2020 NFL Draft Guide: Coaching Systems -- AFC East
Published: Jul 13, 2020
Over the years, the growth of statistical analysis in fantasy football has been incredible to watch with numerous web sites digging into some pretty in-depth metrics to use when analyzing the performance of both NFL teams and their players. However, as we have routinely pointed out, there are many pitfalls when looking at year-to-year numbers. Things change at a rapid rate in the NFL. Not only is player movement abundant, but the revolving doors we’ve seen for head coaches and their coordinators seem to be in a perpetual spin.
As a result, comparing performances between the different seasons can often be an exercise in futility. A running back who found success against a particular team one year cannot be guaranteed success the following season as, not only could the opposition change defensive coordinators and systems, but said running back’s team could have gone through its own changes as well. Or, that player could be on an entirely new team and thus play in a completely different system.
There’s that word again – system. We use it often. We may also refer to it as a scheme, but the fact remains that a team’s system probably has a greater impact on a player’s production than even that player’s level of talent. As explained in the Learn Every Team’s System article in the Strategies section, you can take a running back with mediocre talent and watch him excel if the coach’s system caters to the player’s strengths. Conversely, you can take a highly-talented player, put him in a system that doesn’t necessarily feature his strengths and watch his overall production suffer.
This is why we urge you to study each and every team’s system, both on offense and defense. From a seasonal fantasy standpoint, it will help you make the right selections on draft day. If you’re looking at the Ultimate Cheat Sheet and see two players you like in the same tier, knowledge of the system in which they play can prove to be the deciding factor. From a DFS standpoint, you’ll have a much better idea as to which offenses match up better against a particular opponent and be able to construct your lineup accordingly.
And that is what makes what you are about to read, so valuable. This isn’t just some draft guide you toss aside once you’ve had your draft. You’re going to be able to refer back to this article throughout the season as it will help you with your weekly research. Do you prefer to stream team defenses? This will help. Trying to decide which free agent running back is a better pick-up off waivers? This will help. Trying to decide whether it’s worth paying up for Travis Kelce on Draft Kings in Week 5 or if you should bargain-shop for a different tight end? Yes. This will help.
What you will find here is a complete breakdown of each team’s coaching system, on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Not only will you learn the different systems and tendencies of the coaches and coordinators, but you will also learn which players each system caters to the best. You will also learn which ones don’t and, perhaps, should be avoided in drafts.
We understand that this is going to be a ton of information for you to take in and sitting down to read a 15,000-word article is nearly impossible in this day and age. For those reasons, we will attack it division by division, beginning with the AFC East, and gradually release new divisions every few days.
So, bookmark this page for easy reference, strap yourself in and get comfortable. This just might be the most important ride you take this season.
A few notes before you dive into each team:
The numbers you will see for each head coach and offensive coordinator refer to where their unit ranked among all 32 teams each season in the various categories. Most are self-explanatory, but if you are unfamiliar with “pace,” it is exactly what you think it is – how long it takes for the team’s offensive unit to get to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball from play to play. Your more methodical offenses, the ones that focus on controlling the game (usually because they have a lead they want to maintain), are slower to get to the line and therefore have a higher rank for their game pace.
Also, the ranks are reserved for NFL head coaches and offensive coordinators as they are the primary play-callers. Individual position coaching experience is listed, but the teams’ ranks aren’t included as they are merely cogs in a much bigger machine.
Types of Offenses:
West Coast Offense – Derived by Bill Walsh, this scheme puts more of an emphasis on passing than running and is focused on short, horizontal passing routes to stretch out the defense and ultimately open things up for longer run plays and longer passes. Many modern west coast offenses will utilize a strong ground attack along with the short passes (the infamous dink-and-dunk) to move the chains, but also to set up play-action for more chances downfield. Plays are called using a long string of words and numbers such as “flip left double-X jet 42 counter naked seven Z quarter.”
Air Coryell (a.k.a. Vertical or Timing Offense) – A combination of both deep and mid-range passing in conjunction with power running. The system uses a lot of motion and the passing is based on timing and rhythm with the quarterback actually throwing to a spot rather than to a specific player which helps to maximize yards gained after the catch. Plays are called with three-digit number such as “jet dart 272 Y-flat train.”
Erhardt-Perkins Offense – The original formula, which dates back to the 1970’s Patriots, focused on a run-first offense with a simplified, quarterback-friendly passing game. However, when Charlie Weis joined New England, he used it as a building block to develop a more modern version which maintains the run but now enhances the multiple passing options and possibilities within a given play. Running backs, wide receivers and tight ends aren’t as much positions as they are labels for where a player lines up most of the time. Plays are called using short phrases and code words such as “Circus/Kings.”
