This will be particularly important because Washington doesn’t have Patrick Mahomes, but instead possesses a potential emerging quarterback in second-year player Sam Howell, who only played in one game in 2022.
That said, if Bieniemy is successful in Washington, he should be able to turn that success into a head coaching job sooner rather than later, as this would resolve some of the concerns people have had about his influence on the Kansas City offense.
Predicting an Eric Bieniemy Commanders Offense Would Be Difficult
It’s always difficult to determine what a new playcaller will do in an entirely new environment, especially if they weren’t the primary playcaller in their previous stop.
For Bieniemy, it’s particularly tough because all of his recent experience as an offensive coordinator and play designer comes with the best quarterback on the planet with a unique style that would be foolish to attempt to replicate.
For context, previous Reid acolytes from Kansas City have gone in different directions. Matt Nagy’s offense in Chicago was deep and broad, hitting on a wide range of play designs and concepts that were ultimately dizzying both for opposing defenses and their own quarterback room.
The Doug Pederson offense in Philadelphia was simpler but more layered – with play designs meant to build off of each other with in-game tendency breakers.
Mike Kafka’s offense with the New York Giants incorporated elements of both Reid and Brian Daboll in its design and didn’t build the same layering or complexity of Pederson or Nagy. But Kafka found ways to punish defenses with unique run design and excellent spacing.
Not only that, but a big part of Andy Reid’s success has been his ability to get players and coaches to buy into his vision. The extraordinary respect that players and other coaches have had for him and his coaching style is virtually unmatched across the NFL. Bieniemy is incredibly charismatic, but it will take much more than that to get buy-in from the locker room.
Andy Reid Offenses Feature Personnel Flexibility
There is no commonality among the former Chiefs’ offensive staffs when it comes to personnel groupings, and that’s a good thing.
The Chiefs themselves have been widely varied in the amount of three-receiver or two-back sets that they use. “11” personnel usage – the percent of plays where a team fields one running back, one tight end, and three receivers – is a good proxy for this kind of metric.
The Chiefs themselves have ranked between second and 24th in 11 personnel usage since 2018, and the Reid disciples have ranked between 10th and 27th. The Eagles were one of the most two-tight-end-dependent teams in the league for a period of time under Pederson, and the Bears were comfortable using a fullback under Nagy.
In the Super Bowl, Reid unveiled a two-running back package he hadn’t used much, if at all, throughout the season – often called “Pony” – with both Jerick McKinnon and Isiah Pacheco on the field. McKinnon operated as a lead blocker from the nub position, typically occupied by a tight end or H-back.
This means that personnel usage often follows the talent level of the players available, and the offense has generally been designed to accommodate different types of talent. In Kansas City, their heavy usage of three-receiver sets peaked in 2020 and 2021 when they had Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, and Mecole Hardman.
Losing Hill, Watkins, and Robinson shifted KC’s personnel usage and put players like Jody Fortson, Noah Gray, and Michael Burton on the field along with McKinnon, Pacheco, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
Kafka did the same in New York. When racked with receiver injuries, we often saw three tight end sets. As receivers became healthy – or as they demonstrated more talent – we saw them take the field more often. Critically, rookie tight end Daniel Bellinger shined when forced into action to cover for missing receivers and saw his time in the offense continue to expand even as receivers reentered the fray.
Expect a Bieniemy offense to do the same, with a particular emphasis on opening up opportunities for Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, Curtis Samuel, Brian Robinson, and Antonio Gibson. The glut of receiver talent that Washington has likely means significant receiver rotation in the offense.
Eric Bieniemy Will Take Advantage of Sam Howell’s Athleticism
All of the Reid disciples have worked with quarterbacks with athleticism well above the range of the average quarterback. That could be a preference – Reid’s Chiefs traded up for Mahomes – or happenstance.
But they certainly find ways to use the athleticism of the quarterbacks that they have. Kafka had Daniel Jones run the ball more than he ever had in his career, Nagy found ways to use Trubisky’s athletic talent, and Pederson effectively used both Carson Wentz and Trevor Lawrence as running threats despite primarily treating them as pocket passers.
While we don’t see Mahomes rushing all that often – in part because of the injury he sustained on a quarterback sneak in 2019 – he often unleashes his running and scrambling ability in the fourth quarter to great effect, as he did in the Super Bowl. 40 percent of his runs come in the final frame of the game.
