Welcome to another installment of the 2021 Coaching Systems analysis. Before we start breaking down the NFC East, be sure to check out the Overview of Coaching Schemes so you have a reference point for any terminology with which you might be unfamiliar. Probably makes sense to bookmark it for easy referral since we’ll be doing every division. If you missed any of the ones we’ve done so far, here are links to check them out as well:

AFC East

AFC North

AFC South

AFC West

Now let’s move on the next one!

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

Head CoachMike McCarthy2nd year
Offensive CoordinatorKellen Moore3rd year
Defensive CoordinatorDan Quinn1st year
Offensive SystemWest Coast Offense 
Blocking SchemeZone 
Mike McCarthy -- HC    Kellen Moore -- OC   
Category2018 (GB HC)20192020 Category201820192020
Points14N/A17 PointsQB COACH617
Pace8N/A1 PaceQB COACH21
Pass Attempts3N/A2 Pass AttemptsQB COACH92
Passing Yards9N/A8 Passing YardsQB COACH28
Rushing Attempts32N/A15 Rushing AttemptsQB COACH815
Rushing Yards22N/A17 Rushing YardsQB COACH517

Offensive Breakdown: It’s a little tough to render a final verdict as to how the Cowboys offense fared during the first year under new head coach Mike McCarthy as a broken ankle for Dak Prescott, along with a variety of injuries on the offensive line tanked the season. Neither Andy Dalton nor Ben DiNucci were effective signal-callers and establishing a strong rushing attack when your linemen are still adapting to the position changes is extremely difficult. We can certainly look to the first five games of the 2020 season and make some initial assessments.

As we stated last season, the scheme is based in McCarthy’s west coast roots, but his retention of OC Kellen Moore dictated a blend between his desired system and that of Moore’s version of Air Coryell he picked up working under Jason Garrett. Imagine the best of both worlds here – a heavy lean on the run is a priority, a mix of RPO and short, high-percentage passes to help move the chains and more play-action with a better vertical passing game downfield. 

McCarthy likes to run an up-tempo offense and give his quarterback a lot of say in what plays are run, though the plays from which Dak Prescott will choose early on in each drive come from a bucket filled by McCarthy and Moore. You will also have Moore as the one calling the plays from the field. It’s just a matter of Prescott reading the defense and choosing the right play to run. If McCarthy, Moore and Prescott are in lock-step, this offense should continue to be one of the most productive in the league.

One added note is the reports during the offseason that Michael Gallup will be taking more snaps from the slot this season. There’s nothing to read into that as the Cowboys will continue their use of the spread formation much of the time and keep all three receivers on the field. Working Gallup in the slot during camp is simply a way to mix up different looks for the defense and keep them guessing as to where the football is going to go.

Players Who Best Fit the System: Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup

Defensive System: 4-3 with multi-front looks and Cover-3 zone

Defensive Breakdown: The Cowboys defense was absolutely atrocious last season and the primary reason they were forced to air it out extensively on offense. In response, they said goodbye to defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, hello to former Falcons head coach Dan Quinn and used eight of their 11 draft picks on defensive players. Whether it works initially this season is yet to be seen, but they seem headed in the right direction.

The big addition was No. 12 pick Micah Parsons who will be tasked with replacing Sean Lee up the middle. Parsons has the talent to help stop the run while also float back into coverage when necessary. Quinn likes to use a 4-3 base but will utilize some multi-front looks to keep the defense guessing as to where the pressure is coming from.

Quinn was also one of the architects of the original Legion of Boom in Seattle and he is tasked with rebuilding a secondary that was absolutely horrendous and also lost its best corner in Chidobe Awuzie. They lost out on Patrick Surtain in the draft, but added Kelvin Joseph and Nashon Wright who both have some potential. They also brought in safety Damonte Kazee who worked with Quinn in Atlanta, so expect him to direct traffic up there and help lead the way.

Again, consider it a work in progress, but expect better results than what we witnessed in 2020.  

