It was Alabama coach Nick Saban’s decision to put true freshman Tua Tagovailoa on the field in the College Football Playoff National Championship last week, but it was offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s play call that led to Tagovailoa’s game-winning touchdown in overtime.
Weighed down by an offense that scored only three touchdowns in seven games against playoff teams this season, the Buffalo Bills are hoping to steal some of the Crimson Tide’s magic. Coach Sean McDermott plucked Daboll away from Alabama on Sunday to become Buffalo’s fifth offensive coordinator in five seasons.
Now the Bills must do what Saban did by signing Tagovailoa, who was ESPN’s top-rated recruit at his position: find a quarterback.
That would be a novel development for Daboll, whose quarterbacks in his three previous stints as an NFL offensive coordinator have been Brady Quinn, Derek Anderson, Colt McCoy, Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace, Matt Moore, Chad Henne and Matt Cassel.
Over that span, Daboll’s offenses finished 32nd (Cleveland Browns in 2009), 29th (Browns in 2010), 22nd (Miami Dolphins in 2011) and 24th (Kansas City Chiefs in 2012) in total yards.
Daboll has not worked miracles with any of the quarterbacks he has been given in his NFL career, but the Bills should not ask Daboll to try to turn an average starter such as Tyrod Taylor into something greater.
Buffalo is better off investing the resources in finding the next star at quarterback and seeing if Daboll can help steer the ship. That is what Daboll successfully did in a brief glimpse on a national stage when Tagovailoa replaced Jalen Hurts in the second half of the national championship.
The Bills fired Rick Dennison as offensive coordinator last week after one season on the job. Dennison had a background in coaching offensive lines and had been given full playcalling duties for the first time this past season.
Dennison seemed to overthink short-yardage and red-zone situations and struggled to get Taylor to push the ball downfield, frustrating fans by dialing up plays that ultimately resulted in check-down passes to fullback Patrick DiMarco or backup running back Mike Tolbert.
It is only one playcall, but Daboll showed a more aggressive streak when he had Alabama’s receivers run “Seattle” — four vertical routes — on second-and-26 in overtime. Tagovailoa had just taken a first-down sack and Daboll could have played it more conservatively to try to match Georgia’s field goal on the previous possession. But the gamble to go for the end zone paid off, with Daboll collecting the sixth championship ring of his career.
The Bills could benefit from Daboll’s experience at Alabama, as well as his five Super Bowl titles as an assistant coach for the New England Patriots. But in order for Daboll to prove himself as an effective NFL offensive coordinator in his fourth try, he will need a quarterback.