From left, Pat Shurmur, Matt Nagy and Frank Reich

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Silverman: Offensive Gurus Take Their Turn As Head Coaches

Shurmur, Nagy, Reich Have Earned Their Shots

Steve Silverman
July 12, 2018 - 2:31 pm
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The Philadelphia Eagles were underdogs in last year’s Super Bowl to the Patriots. The point spread was small – 4 1/2 points – but significant. Most experts saw the Eagles keeping it close against powerful New England, but the advantage the Patriots had with Bill Belichick at head coach and Tom Brady at quarterback seemed strong enough to give them the edge over their Philadelphia counterparts of Doug Pederson and Nick Foles.

Brady had a spectatcular game against the Eagles with three touchdowns and a Super Bowl-record 505 passing yards, while Foles vastly exceeded expectations with 373 yards and three touchdowns.

Foles was also involved in a little play called the “Philly Special,” in which he caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from tight end Trey Burton at the end of the first half. That play allowed the Eagles to stretch a three-point lead to 10 points and changed the tone of the game.

Credit Pederson for not only coming up with the play, but having the guts to run it during the biggest game of the year. Belichick may be the No. 1 or No. 2 head coach in the history of the game – you would be within your rights to have Vince Lombardi ranked  ahead of him – but he did not have a good game in Super Bowl LII.

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Belichick was outcoached by Pederson. He was victimized by Philadelphia’s trick play, his defense could not stop the Eagles' offense, and he benched his outstanding cornerback Malcolm Butler.

That’s the same Malcolm Butler who clinched New England’s victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.

The triumph in February was a great moment for a “young” head coach – Pederson is 50 – who seemingly could not compare with Belichick prior to the game.

Pederson, who is entering his third season as the Eagles' boss, is the lead dog of the new breed of NFL head coaches who are offensive minded and creative and have the guts to try new things.

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Close behind is Sean McVay, who led the Rams to a surprising first-place finish in the NFC West durring his first season as head coach. The Rams were a one-step forward, two-steps back kind of team under Jeff Fisher, but McVay brought out the best in quarterback Jared Goff, who had looked lost as a rookie in 2016.

McVay’s Rams had the top scoring offense in the league, and many respected observers think the Rams have an excellent chance of representing the NFC in the Super Bowl this coming season.

Seven coaches were hired since the end of the 2017 season, and four of them have a significant offensive background, including the Giants’ Pat Shurmur. He is joined by the Bears' Matt Nagy, the Colts' Frank Reich and the Raiders' Jon Gruden, who returns to the head coaching ranks after a 10-year break spent as a television analyst.

Matt Patricia of the Lions, Steve Wilks of the Cardinals and Mike Vrabel of the Titans make their NFL head-coaching debuts as well, but all come from the defensive scheme.

Shurmur, Nagy and Reich come with the most anticipation. Shurmur helped the Vikings put together an offense that scored 382 points last year even though they had to patch things together at quarterback due to significant injuries. Case Keenum had an excellent season after he was largely viewed as a journeyman, and that raised Shurmur’s profile. Shurmur had previously been the head coach of the Cleveland Browns in 2011 and 2012.

Nagy rose quickly in the ranks, as he gained a reputation as Chiefs head coach Andy Reid’s right-hand man. More than anything, Nagy was given credit for his creativity on offense and play calling. This has been an area that was disastrous for the Bears under former coach John Fox, and there is a thought around the NFL that the restrictions have been removed from the offense and the Bears have a chance to surprise opponents in the NFC North.

Reich paid his dues as a longtime backup quarterback in the NFL. He returns to the Colts after serving as Peyton Manning’s quarterback coach in 2009 and 2010. Reich was also the Eagles’ offensive coordinator under Pederson the last two season, and he has been given quite a bit of credit for developing Carson Wentz into an MVP candidate before the quarterback suffered a major knee injury and then getting the best out of Foles when he was forced into the lineup.

Patricia was Belichick’s defensive coordinator and is considered one of the brightest men in the game. Vrabel played for Belichick and has some understanding of offensive football in addition to his defensive acumen. And Wilks appears to be an old-school type of coach who will use a run-first type of offense to go with a hard-hitting defense.

One of the angles to watch this season is how the offensive-type leaders in Shurmur, Nagy and Reich fare compared to Patricia, Vrabel and Wilks.

The trend is that creative offensive minds have the edge, as evidenced by Pederson and McVay. Shurmur, Nagy and Reich have earned their opportunities, but now they have to prove they can manage an entire team and not just an offense. All three are sharp, confident leaders who have been successful to this point, but they will have to show they have the full package needed to lead teams to winning records and playoff opportunities.

Let the competition begin.

Follow Steve on Twitter at @Profootballboy