Players Who Best Fit the System: Micah Parsons, Demarcus Lawrence, Trevon Diggs

New York Giants

Head CoachJoe Judge2nd year
Offensive CoordinatorJason Garrett2nd year
Defensive CoordinatorPatrick Graham2nd year
Offensive SystemRPO-Infused Air Coryell 
Blocking SchemeZone 
Joe Judge -- HC    Jason Garrett -- OC   
Category201820192020 Category2018 (DAL HC)2019 (DAL HC)2020
PointsST COORD.ST COORD.31 Points22631
PaceST COORD.ST COORD.21 Pace24221
Pass AttemptsST COORD.ST COORD.25 Pass Attempts21925
Passing YardsST COORD.ST COORD.29 Passing Yards23229
Rushing AttemptsST COORD.ST COORD.26 Rushing Attempts10826
Rushing YardsST COORD.ST COORD.18 Rushing Yards10518

Offensive Breakdown: Similar to the Cowboys, it’s very difficult to pass judgment on much of the offense and the scheme Jason Garrett brought with him from Dallas. First and foremost, Garrett’s offense runs best behind a strong offensive line. The Giants tried to make improvements to their front five last year, but the changes never really took and then Saquon Barkley tore his ACL two weeks into the season. With little to no protection or time to set up, Daniel Jones was a turnover machine and Garrett just didn’t have the wherewithal to turn things around. They just sort of went limp and let the season play out without much of a fight. This year, they are hoping to turn everything around.

Garrett runs a traditional Air Coryell offense that is predicated on the power run, quick timing routes and more vertical play from his receivers. However, since working with Dak Prescott, Garrett has started to infuse more RPO as well, to help keep the defense off-balance. The hope is that with the improved line and the addition of an elite receiver in Kenny Golladay, opposing defenses will be forced to spread out and leave Jones, who will have a lot of on-field decision-making power, with a number of options.

If the line improves and Barkley doesn’t miss more than a game or two to start the season (he opened camp on the PUP list and we’re still monitoring his recovery from the torn ACL), this offense should be able to churn out yardage and score some points. Yes, they are big ifs, but it all comes together, you’ll want to be invested in this scheme and its personnel. 

Players Who Best Fit the System: Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay, Evan Engram

Defensive System: 3-4 base with press-man coverage and Cover-1

Defensive Breakdown: Give DC Patrick Graham a world of credit for turning this Giants defense around last year. Things may have opened a little rocky, but by the end of the season, the G-Men were playing like a top-five defensive unit. Now they’ve added Adoreee’ Jackson to the secondary, Azees Ojulari to the linebacker corps and made it a priority to re-sign Leonard Wiliams for the defensive line. The base scheme is a 3-4 defense, but Graham likes to mix up the looks and will offer up some 3-3 and 4-2 fronts with five defensive backs at times. This way he can maximize coverage despite having elite cover-corners. If this defense can, at the least, maintain what it was doing late last year, they’re in great shape. If the new additions can help Graham take this unit to the next level, it could be downright fearsome. 

Players Who Best Fit the System: Dexter Lawrence, Blake Martinez, James Bradberry, Adoree Jackson

Philadelphia Eagles

Head CoachNick Sirianni1st year
Offensive CoordinatorShane Steichen1st year
Defensive CoordinatorJonathan Gannon1st year
Offensive SystemWest Coast 
Blocking SchemeZone 
Nick Sirianni -- HC    Shane Steichen -- OC   
Category2018 (IND OC)2019 (IND OC)2020 (IND OC) Category2018 (LAC)2019 (LAC)2020 (LAC OC)
Points5169 PointsQB COACHQB COACH18
Pace11423 PaceQB COACHQB COACH11
Pass Attempts22520 Pass AttemptsQB COACHQB COACH5
Passing Yards63011 Passing YardsQB COACHQB COACH6
Rushing Attempts17510 Rushing AttemptsQB COACHQB COACH9
Rushing Yards20711 Rushing YardsQB COACHQB COACH17

Offensive Breakdown: If you’ve already read our offensive breakdown of the Indianapolis Colts, then you’ve got your primer coat down and are ready for the trimming work. The Eagles completely cleaned house after last season and brought in former Colts OC Nick Sirianni who has long been attached to Frank Reich’s hip. For those with short memories, Reich was the OC for the Eagles in 2017, the year they won the Super Bowl, and former coach Doug Pederson had long been trying to emulate his system and play-calling. With Sirianni now at the helm and Shane Steichen locked in as the new OC, we’ll see that old offensive scheme brought back from the dead.

The scheme will be based in the west coast offense (using the pass to set up the run with short, quick timing routes to move the chains) and primarily run out of shotgun formation. They’ll use RPO to freeze the safeties and linebackers, throw the ball on early downs and continue to utilize the 2-TE formations that have long been successful for them. The Eagles will also use more zone runs to attack the middle of the defense as opposed to continuously running to the outside. The hope here is that Sirianni will lead with Miles Sanders as opposed to the continuous rotation Pederson insisted on using. If that’s the case, they should be more effective as defenses won’t get tipped off to the play by the personnel changes. You can also expect plenty of pre-snap motion, something Steichen loves to do. Perhaps that opens things up for the receiving corps which just doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.  

