If the oldest axiom in sports – defense wins championships – still rings true, perhaps it needs an addendum:
Offense gets you there.
With just four teams remaining in the chase for Lombardi, there’s an unmistakable observation that’s impossible to ignore: All four teams are guided by offensive-minded head coaches. Secondarily, they’ve all got an above average quarterback. Three teams have superstars at the position, while one has Jimmy Gao0ppolo, who may not be a star but who’s been a part of five playoff teams and has been good enough to guide his team to two conference championship games and at least one Super Bowl appearance.
A quick inventory shows the postseason has been littered with offensive coaches and quarterbacks who own a household name. Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay will coach in the NFC finale, while Andy Reid and Zac Taylor, a sturdy limb off McVay’s coaching tree, will square off in the AFC. Over the weekend, teams led by defensive coaches, despite having excellent offenses, were sent packing. Buffalo’s Sean McDermott, raised on the defensive side of the ball, couldn’t find a way to stop Patrick Mahomes; and Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel, a famed Patriots linebacker as a player, wasn’t able to stop Joe Burrow when it counted most.
It feels like defense is barely invited as the NFL’s postseason party surges on.
In Denver, Colorado – home to two consecutive defensive-minded head coaches since 2017 and the army of pedestrian quarterbacks that followed Peyton Manning – that invitation was lost in the mail years ago.
Yet, it appears the Broncos are still flirting with the idea of bringing in another defensive-minded head coach, as Dan Quinn is one of three remaining finalists to fill the Broncos head coaching vacancy. Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell and Green Bay offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett round out the other possibilities.
Acquiring a world-class quarterback isn’t an easy task. It requires luck and timing and sometimes a boat load of assets (or possibly all three). In other words, a team isn’t always in total control of landing that key ingredient in the winning formula. So, for the moment, shelve the notion that the Broncos aren’t going anywhere without a competent quarterback.
Instead, examine the opening at hand. Hiring a head coach is fully within the control and capability of any general manager, and George Paton has seemingly done a thorough job of interviewing candidates and narrowing his list.
If Hackett is – hypothetically – a package deal that somehow delivers Aaron Rodgers to Denver, he’d be a no brainer even if he isn’t the mastermind behind Green Bay’s success. Of course, there’s no guarantee a package deal for Rodgers is in the works, so basing the hire on that “possibility” is speculative at best.
O’Connell is busily preparing to get the Rams back to the Super Bowl for the second time in four years, so if he’s a serious candidate, the Broncos may just have to wait in order to get their guy. O’Connell is an intriguing pick because he’s been a part of Rams offenses that have gone to the Super Bowl with two very different quarterbacks. McVay is likely the genius in Los Angeles, but O’Connell has had a front row seat in terms of watching how quarterbacks ranging from superb to mediocre have both gotten the job done.
Quinn was bounced from Wild Card weekend, as his Cowboys fell victim to the Niners. While Quinn is just the defensive coordinator, working for an offensive-minded head coach in Mike McCarthy, it could be said that Quinn’s defense was exposed by arguably the best offensive mind in football, Kyle Shanahan.
For some reason, it feels as if Quinn is the favorite to land the job in Denver.
The Broncos previous mindset – “When they’re zigging, we’re zagging!” – feels as if it still might be in place, despite the fact that Paton is relatively new. By golly, if everyone is winning with offense, let’s hire a coach who can stop ‘em!
Time and time again, though, that philosophy has failed of late. And not just in Denver. Remember, nobody left in the postseason is led by a defensive guy.
This is not to say that Quinn might not be a fantastic head coach. He could be. He has been already. But perhaps more important than Quinn’s title – if his new office ends up being in Denver – is who he hires beneath him. If Quinn has a shot at leading a team back to the Super Bowl, he’d best have an offensive coordinator that’s out of this world – just has he had in Atlanta, where he and then-OC Kyle Shanahan took the Falcons to Super Bowl LI. If he doesn’t, there’s no guarantee he’ll bring with him the same kind of magic.
Aside from not being any good, the Broncos are – if nothing else lately – boring. And nothing is worse than watching a bad and boring football team every Sunday. Can a defensive coach like Quinn bring excitement back to Denver? That’s seemingly step one for any coach the Broncos hire.
If conference championship weekend is any kind of indicator, excitement feels like a prerequisite for winning these days. Defense, meanwhile, does not – not in the modern NFL. The Bills and Chiefs put up (or gave up) 24 points in the remaining 1:54 of their epic playoff game Sunday night; it’s quite possible that game produced the next Super Bowl champ. Defense did not win that particular game, not even a little piece of it.
Are the Broncos all in on Dan Quinn?
Immediately following the greatest Divisional playoff round the NFL has ever seen, perhaps it’s time to rethink that stance.