If you’re a bad NFL team, you should do your due diligence and watch Greg Roman and Robert Saleh go at it on Sunday. They might be your next head coach.
In a game that is too good to deserve an early window start time, the Baltimore Ravens (9-2) will host the San Francisco 49ers (10-1) in what could very well be a Super Bowl LIV preview two months ahead of time. The last time these two teams met in the Super Bowl, it was the Harbaugh Bowl in New Orleans with John Harbaugh’s Ravens beating Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers.
While John has become a football institution in the Charm City, Jim has gone back to his alma mater, attempting to make the Michigan Wolverines respectable again. Both Harbaughs have had a ton of coaching success, but it won’t be about John in this game Sunday. Week 13 in Baltimore is all about Lamar Jackson, Nick Bosa and the two coordinators leading those respective superstars.
Baltimore has become arguably the best team in the AFC this year. The Ravens have defeated the New England Patriots and are poised to get a first-round bye in the AFC playoff picture as the certain AFC North winner. Jackson is playing quarterback at an MVP level, thanks in large part to his offensive coordinator Greg Roman and his plus-one offense. No other offense looks like this.
San Francisco has become arguably the best team in the NFC this year. The 49ers’ only loss came at home to the division rival Seattle Seahawks and that was a primetime affair a few weeks ago on a last-second field goal by Seattle in overtime. Bosa is having the best year of any rookie in the league, thanks to the pass rush orchestrated by his defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. It’s filthy.
Fate would have it these two coordinators will be playing one of the greatest games of football chess this season on Sunday afternoon against each other. How will Roman attack San Francisco’s complete defense? Can Saleh be able to slow down Jackson and the plus-one attack? There will be plays that the Ravens win on offense and plays that the 49ers will win on defense. What a treat!
So if you’re a bad NFL team and want to know what great coaching looks like, this game will have plenty of it. Let’s not forget about the 49ers’ offensive genius Kyle Shanahan and the dominating defense of Don “Wink” Martindale in Baltimore. Shanahan might be the next all-time great NFL coach. He’s so young. Martindale might end up getting a head coaching opportunity this offseason.
But this game is all about Roman and Saleh. Whoever outschemes the other will emerge as the top head-coaching candidate to be elevated from the coordinator position. With the NFL seeing roughly a quarter of its teams fire head coaches every offseason, it’s almost a guarantee at this point that both Roman and Saleh will be the main man in a new NFL city next season. Book it.
Roman stems from the Harbaugh coaching tree. He worked with Jim Harbaugh at Stanford University and the San Francisco 49ers, where he became an offensive coordinator for the first time. Baltimore is the third team that he has served as an offensive coordinator on, as he was Rex Ryan’s offensive coordinator with the Buffalo Bills.
Roman has worked with mobile quarterbacks like Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick, Tyrod Taylor and now Jackson. His ability to run the ball with conviction in a myriad of ways, as well as putting his quarterbacks in positions to succeed is why he will be an NFL head coach in his late 40s. The NFL has leaned in hard to the offensive playing style Roman is best known for. He will get his due.
Saleh stems from the Pete Carroll coaching tree. He has served under elite defensive minds such as Carroll, Gus Bradley and Richard Smith. Saleh projects to be the next great branch off the Carroll coaching tree since Dan Quinn, who was Shanahan’s head coach with the Atlanta Falcons. Carroll’s coaching tree is all about Cover 3 concepts in the back-end and getting after the quarterback.
Saleh has also served under Gary Kubiak with the Houston Texans. That’s where he was on Smith’s defensive staff and first got acquainted with Shanahan, who was a first-time offensive coordinator under Kubiak. In short, the offensive and defensive philosophies of this Carroll-Shanahan-Kubiak-Quinn coaching tree complement each other perfectly. Saleh is cashing in.
So for teams that are surely firing their head coach on or shortly before Black Monday, this game between the 49ers and Ravens could end up being the audition a frustrated NFL owner can watch and say, “that’s my new guy!” For those bad teams who just hired a coach a year or so ago and aren’t comfortable moving off him yet, there are plenty of schematic lessons to be learned here.
Whichever team ends up winning this game on Sunday in Baltimore will emerge as the clear-cut favorite to come out of its conference to play in Super Bowl LIV. The losing team should still be in great shape as maybe at worst the second-best team in its conference. Overall, we’re watching this game for outstanding coaching. Roman and Saleh have certainly defined that in 2019.