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Bobby Johnson is a baffling hire as OL coach

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NFL: DEC 18 Giants at Commanders Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Washington’s new head coach, Dan Quinn, has been assembling his coaching staff over the course of the past couple of weeks, and - for the most part - there’s been a certain rationality in the way that it’s come together. Kliff Kingsbury as the team’s offensive coordinator and Joe Whitt Jr. as the team’s defensive coordinator are well-respected in the league and bring interesting skillsets to the organization.

That said, with Kingsbury’s offensive approach, there was a sense that his selection of his offensive line coach would be critical, someone who could build a stout line for his modified “Air Raid” offense as well as help with the running game coordination.

There was discussion of poaching a potential OL coach from the Cowboys, or even - potentially - the 49ers. Earlier today, however, we learned that Washington went in a different direction.

To those unfamiliar with the name, Johnson was the Giants’ offensive line coach for the past two seasons before being fired in early January. Why was he fired, you might ask? Because his offensive line was absolutely wretched. Over the past two years, his line gave up 134 sacks. A gentle reminder that Washington’s line “only” yielded 65 sacks this year.

Johnson has been coaching pro offensive lines in some form or fashion since 2010, but his most recent assignments have been as an assistant offensive line coach in Indianapolis (2018), offensive line coach in Buffalo (2019-2021), and offensive line coach with the Giants (2022-2023).

In order to look at how each of those teams performed, I went back to dig up the Pro Football Focus line rankings and evaluations for each of those seasons, which can be found below.

2018 (Colts) - #3

We knew they’d be better, but I don’t think even the biggest Colts homer could have foreseen this coming. Drafting the highest-graded rookie guard though and the second-highest-graded rookie tackle will do that. Everyone and their mother predicted Quenton Nelson would be a stud, and he was as a second-team PFF All-Pro, but Braden Smith going from college guard to pro tackle was a wildcard. Fortunately, that card came up aces as Smith was PFF’s 25th-highest graded tackle on the season.

2019 (Bills) - #21 (Colts stayed at #3)

The Bills invested in their offensive line this offseason between free agency and the draft, and we’ve seen improvement from the unit over last season. Those additions along the line, combined with an emphasis on the short passing game and a resulting quicker release from Josh Allen, has lowered the signal-caller’s pressure rate roughly seven percentage points from where it was last season. The Bills’ top pass blocker has been Dion Dawkins with a 76.4 pass-blocking grade.

2020 (Bills) - #10

The offensive line is just one example of how the Bills have done a tremendous job of building the right way around a young quarterback. They didn’t throw a lot of high-value resources at the offensive line, but they did take a fair amount of chances on players in free agency and continued to bring in guys who could contribute and eliminate areas of weakness.

A good example of that is right tackle Daryl Williams, who earned a 79.4 grade for Buffalo this season. Williams had a strong year at right tackle with the Panthers in 2017, but an injury-shortened 2018 campaign followed by a down year in 2019 across all four guard and tackle positions allowed the Bills to take a chance on Williams in free agency on just a one-year, $2.25 million contract. It’s safe to say that contract has paid off for Buffalo.

2021 (Bills) - #17

The Bills had approached their offensive line in recent years to try and ensure they had solid depth should they be forced to use it, but those depth players this season were where the majority of their problems cropped up. The five players who appeared in the fewest games earned the worst five PFF grades of the 10 linemen Buffalo used over the season, but three of those five played at least 440 snaps and were major contributors. Dion Dawkins was the best player on the line at left tackle, allowing 25 pressures across 16 games.

2022 (Giants) - #30 (Bills fell to #23)

Evan Neal was poor as a rookie but was playing right tackle after manning the left side in his final year at Alabama. Year 2 removes that as a potential excuse, and now he needs a massive improvement.

Only the Chargers and Vikings surrendered more total pressures than the Giants did last season, but solid play from rookie center John Michael-Schmitz and Evan Neal in Year 2 would catapult them up the rankings.

2023 (Giants) - #30

There were a lot of disappointments regarding the offensive line, namely the lack of development of younger players like right tackle Evan Neal, center John Michael Schmitz, and guard Joshua Ezeudu, all of whom are considered premium draft picks (taken in the first three rounds of their respective classes).

That plus the unit’s historically bad performance—New York allowed 85 sacks, which is the second most in league history since sacks were first tracked—resulted in head coach Brian Daboll firing offensive line coach Bobby Johnson on Monday.

And the poor performance of New York’s line was not the product of perpetual underinvestment, as has been the the case in Washington. Their line includes, among others:

  • Left tackle - Andrew Thomas (pick #4 in 2020).
  • Right tackle - Evan Neal (pick #7 in 2022).
  • Center - John Michael Schmitz (pick #57 in 2023).
  • Left guard - Justin Pugh (pick #19 in 2013).

Johnson came under fire early in the 2023 season for rotating his offensive linemen in training camp which some believed harmed the ability of the line to establish continuity prior to the regular season. Johnson disputed that claim:

“I know a lot of people think that, but I’m just saying that the same thing could be said if you get a guy injured, and they miss time, and then they go back in,” Johnson opined. “So, I don’t think that was the culprit.”

Johnson’s abysmal performance this past season had writers calling for his firing in early October:

In his two years as Giants offensive line coach, Bobby Johnson has turned what was once a promising offensive line, into an absolute dumpster fire. Sure, some of the issues can be blamed on the personnel, but there’s probably a reason that every linemen who has signed with New York has gotten significantly worse. Really, the only player who’s gotten better with Johnson has been Andrew Thomas, who remains one of the best tackles in all of football.

On top of the poor performance of his offensive lines, Johnson has been involved in scuffles with players for which he received a rebuke from Brian Daboll:

Giants offensive line coach Bobby Johnson apologized publicly on Tuesday for shoving linebacker Cam Brown during Monday’s fight.

“The incident yesterday, I take full responsibility. I’m remorseful,” Johnson said. “It can’t happen. It won’t happen again. I’ve apologized to the appropriate people, in particular Cam. I have to be better than that. It’s not what we’re looking for. It’s a regrettable incident that can’t and won’t happen again.”

By and large, I’ve been pretty satisfied with the coaching hires for Washington to date, but this one really has me scratching my head.

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Grade the hire of Bobby Johnson as Washington’s OL coach

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    A
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  • 2%
    B
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