Spread Offense -- The Spread offense is designed to do exactly as it sounds. The scheme spreads out the offense with four or five receivers, which forces the defense to match. The personnel on the field rarely changes so the offense can wear the defense down, especially with no huddle sprinkled in.
Air Raid Offense – The system is notable for its heavy focus on passing and, if implemented in full, could result in 65-75% passing plays throughout the season. This is an up-tempo, no-huddle scheme where the quarterback has the freedom to audible to any play based on what the defense is showing at the line of scrimmage. One interesting aspect you will see here as well is that the offensive linemen are not bunched together like you see in a conventional offense. They are split about a half-yard apart which is supposed to cause defensive linemen to run further to get to the quarterback and allow for short, quick passing to neutralize blitzes. It is also used to open up wider passing lanes which should prevent passes from being knocked down or intercepted at the line of scrimmage.
Pistol Offense – An offensive scheme which became more popular in the NFL with the rise of more athletic, mobile quarterbacks. It’s less of a base offense and more of an adaptation as its formation is a hybrid of single-back formations and shotgun. The premise of the scheme places the quarterback and running back closer to the line of scrimmage (about four yards behind instead of the usual seven) which should give the quarterback an easier read and less time for the defense to react. Its success really depends on the quarterback’s ability to read the defense properly.
Types of Defenses:
3-4 – Focus on size and length across the defensive line, inside linebackers ball-hawk, outside linebackers make plays as edge defenders and there is a heavy use of defensive backs to cover in the open field which helps disguise the blitz better.
4-3 – With four lineman and only three linebackers, the defenders are each responsible for covering a gap during a run and will usually set up with a closed formation on the opposing tight end. Pre-game prep and opposing personnel will determine which side the line will close if facing a two-tight end set-up.
Cover-2 – a two-deep, five under zone defense used to take away vertical concepts while forcing the ball underneath to the flat or check-down option.
Cover-3 – a three-deep, four-under zone defense where both cornerbacks drop to the outside zones with the free-safety playing the deep middle.
With the introduction out of the way, let’s get started.
|Head Coach||Sean McDermott||4th year|
|Offensive Coordinator||Brian Daboll||3rd year|
|Defensive Coordinator||Leslie Frazier||4th year|
|Offensive System||Erhardt-Perkins Offense|
|Sean McDermott -- HC||Brian Daboll -- OC|
|Pass Attempts||31||28||24||Pass Attempts||ALA OC||28||24|
|Passing Yards||31||31||26||Passing Yards||ALA OC||31||26|
|Rushing Attempts||4||6||6||Rushing Attempts||ALA OC||6||6|
|Rushing Yards||6||9||8||Rushing Yards||ALA OC||9||8|
Offensive Breakdown: The development of the Bills offense under offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has been fun to watch over the past three seasons. When he first arrived and brought his interpretation of the Erhardt-Perkins system, he was trying to simplify things for his quarterbacks (Nathan Peterman backed up by Josh Allen at the time). He was based primarily in 11-personnel packages, utilizing three receivers, one running back and one tight end which catered to the strengths of his players but as the personnel changed, so did Daboll. He began to infuse some of the more popular NFL trends like jet sweeps, play-action and bunch formations into his core offensive concepts which yielded positive results in the form of 25 points per game over the last seven games of 2018.
Daboll made some slight adjustments last season, but generally stayed with his same overall concepts. He ran an up-tempo scheme which led with the run. Plays developed relatively quickly which made decision-making easier for Allen, especially when he was flushed quickly from the pocket. What Daboll found was that the short, quick passes were simply better for Allen and the offensive game plan, especially with some of the accuracy issues he was having, as well as offensive line troubles.
Buffalo didn’t do much in the way of improving their offensive line which was a little surprising, so expect the scheme to stay very similar to last year. Devin Singletary and Zack Moss will handle the ground work with Moss likely being more of a short-yardage, between-the-tackles guy like Frank Gore was. The Bills did get Allen a better weapon for deep passes in Stefon Diggs , so look for them to take more shots downfield should his accuracy improve and the line holds. But overall, expect 11-personnel to be the primary formation and the short-passing game to again be the go-to through the air.
