The Daboll/Kafka Offense Part 2 - History & Influences

In order to understand and possibly predict what the Giants offense will look like in 2022, it's vital to take a hard look at the coaching histories and influences on Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka. From a "geneaology" perspective, Daboll and Kafka come from entirely different branches of the coaching tree. Daboll spent 10 years (2 stints) in New England working under Bill Belichick, Charlie Weiss and Josh McDaniels while Kafka has been attached at the hip to KC Head Coach Andy Reid, a direct descendant of Bill Walsh and the West Coast Offense.

Mike Kafka

Mike Kafka was a career 3rd string QB, with most of his playing career being spent under Andy Reid in Philadelphia. After a 1 year stint coaching at Northwestern, Kafka was hired by Reid in KC as a quality control assistant before being elevated to QB Coach. Kafka is largely credited with the development of Patrick Mahomes. Since this is Kafka's first stint as an Offensive Coordinator, we can only look at Andy Reid's Kansas City Offense to gather inferences about what Kafka is bringing to the table.

While coaching the Eagles, Reid was a West Coast Offense (WCO) purist. At its core, the WCO has 2 main areas of differentiation:

  1. Short, ball control passing. The WCO is heavy on slants, shallow crosses and passes to RBs and TEs attacking the LBs. The goal is for receivers to get significant yards after catch (YAC), and QBs are focused on delivering highly accurate passes that allow receivers to catch balls in stride.
  2. Timing. Bill Walsh was the first coach to tie receiver routes and progressions to the QB's feet. When the QB hits the last step of his drop, the ball is coming out to his first read. If the first read is covered, the QB resets his feet and throws to his second option.
Reid's offense in Philly was primarily a short, ball control passing game, but Reid also became known as a master of screen passes. Giants fans still have PTSD from watching Brian Westbrook pick up huge chunks of yardage on screens.

After getting hired in Kansas City in 2014 the Chiefs traded for Alex Smith at QB. Shortly thereafter, Reid had extensive meetings with Urban Meyer, Smith's college coach. This was a watershed moment for offense in the NFL. After learning from Meyer about the Zone Read and RPOs, Reid decided to marry this offense with the WCO passing game. WCO concepts like "Slant/Flat", "Double Slant" and "Stick" were paired with RPOs. Andy Reid was the first coach to deploy RPOs on a wide scale in the NFL. The combination of WCO and RPO proved deadly with the drafting of Patrick Mahomes. Just about every shotgun run by the Chiefs has an RPO or zone read element. Adding Tyreek Hill made the offense lethal. Reid incorporated a lot of deep shots and crossing routes into the offense and he throws downfield a lot more than any WCO team.

What can we expect Mike Kafka to bring with him from Kansas City?
  1. Lots of RPOs and Zone Reads. The primary blocking schemes will likely be Outside Zone, Pin & Pull (Old style packers sweep), and Counter Gap (Washington Hogs style pulling the guard and tackle/TE)
  2. A strong screen game, something the Giants haven't seen in decades.
  3. A lot of downfield shots off play action
  4. Cleaning up Daniel Jones's technique and accuracy issues. If possible, he'll learn bettter ball placement.
  5. Lots of creative motion using fly and orbit (motioning WRs into the backfield). After doing the research, Wan'Dale Robinson was likely a Kafka pick. He's looking for a pet cheetah to make this all fly. I think Kadarius Toney is going to be the Z receiver in this offense, but that remains to be seen.
  6. Throwing to RBs. Andy Reid really likes incorporating RBs into the passing game. Reid likes to use HB Choice, HB Wheel/Rail, and splitting his RBs out in empty. Lately the Chiefs haven't had the RBs to make this work, but this bodes extremely well for Saquon Barkley
  7. Of note, these concepts require mobile and athletic offensive linemen. Josh Ezeudu fits this profile to a T.
Brian Daboll

Brian Daboll's influences start with the 10 seasons he spent with the Patriots. He uses the Perkins/Earhardt play calling system which Bill Belichick took with him to New England from his time with the Giants. Belichick has unique "systems" on offense and defense - the system is there is no system. Belichick builds his offenses and defenses to match the skills of his players. Belichick wants football players, and he's made offenses productive over the last 20 years with a wide assortment of players. It was widely published that Daboll's first move was to bring in Daniel Jones to ask him what plays he felt comfortable with and wanted to run. The Belichick influence is apparent.

Studying film and looking at playbooks comparing New England and Buffalo was an eye opening experience. On the field, Buffalo's offense bore little resemblance to New England's. Daboll built his Bills offense around the skills of Josh Allen. A large portion of the offense looked a lot like Kansas City's with a generous helping of RPOs and Zone Reads as well as lots of creative motion and downfield shots. Buffalo also lined Allen up under center a lot more than KC. Under center, the Bills ran a lot of wide zone, and schemed a lot of play action and bootlegs to take deep shots and hit deep crossers. Daboll also called a lot of designed runs for Allen using "Bash" schemes, which will be covered later.

Where did Daboll pick up the Zone Read/RPO game? Daboll spent a year as offensive coordinator at Alabama under Nick Saban coaching Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts. Alabama has been very heavy on RPOs. Saban is philosophically aligned with Belichick as well. He is another coach that uses playbooks that are tailored to the skills of his players.

Daboll has also built some sneaky good deception into his offense and runs some pretty interesting things off play action. One of his hallmarks is to have WRs and Slots bluff a run block and turn it into a seam/go/post. These are "dump passes" that he may have taken from Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma as well as "Sneak Wheel". The Bills have an amazing number of plays where receivers are wide open.

So what we can expect from Brian Daboll? This is a little harder to predict due to the chameleon-like nature of his playbook.
  1. An offense tailored to Daniel Jones and the rest of the Giants personnel
  2. A lot of creative motion with WRs and RBs
  3. Heavy use of RPOs very similar to KC with Wide Zone, Pin & Pull and Counter
  4. Heavily involving Barkley in the passing game, something that no other Giants coach has seemed to figure out besides throwing him a bunch of checkdowns.
  5. Substantial use of under-center formations with wide Zone and Bootlegs to take deep shots.
  6. Some real creativity to scheme wide open receivers.
  7. Figuring out how to better use Daniel Jones in the running game.
Part 3 in the series will look at Daboll's and Kafka's use of formations, personnel and motion.

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