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Does a second season with a coordinator help a quarterback?

Did the Broncos make the right call keeping Pat Shurmur?

With a little less than a month until training camp, Broncos Country remains hopeful that the quarterback position will not serve as the anchor that drags a promising roster to the depths of the NFL standings. George Paton traded for Teddy Bridgewater in hopes that he can serve as a competent replacement if Drew Lock does not make a massive leap from his 2020 tape, but the move reeks of an attempt to give the incumbent a fighting chance to save his career. It isn’t as if the Broncos had no other options to replace the third year quarterback.

So the hope is clearly that Drew Lock’s offseason will be enough to smooth out all the rough edges he showed in extended time last season. One of the big reasons for optimism stems from the belief that having a second season with the same offensive coordinator will provide him the stability to learn and master an offense. When asked about the benefits of a second year with Shurmur, Lock didn’t mince words at Broncos’ OTAs.

“Without a doubt, without a doubt. We had talked multiple times going into the last couple games of the year, and even right after. We had kind of just started to figure each other out. He’s been extremely cooperative with what I say I like or what I say I don’t like. He’s meshed, and we’ve meshed really, really well this offseason and added a couple new things he think might fit the style of game that we play. It’s just been a really fun offseason to finally be able to finetune things, get the things we like, maybe talk about some things we’re half-and-half on, and maybe throw that in a couple of the practices, get a couple extra reps on those where we feel really confident going into the year. Yes, to answer your question in a whole is yes, it feels very good to finally be in the same offense for a second time.”

Since it’s become such a talking point, I thought it long past time to take a look at the numbers. Does continuity with a play caller really help a quarterback elevate his play?

For the sake of transparency; I went back and looked at every offensive coordinator hired since 2016. From there I crosschecked these hires with the head coach and searched to determine who was the play caller. I then checked to see if said play caller remained in his post for the following year. After that I went and made sure the primary starting quarterback remained the same for both seasons, and then I looked at the team’s starting quarterback’s box score stats as well as his and the team’s efficiency numbers to see what turned up.

All box score numbers courtesy of Pro Football Reference. They do not include playoffs stats. All DYAR and DVOA stats courtesy of FootballOutsiders.

Teams who hired new play callers in 2016 and kept them through 2017

Philadelphia Eagles: Frank Reich

Carson Wentz completed 62.4% of his passes for 3782 yards, 16 TDs and 14 interceptions. He took 33 sacks. He was the 27th ranked quarterback by DYAR and the Eagles had the 23rd best passing DVOA.

Wentz missed three games in 2017, but completed 60.2% of his passes for 3296 yards, 33 TDs and seven interceptions. He took 28 sacks. He was the eight best quarterback by passing DYAR and the Eagles had the fourth best passing DVOA.

New Orleans Saints v Philadelphia Eagles
It’s not a surprise Reich was interested in a reunion with Wentz this offseason. The QB had a very good second season in the offense.
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

San Diego Chargers: Ken Whisenhunt

Philip Rivers completed 60.4% of his passes for 4386 yards, 33 TDs and 21 interceptions. He took 36 sacks. He was the 17th best quarterback by passing DYAR and the Bolts had the 18th best passing DVOA.

In 2017 Rivers completed 62.6% of his passes for 4515 yards, 28 TDs and 10 interceptions. He took 18 sacks. He finished as the second best quarterback by passing DYAR and the Los Angeles Chargers had the second best passing offense.

Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs
Rivers’ numbers saw a huge jump in his second season under Whisenhunt.
Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

Tennessee Titans: Terry Robiskie

Marcus Mariota completed 61.2% of his passes for 3426 yards, 26 TDs and nine interceptions. He took 23 sacks. He was the 13th best quarterback by passing DYAR and the Titans had the ninth best passing DVOA.

In 2017 Mariota completed 62% of his passes for 3232 yards, 13 TDs and 15 interceptions. He took 27 sacks. He was the 19th best quarterback by passing DYAR and the Titans had the 19th best passing DVOA.

Divisional Round - Tennessee Titans v Baltimore Ravens
Mariota’s numbers sagged during his second season under Robiskie.
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

*Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins hired and retained play callers over this period, but had unstable QB situations.

The Browns played three starting quarterbacks in 2016, with Cody Kessler logging the most starts. Rookie DeShone Kizer was the starter for 15 games in 2017.

The Dolphins lost Ryan Tannehill to an injury before 2017 began and brought Jay Cutler out of retirement.*

**I did not include Tampa Bay because Dirk Koetter was the play caller before he became head coach and so 2016 was already Jameis Winston’s second season in his system.**

NFL: DEC 24 Dolphins at Chiefs
Adam Gase reunited with Jay Cutler in South Beach. It was not great.
Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Teams who hired new play callers in 2017 and kept them through 2018

Atlanta Falcons: Steve Sarkisian

Matt Ryan completed 64.7% of his passes for 4095 yards, 20 TDs and 12 interceptions. He took 24 sacks. He was the seventh best quarterback by DYAR and the Falcons had the ninth best passing DVOA.