Players Who Best Fit the System: Jalen Hurts, Miles Sanders, Dallas Goedert, Zach Ertz

Defensive System: 4-3 base with multi-front looks and press-man coverage

Defensive Breakdown: New DC Jonathan Gannon also comes from the Colts organization where he’s worked with Reich and Sirianni, but his style emulates more of Mike Zimmer, with whom he served in Minnesota as an assistant defensive backs coach. He’ll use a 4-3 base but will often slide into nickel coverage formations to help focus on stuffing the run while disguising the blitzes which come from multiple directions. 

As for the secondary, Gannon prefers his defensive backs to be interchangeable parts. He wants his safeties to be able to cover receivers and he wants his corners to blitz from the edge and help stop the run. Having that ability will allow the Eagles to disguise their coverage schemes on a play-by-play basis. Gannon also wants press-man coverage which will require all of his defensive backs to play a very aggressive and physical game. Kep an eye on former Vikings Anthony Harris and Marcus Epps who will help direct traffic on the field.

Players Who Best Fit the System: Fletcher Cox, Anthony Harris, Marcus Epps

Washington Football Team

Head CoachRon Rivera2nd year
Offensive CoordinatorScott Turner2nd year
Defensive CoordinatorJack Del Rio2nd year
Offensive SystemAir Coryell 
Blocking SchemeFlex 
Ron Rivera -- HC    Scott Turner -- OC   
Category2018 (CAR HC)2019 (CAR HC)2020 Category2018 (CAR)2019 (CAR)2020
Points142025 PointsQB COACHQB COACH25
Pace22110 PaceQB COACHQB COACH10
Pass Attempts1529 Pass AttemptsQB COACHQB COACH9
Passing Yards162025 Passing YardsQB COACHQB COACH25
Rushing Attempts122425 Rushing AttemptsQB COACHQB COACH25
Rushing Yards41426 Rushing YardsQB COACHQB COACH26

Offensive Breakdown: While the arrival of Ron Rivera sparked tremendous change in Washington’s front office and overall team culture, he is not the guy who is running the offense. Rivera has always been a defensive-minded coach and usually puts the offense into the hands of a capable coordinator. In Carolina, he had Mike Shula running the show for a number of years and then handed the reins over to Norv Turner. In 2019, Turner was let go from his responsibilities but his son Scott, who was serving as the team’s QB coach, took over. There were some who criticized the younger Turner’s excessive reliance on screen passes to Christian McCaffrey, but he did manage to get more out of some of his other playmakers, most notably Curtis Samuel who now joins the Washington receiving corps this year.

Rivera knows he doesn’t have the luxury of a McCaffrey, but he is going to work with Turner in focusing on the ground game early and allowing it to set up the pass. He’s got an extremely talented and versatile back in Antonio Gibson so look for him to be involved in much of the action. From there, you’ll see the quick timing-routes which will eventually open things up for the deep passes. Turner has tremendous speed in this receiving corps with Terry McLaurin, Samuel, Adam Humphries and even rookie Dyami Brown, so expect him to stretch the field whenever he can. But don’t forget about the gimmicks Turner ran in Carolina. You’ll see reverses and jet sweeps as well which, with as much pre-snap motion Turner likes to use, will confuse some defenses, at least early in the game.

Players Who Best Fit the System: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Antonio Gibson, Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel

Defensive System: 4-3 with multi-front looks with both Cover-3 and man-coverage

Defensive Breakdown: This defensive unit is beyond legit and also happens to be my No. 1 ranked defensive unit this season. Rivera brought in Jack Del Rio to be his DC last year as they come from similar coaching philosophies and have very similar styles. The front-seven is where it’s at for Washington’s defense as it is loaded with robust talent. From edge-rusher Chase Young to Jonathan Allen on the interior to Jon Bostic directing traffic from the middle, this front-seven is beyond formidable. They’ll likely stay in the 4-3 most often in an effort to get as much as they can in the pass-rush, without having to pull back too much now that William Jackson is here to handle the right side of the secondary. The mix of zone and man coverage should make things tough on opposing receivers who shy away from the more physical defenders. 

Players Who Best Fit the System: Chase Young, Jonathan Allen, Jon Bostic, Landon Collins, William Jackson