Sam Howell could be in the same mold. He was an excellent athlete at UNC. When excluding sacks (which the NCAA counts as rush attempts), he ran for 1,106 yards in 2021, the third-most in the FBS behind Malik Willis and Malik Cunningham, at 8.1 yards per attempt, which was third behind Caleb Williams and Anthony Richardson. Howell ranked second in forced missed tackles, ahead of Cunningham and behind Willis.
Bieniemy will likely use Howell’s running capability to the advantage of the offense. Howell’s experience in an RPO-heavy system at North Carolina should help him adapt to that kind of system, and the ability to combine those RPOs with traditional read-option-style plays is something Kafka did well in New York and should be well within Bieniemy’s wheelhouse as an offensive coordinator in Washington.
Eric Bieniemy’s West Coast Offense Won’t Be Typical
West Coast offenses are typically characterized by a military-like precision to timing and route depth, but the Reid tree of the West Coast seemingly eschews that with more flexibility. That said, there’s something to be said about keeping the offense in rhythm and on time. That element was lost with Justin Fields and Matt Nagy in 2021 but, for the most part, has been true throughout the Reid offenses.
Nick Foles managed a more timing-oriented offense than any other quarterback in a Reid offense, though both Mahomes and Lawrence did an excellent job managing in-structure and out-of-structure approaches to the passing game.
Reid offenses don’t tend to favor short or deep passing with any degree of precision, though it’s notable that only no non-Fields offenses featured a passing depth deeper than 9.00 yards downfield – the inaugural Mahomes season in 2018.
Even with weapons like Hill and Travis Kelce, the Mahomes offense has been choosy about its deep shots with an average route depth for most of his tenure. Indeed, Mahomes has had just as many seasons with below-average passing depth (2022 and 2021) as he has with above-average passing depth (2018 and 2019).
In Reid’s offenses, there has been a tendency to keep things at about the NFL average in terms of route depth. The short passes shorter than ten yards are frequent and not necessarily the most valuable in the offense (or more valuable than other offenses when they throw short) but are critical to opening up deep and intermediate shots, where the offenses tend to live.
The only commonality among all of the Reid offenses across the 11 seasons of data we have is that they don’t tend to throw many passes behind the line of scrimmage. That said, the Bears did that a fair amount in 2021, perhaps as a means of reining in Fields and taking advantage of running backs David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert.
With the after-catch capability of McLaurin and Gibson, we should see some darts in the zero-to-five-yard range but should primarily expect passes thrown in the 10-15 yard range, especially with a contested catch maven like Jahan Dotson entering his second year.
Expect Eric Bieniemy To Make the Washington Commanders Pass More
There are no groupings of Reid-style offenses that featured a below-average passing rate on early downs in neutral game situations (first and second down where win probability was neither below 10 percent nor greater than 90 percent).
The closest are the Chicago Bears and the New York Giants, who both ranked 17th in early-down pass frequency in the years that the Reid disciples took over on offense.
Washington was one of the most run-heavy teams in the league in 2022, with the third-fewest passing attempts on early downs in neutral game situations.
While it’s unlikely that they would replicate what the Chiefs did between 2018 and 2022 when they had Mahomes and not much of a running game, it’s still notable that every Reid disciple has passed the ball much more often on first and second down in neutral game situations than their contemporaries.
Even the Giants and the Bears had running quarterbacks with strong running games as their offensive identity, but they still threw the ball much more often than a good chunk of the league. Expect Washington to drop back on first and second down much more often in 2023 than they did in 2022, even if they don’t have much confidence in their quarterback.
This has generally proven to be an efficient move, even for teams with good running games and bad passing games.
If the quarterback is primarily a runner, then the equation changes a bit. But even the Ravens, Eagles, and Giants have had more success throwing the ball than running the ball on early downs despite having dynamic runners at the quarterback position and varying degrees of success throwing the ball.
All of these together should be a big change from the Scott Turner offense in Washington, which featured more static personnel, a more rigid structure, and a desire to run the ball more often. That doesn’t mean it would be a better offense – the quality of the coach matters much more than the scheme – but it is noteworthy.