Players Who Best Fit the System: Devin Singletary , Zack Moss, John Brown , Cole Beasley
Defensive System: 4-3 with Zone Coverage
Defensive Breakdown: Leslie Frazier is heading into his fourth season as the Bills DC and has had his defense in the top-5 in two of the last three years with a sixth-place ranking last season. That means we’re likely to see the exact same defensive system overall. Star Lotulelei is strong up the middle and DE Jerry Hughes gives you a guy who can rush the passer even without having to blitz all the time. Add in recently-drafted A.J. Epenesa into the rotation that already included Trent Murphy and Mario Addison and you have a very formidable defensive line.
As for the secondary, the Bills ranked high in pass coverage and Frazier will maintain the same scheme which was based in Cover-2, but has since expanded over time, based on match-ups and personnel. Last year they were in zone coverage about 60-percent of the time and that worked very well for the unit.
Players Who Best Fit the System: Jerry Hughes , Tremaine Edwards, Micah Hyde , Tre’Davious White
|Head Coach||Brian Flores||2nd year|
|Offensive Coordinator||Chan Gailey||1st year|
|Defensive Coordinator||Patrick Graham||2nd year|
|Offensive System||Erhardt-Perkins/Spread Hybrid|
|Brian Flores -- HC||Chan Gailey -- OC|
|Category||2017 (NE)||2018 (NE)||2019||Category||2017||2018||2019|
|Points||LB COACH||LB COACH||25||Points||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Pace||LB COACH||LB COACH||7||Pace||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Pass Attempts||LB COACH||LB COACH||7||Pass Attempts||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Passing Yards||LB COACH||LB COACH||12||Passing Yards||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Rushing Attempts||LB COACH||LB COACH||32||Rushing Attempts||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Rushing Yards||LB COACH||LB COACH||32||Rushing Yards||N/A||N/A||N/A|
Offensive Breakdown: While Brian Flores was lauded for all sorts of reasons in his first year as the Dolphins new head coach, his hiring of Chad O’Shea as his offensive coordinator was a complete bust. O’Shea, the former WR coach in New England, attempted to bring the Patriots offensive scheme to Miami but was incapable of properly teaching and, therefore, executing the system properly. Players revolted and Flores made the immediate change.
Somewhat surprisingly, Flores lured Chan Gailey out of his third year of retirement and turned over the keys to the offensive kingdom. Gailey’s playbook is rooted in the Erhardt-Perkins system, but has, over the years, brought more of a spread offense look and feel as the NFL has evolved into a more pass-happy environment. So, what does that means for the Dolphins? It means we’re going to see a nice lean on the run, something Gailey has been known for as it opens things up more for play-action downfield. In fact, in the last four years as an OC in the NFL, Gailey’s offense ranked inside the top-13 in rushing attempts. Some say his spread formations set up the run with the pass, but you can debate the chicken/egg theories on your own.
You may also see some more RPO infused into the scheme, especially when the team decides to move from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Tua Tagovailoa. But overall, you should see a variety of different looks depending on the opponent’s defensive composition grounded in basic shotgun and pistol 3 and 4-WR formations to help spread the defense.
Players Who Best Fit the System: Ryan Fitzpatrick , Jordan Howard , Preston Williams
Defensive System: Multiple
The assumption is the Dolphins will utilize a 3-4 base offense, but the change in personnel on the defense – adding Emmanuel Ogbah , Shaq Lawson and Kyle Van Noy – is going to allow them a multitude of options where a 4-3 scheme is definitely in-play depending on who Graham wants rushing the passer. The one constant we will see is Davon Godchaux in the middle of the line where he belongs and Raekwon McMillan controlling the middle for the linebackers.
In the secondary, you’ll see a mix of man and zone coverage, depending on the opposition. Xavien Howard and Byron Jones are two of the stronger cover corners in the league as they have the speed to stay with the wide receivers whether they press them up at the line or not.
Players Who Best Fit the System: Davon Godchaux , Kyle Van Noy , Emmanuel Ogbah , Xavien Howard
New England Patriots
|Head Coach||Bill Belichick||21st year|
|Offensive Coordinator||Josh McDaniels||9th year|
|Defensive Coordinator||Steve Belichick||1st year|
|Offensive System||Erhardt-Perkins Offense|
|Bill Belichick -- HC||Josh McDaniels -- OC|
|Pass Attempts||7||11||5||Pass Attempts||7||11||5|
|Passing Yards||2||8||8||Passing Yards||2||8||8|
|Rushing Attempts||11||3||9||Rushing Attempts||11||3||9|
|Rushing Yards||10||5||18||Rushing Yards||10||5||18|
Offensive Breakdown: The base is that of a spread offense in which three or more receivers run routes to separate areas of the field to stretch out the defense, but this scheme is continuously in flux based on week-to-week match-ups and play-to-play adjustments. As great as Bill Belichick is with his adjustments on defense, Josh McDaniels is equally strong with the offense. The offense is capable of lining up in a variety of different ways and predicting what they are going to do within each series has proven to be an exercise in futility.
