The Denver Broncos are 5-0 and Josh McDaniels is getting praised heaped upon him from all angles. I, however, am still going to reserve judgment on the “wonderkid.” Is he a good hire, or is he getting lucky?
The reason I’m wary of declaring McDaniels a genius at this point (other than it’s still too early) is that the Broncos biggest improvements are not on his side of the ball. McDaniels is the offensive genius behind the 2007 Patriots. He was brought to Denver to spice up their offense and make them a scoring machine. At this point in the season, Denver ranks 22nd in scoring (although, they are 6th in yardage). Last season they were 16th in scoring offense.
At the same time, Denver’s defense has been amazing this year. They rank first in points allowed (second in yardage), where they were 30th last year. McDaniels is not heavily involved in the defense, which is left mostly to new coordinator Mike Nolan.
McDaniels’ success reminds me of another offensive genius hired to bring scoring firepower to his new team, only to be bailed out by his defense – Brian Billick. The Ravens hired Billick in 1999 after serving as the coordinator of the record-setting Minnesota Vikings’ offense. Billick never managed to make the Ravens into anything more than a middle of the road offense, and was successful only on the strength of his defense. Eventually, the Ravens’ defense couldn’t support Billick’s mediocrity, and he was fired following the 2007 season.
Billick is not the only coach to have been hired for his expertise on one side of the ball, only to have his team flourish at the other end. Marvin Lewis, the defensive mastermind of the Ravens’ Super Bowl winning season, was hired in 2003 to be the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals and improve the league’s worst defense. Lewis achieved early success in Cincinnati, but it was not because of the Bengals’ defense, but rather an offense that improved greatly in Lewis’s first year and continued to get stronger until Lewis and the Bengals won the AFC North in 2005.
Brad Childress was brought in to coach the Minnesota Vikings for his offensive smarts, but it was the Vikings’ defense that kept Childress from getting fired. Sure, their offense is looking good this year, but who is to say how much of that is due to Childress and how much of that is because of Adrian Peterson?
Billick ultimately lost his job for not being able to institute a dominant offense in Baltimore. Lewis and Childress have spent much of their tenures on the hot seat for not improving their teams like management had hoped. For now, McDaniels is 5-0 and everything is looking good in Denver, but before I call him a genius, I’d like to see the Broncos win a game through the power of McDaniels’ offense, not Mike Nolan’s defense.