The Green Bay Packers returned to practice Monday after a bye week of self-evaluation and recovery. Mike McCarthy and his coaching staff have made their adjustments and will implement them during the second half of the 2018 regular season.
But while McCarthy has corrected course numerous times before, the difficulty of the upcoming schedule and the limitations of his team leave open the possibility that the Packers don’t turn around their season. Should they fail to do so, McCarthy faces the very real possibility that the team will make a change at head coach for the first time since 2006.
The Packers will wait until the end of the season to make such a decision, but they also have a shortlist of candidates deemed worthy of consideration if the job does indeed open. That list will change as options commit to other opportunities or new information arises that makes them less attractive.
New York Giants defensive coordinator
While finding the next offensive wunderkind will serve as the modus operandi for most clubs in search of a new head coach this offseason, the league does have some promising young defensive minds from which to choose. One of those, the New York Giants’ James Bettcher, has earned a reputation for his innovative blitz packages and diverse coverages.
Bettcher first broke into the NFL as an assistant under then Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano. When Indianapolis offensive coordinator Bruce Arians left to take the head gig with the Arizona Cardinals, he took Bettcher with him, eventually promoting him to defensive coordinator in 2015.
Under Bettcher, the Cardinals finished third defensively in DVOA during both the 2015 and ‘16 seasons and fourth last year. While an impressive accomplishment in any context, Bettcher did this largely without much pass-rushing talent (Chandler Jones didn’t arrive until 2016, and Calais Campbell left the following offseason). For a team like Green Bay that lacks an elite pass rusher, Bettcher could fix a lot of problems.
Of course, the Giants have struggled defensively during Bettcher’s first season on the job and looked particularly out of sync during Monday’s 23-20 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. New York’s personnel limitations have a lot to do with those shortcomings, but a Bettcher still bears some responsibility for the unit’s performance. Moreover, the Packers haven’t hired a defensive-minded head coach since Ray Rhodes nearly 20 years ago.
Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator
One of the brightest young offensive minds in the league, John DeFilippo has seen his stock skyrocket over the past few years. After a number of undistinguished stops early in his coaching career, DeFilippo left his mark as the quarterbacks coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, developing Pro Bowl signal-caller Carson Wentz and helping the team win its first Super Bowl in franchise history. That work helped DeFilippo land a few head-coaching interviews last offseason and, eventually, his current job as Minnesota Vikings’ offensive coordinator.
Those familiar with the offenses run by Sean McVay with the Los Angeles Rams and Andy Reid with the Kansas City Chiefs will see plenty of similar qualities in DeFilippo’s scheme. The Vikings incorporate pre-snap motion to force the defense to reset, causing confusion and creating favorable matchups for the offense. DeFilippo also uses play action liberally without waiting to establish the run first. As a result, the Vikings offense has overcome its major weaknesses -- poor offensive-line play and a weak ground attack.
DeFilippo has adjusted his game plan well week to week, but certain features keep reappearing in the Vikings offense this season. In particular, DeFilippo has leaned on flood concepts and double slants to move the ball in key situations. Combined with the pre- and post-snap misdirection, the scheme has put Kirk Cousins on course for the best season of his career (70 percent completion, 4,942 yards, 32 touchdowns, and just seven interceptions). If paired with an all-time great like Aaron Rodgers, DeFilippo could do even more.
Furthermore, Rodgers has frequently commented on how he values coaches who have played the quarterback position. DeFilippo did so through college and has worked with signal-callers since his earliest days as an assistant.
Oklahoma Sooners head coach
Perhaps the hottest coaching name at any level, Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley has enjoyed a meteoric three-year rise that saw him transform from an anonymous assistant at East Carolina to playoff-bound head coach.
A disciple of legendary air-raid coach Mike Leach, Riley developed into one of the most inventive offensive play-callers. When Riley became the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, he inherited a deep backfield with a bevy of small receivers. Rather than make the players conform to his offensive preferences, Riley adjusted to them. In doing so, he created the most efficient offense in all of college football.
And while NFL lifers often deride “college offenses” such as the air raid, Riley’s scheme has already proven successful in the pros. McVay, Reid, and others have incorporated shallow crossers and run-pass options borrowed from Riley and other like-minded coaches, contributing greatly to the offensive explosion occurring around the league. Furthermore, the adaptability Riley displayed in Oklahoma bodes well should he take his talents elsewhere this offseason.
While Riley can realistically land any job he wants, the possibility remains that he will simply leverage the outside interest into a lucrative extension at Oklahoma. Even if Riley does decide to leave Norman, teams such as the Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, and numerous blue-chip college programs could and likely will outbid a hypothetical Green Bay offer.
George Edwards: Mike Zimmer’s right-hand man began to garner head-coaching interest last offseason, interviewing with the Chicago Bears. However, George Edwards doesn’t call the plays for the Minnesota Vikings defense and it remains unclear how much input he actually has.
Gary Kubiak: The NFL has fallen in love with McVay and Kyle Shanahan’s offenses. Both those schemes owe a huge debt to Gary Kubiak, who implemented many of the successful concepts as the offensive play-caller for the Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, and Baltimore Ravens. Kubiak won a Super Bowl as the Broncos’ head coach in 2015, but health issues forced him to retire a season later. Those same concerns might prevent a return to the sidelines as well.
Matt LaFleur: Like McVay and Shanahan, Matt LaFleur has emerged from the coaching cradle in Washington that has produced some of the best offenses in the NFL. LaFleur served as quarterbacks coach for the Falcons when Matt Ryan won the MVP. A year later, he worked as the offensive coordinator under McVay in Los Angeles when the offense led the league in scoring. However, LaFleur didn’t become a play-caller until this season, and his Tennessee Titans offense has plenty of room for improvement. Still, if the appeal of McVay-Shanahan disciples continues to grow, LaFleur could garner head-coaching interest in the upcoming hiring cycle.
Bill Lazor: A longtime assistant with multiple stops as an offensive coordinator, Bill Lazor has spent time under head coaches as disparate as Chip Kelly and Marvin Lewis. Lazor joined the staff of the latter in 2016 as a quarterbacks coach, moving up to offensive coordinator after the start of the 2017 season. In Lazor’s first full year as the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive coordinator, the unit has undergone a mini-revival. His creativity with a limited offensive roster could get him some head-coaching consideration this offseason.
Josh McDaniels: The longtime New England Patriots assistant continues to run one of the most efficient offenses in the league despite significant personnel limitations around Tom Brady. Still, after spurning the Colts in embarrassing fashion last offseason, teams might view McDaniels as radioactive and completely untouchable.
Todd Monken: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ playoff hopes already appear sunk, but not because of their offense. Todd Monken, in his first season calling plays in Tampa, has put together an aggressive, downfield passing attack that has the Buccaneers ranked as one of the most efficient offensive teams in the league. Tampa Bay looks likely to clean house this offseason, and other franchises might have a hard time selling a freshly fired offensive coordinator as a new head coach.