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Fun With Numbers



As I said in my last piece, I have a lot more experience with baseball than I do football. In my corner of the world, I am known as the numbers guy. I can rattle off just about any statistic fairly quickly. I memorized the back of baseball cards as a kid and I suppose that kind of zealous attachment to numbers never went away. Football obviously has it's own numbers and some of them are more important and valuable than others. I know it is impossible to reduce head coaching candidates to numbers. After all, there is a leader among men quality to coaching that no one knows how to quantify yet.

All that being said, most head coaching candidates have either been head coaches before or they have at least been coordinators before. David Culley was obviously an exception to that rule, and there was very little that was normal about the Culley era. Obviously, there are personality considerations for all candidates, but at the most basic level you would want your candidate to have been successful coaching the side of the ball he was in charge of.

I am working under two assumptions here. First, the next coach will have New England ties. As much as Cal McNair wants to say that we are not Patriots South, he has shown that we are Patriots South. The second assumption is that they are not interested in Joe Judge. Yes, he has a track record, but his tenure in New York was so disastrous that it doesn't make sense to entertain him. Jarred Mayo is also a candidate, but we don't know if he has even been fully in charge of the defense in New England. So, we will look at Josh McDaniels and Brian Flores.

We can compare McDaniels to Bill O'Brien. Both had similar resumes coming in. O'Brien was a head coach in college for two seasons, but had spent the rest of it as a coordinator/position coach. McDaniels was the head coach in Denver and had a mixed amount of success (he did have one playoff win). So, we will compare O'Brien's last five full years in Houston with McDaniels' last five seasons in New England. We are looking at three stats primarily: points scored, total yards per play, and DVOA. We are strictly looking at the ranks for these categories. To keep things simple we will simply list the rankings from most recent.

McDaniels

Points: 6th, 27th, 7th, 4th, 2nd

Yards Per Play: 11th, 23rd, 21st, 8th, 3rd

DVOA: 9th, 23rd, 11th, 5th, 1st

O'Brien

Points: 14th, 11th, 17th, 28th, 20th

Yards Per Play: 13th, 16th, 20th, 31st, 31st

DVOA: 17th, 19th, 24th, 30th, 25th

Immediately, we see the value of a quarterback. Watson toiled in the last three seasons of O'Brien's tenure and you can see the jump in the rankings. Funny, but whether it was Fitzmagic, Hoyer, the other guy, or Watson, O'Brien never finished in the top ten in points or DVOA in any of his full seasons in Houston. It is easy to say that McDaniels had Brady and you can see what happened to him the season after he left, but 2021 showed us something. It was a rookie quarterback who happened to put up the best numbers for any rookie quarterback.

While one could easily claim Brady is better than Watson, from a season to season basis, Brady has not necessarily been the best quarterback in football. His calling card has been playoff performance and amazing longevity/consistency. In other words, it is easy to pooh pooh McDaniels' numbers, but he is better than some other coaches that have also had considerable talent.

When we shift our attention to Brian Flores we have to work under the assumption that he was responsible for New England's defenses the last two seasons he was there (2017 and 2018). We know that might not be the case. We also know he managed winning records the last two seasons and there is something to be said for getting the most out of your team in terms of wins and losses. All that being said, let's take a look at the defensive numbers. We will include the same three stats, but also include turnovers. Let's see what we notice.

Brian Flores

Points Allowed: 17th, 6th, 32nd, 7th, 5th

Yards Per Play: 20th, 25th, 27th, 22nd, 31st

Turnovers: 9th, 1st, 29th, 6th, 25th

DVOA: 10th, 11th, 32nd, 19th, 31st

Houston

Points Allowed: 27th, 27th, 19th, 5th, 32nd

Yards Per Play: 29th, 29th, 32nd, 12th, 28th

Turnovers: 10th, 32nd, 16th, 4th, 28th

DVOA: 23rd, 30th, 22nd, 5th, 19th

One could credibly claim that the Texans defense has been the overall worst defense in the league over the last five seasons. They rarely ever finished last in any category, but they consistently ranked near the bottom across the board with the exception of the 2018 season. That one sticks out like a sore thumb. So, it is fair to assert that just about any defensive minded coach would have to be an improvement over what we have had the last several seasons.

That being said, the results with Flores have been a mixed bag. In terms of points allowed he has been pretty damn good except for his first season in Miami. Obviously, there were talent issues there, so we could probably throw out all of those numbers. The fact that he managed to win six games with those guys says something. Even without watching a single play we can tell he runs a bend but don't break defense. When he gets turnovers he manages to do okay. When he doesn't his defenses can look rather ordinary.

Now, what does this all mean? I'd say that in terms of just the unit they coach, McDaniels has been better at coaching offense than Flores has been at coaching defense. Naturally, there is more to being a head coach that just coaching one side of the ball. Flores seems to get more out of his team overall, but McDaniels doesn't have recent head coaching experience. His job of coaching up Mac Jones might make him an ideal candidate for coaching Davis Mills, but then again, that's just what the numbers say.