass, which is bad enough but when you notice the space in the middle of the field that he would have had to run into after the catch, the drop looks even worse. Like I said earlier, we can’t blame Johnson for the drop and thus the result, but the scheme was excellent and made use of the talents of one of his top receivers. In Washington, Jahan Dotson is someone with a similar skillset to St. Brown in terms of his route running and shiftiness, so perhaps Dotson would be a natural fit if Johnson ends up being hired by the Commanders.

Bullock’s Film Room (subscription)

Head Coach Candidate Profile: Mike Macdonald

Taking a closer look at Ravens DC Mike MacDonald and the scheme he runs in Baltimore

Simulated pressures

Macdonald is big on simulated pressures. These are pressure schemes that attack protection schemes and make the offense think there are more rushers coming than there actually are. Typically the defense will end up rushing just four defenders, allowing them to play just about any coverage they want to behind it, but the four defenders that rush won’t be the four the offense expects. If you’ve read any of my breakdowns of the Commanders offense this year, you should be pretty familiar with sim pressures by now as the Commanders have struggled to pick them up all year.

Here we see the Ravens defense in a fairly standard look pre-snap. They have their four down lineman, two linebackers and then five defensive backs behind them. Baltimore keeps both safeties back deep with a nickel corner over the slot. From this look, the Ravens can run just about anything, especially with the disguises that Macdonald has in his bag. They could play man coverage with two deep safeties, man coverage with a single deep safety and the other rotating down, Tampa-2, Cover-2, quarters and many many more. Because of all the possibilities, they can get away with playing a fairly basic coverage. On this occasion they run a Cover-3 nickel sim pressure.

What this means is that the Ravens are running just a basic Cover-3 zone coverage with three defenders deep and four defenders underneath. However they get there with a twist. Instead of rushing the four defensive linemen, the Ravens send the slot corner off the edge and have edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney sink back into coverage on the other side. This is a clever scheme for a number of reasons. Firstly, most protection schemes see the offensive line accounting for the four down lineman and a linebacker, meaning a slot corner isn’t always accounted for by the offensive line. That means if the offensive line are accounting for the four down lineman and a linebacker and only three down lineman rush, two offensive lineman are left blocking nobody while the slot corner comes unaccounted for by the offensive line.

The second reason this is a clever scheme is that because the offensive line don’t always account for rushers from the secondary, typically a running back or tight end is kept in to pick up those types of rushers. That means with this scheme, the Ravens can play a basic Cover-3, rush four and ensure the Bengals are keeping extra bodies in to block, limiting the number of eligible receivers running routes. On this occasion, the Bengals actually keep both the tight end and the running back in to pick up the blitzing slot corner, which means they actually only have three receivers out running routes against seven defenders in coverage.

The other part Macdonald adds on top of all of this is the stunt between the defensive tackle and the edge rusher. The Ravens have the edge rusher stunt inside to create room for the slot corner off the edge, but instead of having him just stunt inside one gap, he works a game with the defensive tackle in front of him. The edge rusher initially stunts inside one gap to engage the right tackle in the block, but then peels off to loop around the defensive tackle and work inside a further gap. What this does is help the defensive tackle’s rush. The right guard is relying on the right tackle to help him secure the block, but with the tackle engaged with the edge rusher that then loops inside, the guard is effectively left two-on-one. The tackle breaks through the block from the guard and gets his hands on the quarterback to disrupt him, but fails to bring him down. Under that pressure and with no receivers open, the quarterback ends up scrambling for a minimal gain.

Bullock’s Film Room (subscription)

Head Coach Candidate Profile: Bobby Slowik

Taking a closer look at Texans OC and the scheme he runs in Houston

Play sequencing

The three plays in this clip show the same types of plays we [see from] Kyle Shanahan.... First we see the wide zone run scheme, then we see that RPO now slant which the Texans hit for a touchdown, and finally the third play of the clip shows a nice bootleg for a first down. These are all the fundamental ingredients that Kyle Shanahan uses regularly to put together what is one of the best offensive systems in the NFL.

Having a young offensive mind that has been groomed in the Shanahan system for years has to be appealing to whoever the new head of football operations may be....GM Adam Peters...will obviously be very familiar with Slowik, the Shanahan system and the types of players to draft to fit that system, so Slowik would make a lot of sense for that type of set up. But what I would say about Slowik is that he deserves credit for being flexible and his own man, not just trying to be Kyle Shanahan.

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