The life of an assistant coach in the NFL is akin to living on the set of a telenovela. It’s rose petals and perfumed baths one day, then poison sumac and tomato showers the next one. Such is the world being lived in by Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Brian Johnson right now.
Johnson calls the plays for an elite offense, one ranked No. 9 in the league and No. 4 in the NFC while averaging 364.3 yards per game. Their 28.2 points per game is tied with San Francisco for the NFL’s third-best output. Yes, the unit oozes electricity stemming from the super-charged play of MVP candidate Jalen Hurts. He can do no wrong, even on a wounded knee.
But, if Hurts is the storm that ignites Ben Franklin’s kite experiment, then Johnson is the lightning rod. The first-year coordinator can’t seem to put together a cohesive gameplan that keeps the chains moving for all four quarters. He’s been highly criticized for suspect play-calling, particularly in the first half of games.
Look no further than last week’s come-from-behind victory against Buffalo — Johnson dialed up three straight passes (all from the shotgun) on the Eagles’ first possession which resulted in a quick three-and-out. Remember, Hurts is dealing with a sore knee and everybody knows an injured quarterback’s best friend is the run game. Perhaps the most egregious call came with 14:17 showing in the third quarter when Johnson called a bubble screen to Julio Jones on a 3rd-and-14. The result? Another punt.
Finally, on the next possession, the Eagles unleashed D’Andre Swift on a trap play that saw him gain 36 yards. The dynamic running back would carry four times for 45 yards on that drive before a three-yard strike to A.J. Brown got the Eagles mojo back as they cut the Bills’ lead to 17-14. I’m not here to rehash the rest of the call sheet. I’m not here to trash Johnson either. He made some key adjustments in the second half. And the Eagles won the game.
Additionally, Hurts has full trust in Johnson which is exceedingly more valuable than whatever the fans or media think about his body of work. Head coach Nick Sirianni wasted no time giving his offensive coordinator a huge vote of confidence during his day-after press conference on Monday. There is a calming influence oozing from that headset.
“He’s just calm in all scenarios,” Sirianni told reporters. “Whether things are going really well or whether things aren’t going so well, he just stays in the moment. I think he’s very steady.You can tell that he has played quarterback at a very high level. You look over at Brian in certain situations and he’s stoic, just the same guy the entire time.”
Devils’ Advocate: Possible Replacements for Brian Johnson
Again, no one here is calling for the Eagles to fire Brian Johnson after a 10-1 start. That would be an absurd sentence to write, perhaps a decision even stranger to defend. The Eagles are sitting in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC, with a clear path to the Super Bowl in front of them. Nick Sirianni is not going to swap out his offensive coordinator. No chance.
But, what if he did? Or, what if he brought someone in (see: Frank Reich) as a consultant of sorts? Let’s take a look at the top names out there if the Eagles wanted to make a move:
1. Frank Reich
This is the one and only name that makes sense, hence why Reich was a trending topic among Eagles fans the minute he was fired by Carolina. Nick Sirianni already addressed the possibility. Still, it stands to reason that bringing in a sounding board like Reich to bounce ideas off (and to infuse new ones) could help a sometimes stagnant Eagles’ offense. He is Sirianni’s self-admitted mentor, plus Reich is widely known as a “creative” and “dangerous” play-caller.
2. Mike Kafka
The Andy Reid coaching tree seems to bear fruit every single year, and Kafka would be an interesting case study. He currently owns the title of offensive coordinator for the New York Giants, and there is no guarantee he gets fired at season’s end. The Giants rank No. 32 in total offense and the rumors of Kafka’s demise keep growing louder. Why would the Eagles even consider this hire? Simply put: if Kafka can turn make Daniel Jones look good, then imagine him with Jalen Hurts.
3. Josh McDaniels
Bill Belichick’s main squeeze was relieved of his head-coaching duties on November 1 and remains out of work. And, following two disastrous stints as the top honcho, McDaniels isn’t likely to get another shot at a head-coaching gig. Personally, I would cringe at bringing a locker-room disruptor like this into the Eagles’ nest. However, the 47-year-old has enjoyed enviable success — mainly in New England, with Tom Brady at quarterback — and he was once labeled a “creative thinker” by Belichick. One more nugget to munch on: the Eagles liked him enough to make him a finalist for their head-coaching job in 2021 before they settled on Sirianni.
4. Duce Staley
The Eagles legend was let go in tandem with Frank Reich as part of Carolina’s purge. (Ditto for Josh McCown who carries his own Philly ties). Staley — a well-established commodity in NFL circles thanks to years of experience as an assistant head coach and running backs coach — has always been a favorite of the Eagles’ organization, and a stand-up guy who owner Jeffrey Lurie once likened to a “son.”
5. Kellen Moore: Don’t look now but things are imploding in Los Angeles. Chargers head coach Brandon Staley was on the hot seat entering the 2023 campaign; now it’s hard to see him surviving what appears to be another late-season swoon. Enter Staley’s offensive coordinator: Kellen Moore.
Sure, there is a chance the Chargers promote him to head coach but the more likely option is the front office cleans house and starts over. Bill Belichick has been rumored there. Meanwhile, you have to think Moore would jump at the opportunity to work with Hurts and look for revenge on the Cowboys if the Eagles called. He’s long been revered as a smart offensive mind, just look at the Chargers’ numbers: 347.5 yards per game, good enough for 11th-best in the NFL.
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