Are NFL teams starting to clamp down on offense?

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The apex of the NFL offensive revolution was the evening of Nov. 29, 2018. That night, the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams turned Monday Night Football into a game of pop-a-shot. Even seven combined turnovers could not slow the scoring. When the final whistle blew, the Rams had defeated the Chiefs, 54-51, in the third-highest-scoring game in NFL history. That offseason, of the eight head coach openings, six of them went to candidates with an offensive background.

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With the Washington Commanders hiring Dan Quinn as their new head coach on Thursday, the 2024 head-coaching cycle has come to an end. Quinn might not have been their first choice, but once Ben Johnson elected to stay with the Detroit Lions, the frontrunners for the Commanders head-coaching gig all had a defensive background.

There were eight NFL head coaches hired following the end of the 2023 season. The only offensive coordinators hired were Dave Canales and Brian Callahan by the Carolina Panthers and Tennessee Titans, respectively. Jim Harbaugh is the new man in charge of the Los Angeles Chargers, but the other five openings went to defensive guys.

As the Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay coaching trees have been picked clean, and there is still vociferous debate about roughness penalties that will only get louder once the “hip-drop tackle” is outlawed, offense in the NFL is becoming harder to come by. For the fourth consecutive season, the league’s combined points per game average has declined.

Since Patrick Mahomes nearly broke the NFL with his 2018 debut, opposing defenses have become laser-focused on limiting big plays to as close to zero as possible. Mahomes had three deep completions during the Chiefs Divisional Round victory against the Buffalo Bills. Mahomes has done that in a game only one other time since 2022.

A young, hotshot offensive coordinator will always be coveted. Developing an elite quarterback is the fastest way to success in the NFL. Still, the decline in offense has been impossible to ignore. Freakishly athletic pass rushers such as Micah Parsons and Montez Sweat are part of the reason, but so are the schemes that these defensive coaches are drawing up. The Baltimore Ravens do not have an elite pass rusher, and still held the Chiefs to only six total first downs in the second half of the AFC title game. After two seasons as defensive coordinator for the Ravens, Mike Macdonald is now the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks.

Johnson was smart not to jump at the Commanders job. He has a good thing going in Detroit and should wait for an ideal situation. However, this head-coaching cycle has shown that there are several routes that can lead to getting one of those jobs. That November night at the LA Coliseum is not the direction the league is currently headed.

As points become more of a premium, the coordinators on the other side of the ball are proving to be just as valuable as the “geniuses” that diagram offenses.

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