Less than a week after quarterback Andy Dalton put together a three-turnover game in a loss to the Chargers to end Cincinnati’s season, Dalton’s coordinator, Jay Gruden, is an NFL head coach.
Today, Washington announced that they will hire Gruden to lead the Redskins.
Mike Zimmer, the mastermind behind a top-10 defensive unit over the last three seasons, wasn’t the first of the Bengals’ coordinators to get an opportunity head coaching a team. Forget the fact that Cincinnati had the second-best defense in the entire NFL this year according to numberFire metrics, doing so without their All-Pro defensive tackle and top cornerback.
No, Mike Zimmer wasn’t the target for Washington. It was Jay Gruden, the offensive coordinator hired on by the Bengals in 2011. It was Jay Gruden, the little brother of Super Bowl winning head coach Jon. It was Jay Gruden, an offensive coordinator who, in 2011, was reportedly the brains behind the Bengals selecting “franchise” quarterback Andy Dalton over the now up-and-coming star, Colin Kaepernick.
Am I missing something, or is this just another typical Washington Redskins move?
Gruden’s Impact in Cincinnati
It wouldn’t be fair to compare Cincinnati’s offense prior to Gruden to the one he coached over the last three years, as the personnel shifted dramatically from 2010 to 2011. In 2010, Carson Palmer was leading the team at quarterback, with Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson as his top two receivers. In 2011, zero of those players saw any action for the Bengals, as rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green looked to be the future of the young offense.
As noted in the intro, Gruden spent three seasons with the Bengals, working with Dalton and the offense while adding new pieces every offseason. After 2011, Cincinnati signed BenJarvus Green-Ellis to take over running back Cedric Benson’s role. And in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Bengals selected guard Kevin Zeitler, wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, tight end Orson Charles, wide receiver Marvin Jones and running back Dan Herron to potentially help the youthful offensive core.
After 2012, the Bengals continued to add pieces, drafting athletic tight end Tyler Eifert and versatile running back Giovani Bernard in the 2013 NFL Draft. With such a sturdy, consistent defense led by coordinator Mike Zimmer, going offensive made a lot of sense, especially with a young quarterback who showed some promise.
2013 was supposed to be Cincinnati’s year. The defense looked unbelievable on paper, and the offense was filled with the aforementioned young playmakers. And despite losing Geno Atkins and Leon Hall on the defensive side of the ball, Zimmer’s unit lived up to the hype, ranking second among all defenses in Adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points.
Gruden’s side of the ball? Not so much. In fact, over the course of his time in Cincinnnati, the Bengals offense has barely been anything to get excited about.
|Adj. Rushing NEP Rank||Adj. Passing NEP Rank||Offensive Rank|
The table above shows Cincinnati’s rankings on offense, separated by rushing, passing and total, adjusted for strength of schedule. As you can see, the Bengals were not only never stellar at doing anything offensively, but they showed little improvement over the years despite adding so much offensive power.
You may be sitting back saying, “But wait a minute, Cincinnati finished 10th in the league in total yards, and you’re telling me that they were the 14th-best offense in 2013?”
In fact, I am. Net Expected Points data doesn’t look strictly at yards as a measure of offensive or defensive success. Instead, it looks at each down and distance in a given game, and finds the impact a particular player or team makes throughout each of these instances. For more on the metric, check out our glossary.
While Gruden’s been in Cincinnati, he’s never coached an offense better than his 14th-ranked one this year, and he hasn’t really shown any signs of improvement, either. Instead, the young unit has consistently underperformed, making this hire by Washington an even bigger head scratcher than it was for most at face value.
Jay Gruden and Andy Dalton’s Development
One of the biggest questions about Gruden’s job in Cincinnati surrounds whether he made Andy Dalton into an above average passer, or whether Andy Dalton would be, regardless of Gruden, a decent NFL quarterback.
We’ll certainly get some sort of answer around this debate in the 2014 season, but for now, the answer is mostly unknown. The only thing we do know is that Andy Dalton has performed as a very average quarterback.
I’ve documented Dalton’s 2013 season in depth already, making it known that, despite his cumulative numbers looking decent, most of his gains this year came against defenses that ranked towards the bottom of the league against the pass. Sure, a ton of quarterbacks’ numbers go down when they face top-half pass defenses, but Dalton’s numbers are alarmingly different when he faces any sort of competition.
In fact, it was so bad that Dalton’s Passing Net Expected Points total was a miserable -33.55 in the team’s six AFC North games this year. That average, -5.59 per game, is worse than what Geno Smith averaged throughout the entire 2013 season.
Dalton finished his 2013 campaign as the 13th-best quarterback in terms of Passing NEP, a ranking that’s certainly not unfavorable. In 2012 Dalton ranked 22nd, and during his rookie year, 2011, Dalton ranked 19th.
So yes, Dalton progressed over his three seasons in Cincinnati, but an argument could be made that progressing with that sort of offensive talent should be a given. A.J. Green is one of the most talented pass-catchers in the NFL, finishing the 2013 season with the fourth-highest Reception NEP score among all pass-catchers. He's one of just 16 wide receivers in NFL history to have had over 1,000 receiving yards during his rookie season, and has 29 receiving touchdowns in his first three years in the league. That three-year touchdown stretch is the 10th-most ever by a wide receiver at the start of a career, and the most the league has seen since Randy Moss' first three seasons where he scored a ridiculous 43 times, a league record.
It's not just Green, either. A good offensive line, a perfect combination of running backs, three explosive wide receivers outside of Green and two above average tight ends were at Andy Dalton's disposal this year. But when it was all said and done, all Gruden's offense could muster up was a little above average quarterback play?
I've said plenty of negative things about Dalton in previous articles, but never have I called him a "bad" quarterback. What's bad - what's absurd - is that the man who is said to have picked Andy Dalton to play quarterback, getting piece after piece to build this offense, could only create an average passer and an average offense in a three-year span. In a league where change is overly common and coaches have short leashes, why is this acceptable? No, it's not even that. Why is he getting promoted as a result?
Gruden in Washington
Can you tell I think this hire is a joke? Well, it gets even worse.
Gruden is obviously offensive-minded, winning in the Arena Football League as a passer and head coach. What's worrisome with Washington is the need of the team is arguably a defensive one, not an offensive one. Though the team ranked better defensively than offensively according to our metrics this season, we can't forget that, in 2012, Washington had the fourth-best offensive unit in the NFL. Robert Griffin III's play slowly made the team miserable in 2013, but a healthy Griffin should make for a better Redskins offense in 2014.
And to be honest, having a quarterback whisperer would be fantastic for a player like RGIII, in an organization that rarely makes rational decisions. But why is Jay Gruden a quarterback whisperer? Why is he, the man who has led an average offense over the last three seasons in Cincinnati, the person to turn anything around offensively in Washington? Because he's a six-time Arena Bowl champion? Because he made Andy Dalton "better"?
Because his brother is Jon Gruden?
If you want a real quarterback whisperer, go up to Chicago and have a visit with Marc Trestman. Making the 34-year-old Josh McCown a top-10 passer is impressive. Making Andy Dalton average is not.
Gruden may surprise us all and coach the Redskins to a playoff appearance next year, turning around the franchise completely. But I don't see it. At all, really. What I see is an owner who wanted to make a splash trying to find the next up-and-coming coaching star.
Unfortunately, he chose the wrong Cincinnati coordinator.