Didn't expect this today. It's certainly not shocking, but I expected a change would more likely come later in the year or potentially in the post season.
Nonetheless, this is where we find our team, and the immediate question that comes up is: what does this mean for the offense? The defense will remain in tact with Horton and Lebeau running that unit. However, with Whiz out, it moves Mularkey to HC and Jason Michael as the OC and playcaller. While Mularkey will not be calling the plays, it seemed clear from the press conference that the offense will be his.
When asked about his philosophy, he had this to say:
"As a position coach, as a coordinator, as a head coach, my philosophy has always been the same: Being a tough, physical football team," Mularkey said.
This definitely showed up in my film review of Mularkey. And, full disclosure, this is not a comprehensive film review. I watched a handful of series from a few different games in 2011 during his time as OC in Atlanta, and in 2012 during his time as HC in Jacksonville.
Let's start with the run game.
The immediate thing that jumped out at me was the abundance of "heavy" formations. Lots of tight ends, and a good dose of full back.
In this sense, the personnel can fit, if only because we have a wealth of tight ends on the roster. Though, in general, I don't think this plays to a strength of ours. As you can see on these shots above, you're inviting 7-9 guys into the box with these formations. That makes sense if you can "win" with each blocker. However, when you the base front 5 can't execute in general, this tends to create more problems than it solves.
Mularkey doesn't seemed to be married to a run type, and his run selections appear to be opponent specific. A recurring theme is runs that hit the opponent in the mouth. I can't recall the last time we can a power sweep here, and I saw that on a number of occasions. Wham, trap, iso, power, counter, inside zone. Saw all these at one point or another. But, he also wasn't afraid to stretch the defense with outside zone from time to time.
Mularkey appears to favor a back that's a hammer. A North-South runner. Michael Turner became a household name under his watch. And, he ran him without mercy while coordinator. It wouldn't surprise me to see the same with Antonio Andrews, and eventually David Cobb if he gets healthy. Sankey and McCluster could be mixed in, but I wouldn't expect to see much of a role for them in this offense.
In the passing game, much of it still flows through the run game, and builds off it either via play action or creating formational matchups. Of course, there are still traditional pass concepts, especially when it gets to 3rd and medium or longer.
Shot play here off run action. They fake the run to the right to draw up the linebacker, and then throw it behind him.
Traditional boot action off and outside run fake. Two level stretch is primary meant to bind flat defender. Ryan finds backside outlet pass that leaks into the play late.
Falcons roll the pocket here. It's a quick hitter to Julio Jones on the out route.
There are overlying themes in the playcalling, and again, it jives with what he was saying in the press conference today.
Mularkey: If we have the players is up to us, u play around your player's talents, you don't try to fit them to your team. We can do better— Paul Kuharsky (@PaulKuharskyNFL) November 3, 2015
A good number of the plays appeared to be designed for specific players. This is a different approach from Whisenhunt's philosophy, which was generally that the system would dictate who go the ball based on the coverages presented play to play. Of course, there's a gray area here, and there are exceptions, but these themes - albeit contrasting ones - show up pretty clearly on the tape of both coaches.
As for Mularkey's philosophy in this regard, it can have mixed results. Things tend to be a little more binary. In the play above, if Julio isn't open then the play isn't a positive. Whereas in the Whisenhunt system, there's generally a correct place to go with the ball when the plays are run correctly.
And, there's the caveat. On a whiteboard, Ken Whisenhunt's system will trump Mularkey's philosophy. But, for now, with this team, that philosophy is irrelevant. It doesn't work. The system can't provide solutions for every problem when it can't answer the most basic questions of pass protection. In situations like this, a binary approach can be the answer, because sometimes throwing the ball away - a zero - is better than a negative.
To this point, upside may be limited with this scheme. We're probably not going to be throwing the ball 35+ times much anymore. But, we're also not going to be putting our QB at risk as much. Reads will be more defined, and we'll see less traditional drop back passing with the QB in one spot.
While our upside may be capped some, I think our downside is as well, particularly as it relates to Marcus Mariota, which - in my mind at least - is the most important thing at this point. Keep him healthy and let him mature. Get some stability, and don't force him to grind out games through injury. Fortunately, Mularkey's scheme tends to account for this already. Even on the Jags in 2012, the team was middle of the pack in terms of QB hits. We're top 5 right now.
I don't know if Mularkey is the answer, but he is philosophically quite a bit different from Ken Whisenhunt. If nothing else, Mularkey will help keep Mariota healthy, and give us an opportunity to evaluate our talent through a different schematic lens. Given that we know Whiz wasn't working out, this change can only be a good thing.