In 2018 Ryan completed 69.4% of his passes for 4924 yards, 35 TDs and seven interceptions. He took 42 sacks. He was the fourth best quarterback by DYAR and Atlanta had the seventh best passing DVOA.

Atlanta Falcons v Los Angeles Chargers
Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense was clearly better during Sarkisian’s second season.
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Los Angeles Rams: Sean McVay

Jared Goff completed 62.1% of his passes for 3804 yards, 28 TDs and seven interceptions. He took 25 sacks. He was the sixth best passer by DYAR and the Rams had the eight best passing DVOA.

In 2018 Goff completed 64.9% of his passes for 4688 yards, 32 TDs and 12 interceptions. He took 33 sacks. He was the sixth best passer by DYAR and the Rams had the fifth best passing DVOA.

Wild Card Round - Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks
Goff’s numbers mostly improved in McVay’s second season.
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

*The San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans hired and retained a play caller, but their starting quarterback situations were unstable over timeframe

The Niners played three quarterbacks in 2017 and lost Jimmy Garoppolo to a season ending injury three games into 2018.

The Texans started three quarterbacks in 2017, Deshaun Watson took every snap in 2018.*

Washington Football Team v San Francisco 49ers
Kyle Shanahan drafted Trey Lance because Jimmy G has been notoriously injury prone in San Francisco.
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Teams who hired new play callers in 2018 and kept them through 2019

Buffalo Bills: Brian Daboll

Over 12 games played, Josh Allen completed 52.8% of his passes for 2074 yards, 10 TDs and 12 interceptions. He was sacked 28 times. He finished his rookie season with the second worst passing DYAR among all passers with at least 200 attempts. The Bills had the second worst passing DVOA in the NFL.

In 2017 Allen completed 58.8% of his passes for 3089 yards, 20 TDs and nine interceptions. He was sacked 38 times. He finished 28th in passing DYAR and the Bills had the 20th best passing DVOA.

AFC Championship - Buffalo Bills v Kansas City Chiefs
Allen made a noticeable jump in his second season under Daboll before his third year breakout in 2020.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Oakland Raiders: Jon Gruden

Derek Carr completed 68.9% of his passes for 4049 yards, 19 TDs and 10 interceptions. He took 51 sacks. He finished with the 21st best passing DYAR and Oakland had the 19th best passing DVOA.

In 2019 Carr completed 70.4% of his passes for 4054 yards, 21 TDs and eight interceptions. He was sacked 29 times. He finished with the sixth best passing DYAR and the Raiders had the seventh best passing DVOA.

Los Angeles Chargers v Las Vegas Raiders
It’s not a huge surprise Carr looked better in year two with Gruden, the Raiders’ roster was a complete tire fire in 2018.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Seattle Seahawks: Brian Schottenheimer

Russell Wilson completed 65.6% of his passes for 35 TDs and seven interceptions. He was sacked 51 times. Wilson had the 11th best passing DYAR and the Seahawks finished with the sixth best passing DVOA.

In 2019 Wilson completed 66.1% of his passes for 31 TDs and five interceptions. He was sacked 48 times. He had the fourth best passing DYAR and the Seahawks finished with the third best passing DVOA.

Wild Card Round - Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks
It’s easy to overlook how Wilson improved in his second season under Schottenheimer, but he was clearly more efficient.
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Chicago Bears: Matt Nagy

Across 14 games, Trubisky completed 66.6% of his passes for 3223 yards, 24 TDs and 12 interceptions. He was sacked 24 times. He ranked 17th in passing DYAR and the Bears had the 16th best passing DVOA.

In 2019 Trubisky played in 15 games and completed 63.2% of his passes for 17 TDs and 10 interceptions. He was sacked 38 times. He finished 27th by DYAR and the Bears had the 21st best passing DVOA.

Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears
Trubisky didn’t throw as many interceptions in his second season under Nagy, but he clearly declined.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

*The Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants, and Indianapolis Colts hired and retained play callers but their primary quarterbacks changed over the timeframe

The Steelers lost Ben Roethlisberger to an injury in 2019 and started Duck Hodge and Mason Rudolph.

The Giants benched Eli Manning for rookie Daniel Jones in 2019.

The Colts started Jacoby Brissett after Andrew Luck retired during the preseason in 2019.*

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns
Mason Rudolph’s 2019 is best remembered for this ugly blow up with Myles Garrett.
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Teams who hired new play callers in 2019 and kept them through 2020

Arizona Cardinals: Kliff Kingsbury

Kyler Murray completed 64.4% of his passes for 3722 yards, 20 TDs and 12 interceptions. He was sacked 48 times. He finished 21st by passing DYAR and the Cards had the 22nd best passing DVOA.

In 2020 Murray completed 67.2% of his passes for 3971 yards, 26 TDs and 12 interceptions. He was sacked 27 times. He finished with the 15th best DYAR and the Cards had the 14th best passing DVOA.