If Jarrett Stidham is the starting quarterback, you can expect to see a near-identical scheme to what you witnessed last year and the 20 years prior, though you might see a few more shots taken downfield as the arm strength may get a little of the spotlight. If Cam Newton is under center, you can expect an infusion of more RPO as the Patriots will want to see just how much Newton’s legs have in the tank. Either way, the overall philosophies of McDaniels remain intact.
Players Who Best Fit the System: Jarrett Stidham, James White , Julian Edelman ’
Defensive System: 3-4 hybrid with multi-front looks and man-coverage
Defensive Breakdown: The Patriots have traditionally used a 4-3 scheme as their base, but significant turnover in personnel this season – losses of Kyle Van Noy and Danny Shelton , in particular – seems to give way to more of a 3-4 base. Belichick expects all of his players to be able to adjust to any type of scheme without missing a beat and, so far, he and his coaches have done a fantastic job teaching them.
As for the secondary, expect more man-coverage, the same as we’ve seen over the years. The players seem to thrive more and the press-man coverage does a tremendous job of throwing opposing wide receivers off their game.
One last note -- when Matt Patricia left for Detroit in 2018, Belichick took back the play-calling on defense, but about midway through the season, we learned that his son Steve was doing the play-calling and thus, much of the credit to the defensive scheme and positioning fell upon him. The elder Belichick agreed and he promoted Steve to the DC position this year.
New York Jets
|Head Coach||Adam Gase||2nd year|
|Offensive Coordinator||Dowell Loggains||2nd year|
|Defensive Coordinator||Gregg Williams||2nd year|
|Offensive System||West Coast Offense|
|Adam Gase -- HC||Dowell Loggains -- OC|
|Category||2017 (MIA)||2018 (MIA)||2019||Category||2017 (CHI)||2018 (MIA)||2019|
|Pass Attempts||4||30||22||Pass Attempts||32||30||22|
|Passing Yards||18||30||29||Passing Yards||32||30||29|
|Rushing Attempts||32||25||26||Rushing Attempts||18||25||26|
|Rushing Yards||29||18||31||Rushing Yards||16||18||31|
Offensive Breakdown: Traditionally, Gase employs a very typical west coast style of offense to which he tried to force his players into last season. He tried to keep Sam Darnold in the pocket the way Peyton Manning stood up for him in Denver and not utilize Darnold’s strengths on a roll-out. His ground game relied on basically two types of run, one being an inside zone run up the middle and the other being a blast play that relied on pulling linemen and a tight end blocking the edge opposite the formation. Neither were effective and neither catered to Le'Veon Bell 's running style. The question on everyone’s mind is whether we’re going to see the usual stubborn Gase who insists on his players fitting a system that hasn’t worked for him since 2014.
If we are going to err on the side of hope, then the improvements on the offensive line should dictate a change in Gase’s overall plan. We will continue to see h a brand of the west coast offense, that will feature the short, quick passes to help move the chains, but the ground game could be utilized in a much better fashion. The new line has much more speed on it and a greater ability to pull properly for outside zone runs, much more suitable for Bell’s running style. If Gase does that, it will help set up Darnold for more play-action downfield.
If Gase doesn’t budge, we will see one of two things – 1. A quick change at the helm to re-instill faith in some of these players for fantasy or 2. An inept offense being run into the ground by a coach who has no business being in the NFL.
Players Who Best Fit the System (assuming the hopeful side): Sam Darnold , Le’veon Bell, Jamison Crowder
Defensive System: 3-4 base with multi-front looks and Cover-2 and 3
While Gase’s desire to run the defense out of a 3-4 base seemed to win out, Gregg Williams, who favors a 4-3, opted to publicly acquiesce to the head coach, while employing a number of multi-front looks so he got the personnel in the way he wanted. As a result, the Jets had the second-best run defense in the league. We can expect more of the same.
As for the secondary, expect the Jets to stay in more zone coverage. Last season they had the 10th best secondary when in zone coverage, but when they tried some one-on-one, they struggled. Maybe the addition of Pierre Desir will help change that, but it seems unlikely given their strength is in their safeties, assuming Jamal Adams doesn’t force his way out of New York.
Players Who Fit the System Best: Henry Anderson , C.J. Mosley , Jamal Adams , Marcus Maye