The most dynamic offenses in the last two NFL seasons have been the products of exceptional play-callers -- the 2016 Atlanta Falcons with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and the 2017 Los Angeles Rams with head coach Sean McVay. These offenses were so fun to watch on a weekly basis.
For a quarterback, the position I played in the NFL for 11 seasons, there are three things that make an offense fun to be a part of: 1) a great play-caller; 2) a solid offensive line and run game; and 3) talented wide receivers on the perimeter. Getting a play-caller who can create offense for the quarterback is half the battle, because then the QB doesn't have to make every play. Some of the best offenses in football history were made possible by a stout offensive line and dynamic running backs. A good run game sets up so many pass options. And lastly, every signal-caller wants at least one big playmaker on the outside.
The best year of my career -- where these three factors were all present -- was in 2004, my third season with the Houston Texans. Then-head coach Dom Capers gave me a lot of freedom and control of what was going on at the line of scrimmage. It was similar to Peyton Manning's style, where the quarterback calls the play after waiting for the defense to show its hand. The system relied a lot on no-huddle and up-tempo. That season, Andre Johnson eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards and Domanick Williams crossed the 1,000-yard mark on the ground.
After watching the 2017 regular season play out, I thought about which offenses I'd most like to play in. Here are my top five, in no particular order:
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are loaded with weapons, from Todd Gurley to Cooper Kupp. The offense arguably had its best regular season since the days of the St. Louis Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf," and Sean McVay's genius -- illustrated perfectly in this piece by my colleague Michael Silver -- is the reason. McVay does a phenomenal job of dialing up play-action passes that create big gains off the run game -- he's the best in the league, in my opinion. This season, Jared Goff used play-action on 29.1 percent of his pass attempts (most in the league), according to Pro Football Focus. McVay has shown me that he's the most creative play-caller in the NFL -- despite what I saw in L.A.'s loss to Atlanta in Saturday's wild-card game -- in just his first year as a head coach. Goff's in a dream situation for a quarterback.
New Orleans Saints
I've been a fan of Sean Payton since he was quarterbacks coach in Dallas from 2003 through '05. He's been at the top of my favorite play-callers list for quite some time. He creates offense with formations and makes life for Drew Brees easier, especially with the Saints' current backfield tandem of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Even so, Brees put up a vintage performance against the Panthers that shows how a QB can still produce big numbers in New Orleans. The Saints' offense can win on the ground or through the air because Payton always keeps the defense on its heels. When you watch film, a lot of NFL defenses tend to run all these fancy blitz packages and a lot of man coverage -- but not when they play Payton's unit. Against the Saints, defenses are often in Cover 2 or zone coverage, or they just watch the offense most of the time. There are few defensive coordinators who will bring pressure and give disguising looks to the Saints because of what they do. According to PFF, Brees was only pressured on 22.6 percent of dropbacks (lowest in the league) this season, and when he was kept clean, he completed 76.2 percent of his passes, the highest such mark in the league. Now that is the kind of setup a quarterback, especially a veteran, can work well with.
This pick has everything to do with their scheme. The Eagles have a fun offense for a quarterback, with a ton of run-pass options, and Carson Wentz executed the attack really well in 2017. From the shotgun, the quarterback can read the defense mid-play, pull the ball out of the stomach of the running back and throw it quickly over the middle or down the seam to the tight ends. This scheme allows the line to move the pocket so well, which inherently allows the quarterback to create plays. When I was in the league, I loved off-the-cuff plays and creating offense outside of the Xs and Os. I'd love to play in this offense if I were 10 years younger.
I have Pittsburgh in this list because, honestly, I just want to throw the ball to Antonio Brown. Sometimes Ben Roethlisberger doesn't even care what the coverage is or what the play is -- he just lets it fly and watches Brown make a play. Of Roethlisberger's 88 deep pass attempts (passes of at least 20 yards), 43 went to Brown. Both marks are the most in the league by a quarterback and receiver, further supporting my previous statement. Heave that thing up and wait for Brown to do his thing. The star receiver can beat any defender, but OC Todd Haley does a good job lining him up in different spots. We saw Haley move rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster all over the formation when Brown was out with his calf injury late in the year, and the rookie had some of his best performances when used in creative ways. Haley is underrated in that aspect, as he's fantastic at finding matchups for his playmakers.
San Francisco 49ers
First-year head coach Kyle Shanahan calls a very quarterback-friendly game -- one that, rather than causing a lot of headaches, generates a lot of answers. He creates offense, like McVay and Payton, and that's helped Jimmy Garoppolo (who won all five of the games he started after being traded to the Niners) enjoy immediate success in the Bay Area. From what I can decipher, the 49ers ran a package of about seven plays from no-huddle with their new QB. Shanahan was able to create matchup issues and keep his concept styles, but they were tailored for Garoppolo to pick up right away.
Last year's Atlanta Falcons were as good as I've ever seen, at least from a play-caller's standpoint, and any quarterback would be crazy to not want to be a part of that. Yes, Atlanta had the personnel, but Shanahan created matchup problems with every single weapon -- Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, to name a few. It was so fun to watch. When Shanahan's able to package plays and hand the reins to his quarterback (Matt Ryan last season, Garoppolo this season), that gives a lot of confidence to the QB. Like I said, I played in a similar offense my third year with Capers in Houston. And that's when playing was most enjoyable for me.