Arizona Cardinals v Los Angeles Rams
During his second NFL season under Kingsbury, Murray made mostly incremental improvements across the board.
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Tennessee Titans: Arthur Smith

In 10 games Ryan Tannehill completed 70.3% of his passes for 2742 yards, 22 TDs and six interceptions. He was sacked 31 times. He finished 10th in DYAR and the Titans had the sixth best passing DVOA in football.

In 2020 Tannehill played in every game and completed 65.5% of his passes for 3819 yards, 33 TDs and seven interceptions. He was sacked 24 times. He finished as the sixth best quarterback in football by DYAR and the Titans had the fourth best passing DVOA.

Wild Card Round - Baltimore Ravens v Tennessee Titans
While Tannehill’s completion percentage dipped across 2020, he clearly had a better season statistically. There’s a reason Arthur Smith got a head coaching job.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

New York Jets: Adam Gase

In 13 games Sam Darnold completed 61.9% of his passes for 3024 yards, 19 TDs and 13 interceptions. He was sacked 33 times. He finished the season as third worst quarterback among all passers with at least 200 attempts by DYAR and the Jets had the worst passing offense by DVOA.

In 2020 Darnold played in 12 games and completed 59.6% of his passes for 2208 nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He was sacked 35 times. He finished the season as the second worst quarterback among passers with at least 200 attempts by DYAR and the Jets were the third worst passing offense by DVOA.

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills
Darnold’s numbers clearly declined in Gase’s second season calling plays in New York.
Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

Baltimore Ravens: Greg Roman

Lamar Jackson completed 66.1% of his passes for 3127 yards, 36 TDs and six interceptions. He was sacked 23 times. He finished with the fourth best DYAR and Baltimore had the best passing DVOA in football. Jackson won NFL MVP.

In 2020 Jackson completed 64.4% of his passes for 2757 yards, 26 TDs and nine interceptions. He was sacked 29 times. He finished 22nd in DYAR and the Ravens had the 17th best passing offense by DVOA.

Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals
Jackson’s passing numbers declined across the board in Roman’s second season calling plays.
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Atlanta Falcons: Dirk Koetter

Matt Ryan played in 15 games and completed 66.2% of his passes for 4466 yards, 26 TDs and 14 interceptions. He was sacked 48 times. He finished with the 14th best DYAR and the Falcons had the 13th best passing offense by DVOA.

In 2020 Ryan played in every game and completed 65% of his passes for 4581 yards, 26 TDs and 11 interceptions. He was sacked 41 times. He finished 10th in DYAR and Atlanta finished the season with the 13th best passing offense by DVOA.

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
By the numbers, Ryan’s two seasons with Koetter were close to a wash.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Green Bay Packers: Matt LaFleur

Aaron Rodgers completed 62% of his passes for 4002 yards, 26 TDs and four interceptions. He was sacked 36 times. He finished eight in DYAR and the Packers had the 10th best passing DVOA in football.

In 2020 Rodgers completed 70.7% of his passes for 4299 yards, 48 TDs and five interceptions. He was sacked 20 times. He finished 2nd in DYAR and the Packers finished with the best passing DVOA in football. Rodgers won NFL MVP.

NFC Championship - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Green Bay Packers
Rodgers cleared improved in his second season with LaFleur.
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

*The Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions, Dallas Cowboys, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired new play callers in 2019 and retained them through 2020, but had quarterback instability across the time frame

The Bengals played four quarterbacks across this timeframe. Andy Dalton, Ryan Finley, Joe Burrow, and Brandon Allen made starts.

The Lions lost Matthew Stafford eight games into 2019 and played Jeff Driskel and David Blough.

The Cowboys lost Dak Prescott to a season ending injury five games into 2020 and played Andy Dalton, Garrett Gilbert, and Ben DiNucci.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers let Jameis Winston leave in free agency following 2019 and replaced him with Tom Brady.*

NFL: FEB 07 Super Bowl LV - Chiefs v Buccaneers
The Bucs replaced a first overall pick with Tom Brady.
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Final Thoughts

While I have some qualms with Shurmur’s play calling, I thought retaining him made too much sense for the Broncos if they planned to give Drew Lock a real chance at starting in 2021. With the way Covid-19 knocked out OTAs and preseason games, it was clear through the first half of last season that Lock was struggling to grasp concepts. A “normal” offseason to study the offense, reflect on his film, and master the nuances to the system always looked like a smart plan.

While it’s no guarantee Drew Lock will start in 2021 because of the ongoing competition with Teddy Bridgewater, another season with Pat Shurmur looks like it should be beneficial to him. Nine of the 15 quarterbacks in the sample made clear and obvious improvements, while only four saw clear and obvious declines in production. It’s important to remember this is an extremely small sample size that includes last year’s Covid-19-impacted season, but the numbers suggest consistency with Pat Shurmur was the best course of action for Drew Lock.

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