Sunday will mark the first time in their storied careers that Ravens Offensive Coordinator and Broncos Head Coach Vic Fangio, former peers, will coach against one another. Roman, who has popularized the pistol offense at the NFL level, and Fangio, who is widely credited with the return of split-safety defenses, coached together at two different NFL stops. The two worked together under Brian Billick in Baltimore; Roman was an offensive line assistant while Fangio was titled as a special assistant to the head coach and defensive assistant.
That only lasted from 2006-2007, as Roman departed to take over play calling duties at Holy Cross High School before joining forces with Jim Harbaugh at Stanford as a tight ends and offensive tackles coach.
Meanwhile, Fangio remained in Baltimore through 2009 after being named linebackers coach for one season. Fangio was kept in Batimore by John Harbaugh to start Harbaugh’s tenure in 2008 before being poached by John’s brother, Jim, at Stanford. Roman and Fangio followed Jim to San Francisco, where they were named offensive and defensive coordinators and remained throughout Jim’s tenure, which lasted through 2014. That stint included a Super Bowl appearance, where the 49ers fell short against John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens.
Three stops, two Harbaughs and a Super Bowl together. Got it?
Roman and Fangio went their separate ways after the 2014 season, both remaining at the NFL level as Jim Harbaugh returned to his Alma mater, Michigan. Roman was named Rex Ryan’s offensive coordinator in Buffalo, while Fangio was named John Fox’s defensive coordinator in Chicago. Roman lasted three weeks into his second season before being relieved of coaching duties in Buffalo, while Fangio coached under Fox for four seasons in Chicago, where his defenses ranked ninth and first in points allowed over his final two seasons. Fangio was then named the head coach of the Denver Broncos, while Roman returned to Baltimore and coached with John Harbaugh for the first time as a senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach, before being named offensive coordinator in 2019 and remaining in that role since.
Roman and Fangio have established themselves as football extremists in separate, yet similar ways. Roman molded a pistol offense built around quarterback Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco, using the same concepts that Kaepernick thrived in for Chris Ault at Nevada.
Roman has utilized the pistol as a way of keeping his cards close in the run game.
“It allows you to run the ball either direction,” Roman said. “When you’re in the shotgun, it’s pretty easy … people can make some calls, some line stunts, etc. I like the shotgun, too, don’t get me wrong. But the pistol formation allows you to run your whole offense. They don’t know which way you’re going. That’s good for the offense.”
Roman has added to his pistol arsenal in Baltimore, with Lamar Jackson being utilized as the most prolific rushing quarterback in NFL history. Baltimore’s pistol rushing attack has been the foundation upon which Roman’s run game set an NFL record with 3,296 rushing yards in 2019, an NFL record, and produced back-to-back 3,000 yard rushing seasons — a feat no other NFL team has accomplished.
That rushing attack will collide with Fangio’s split safety defense. The use of the RPO at the NFL level has resulted in an increased usage in two-high safety shells, which follows an era of single-high popularity.
.@RamsNFL DC Brandon Staley using a similar scheme to Vic Fangio (spent 3 yrs together in DEN & CHI)— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) December 3, 2020
Rams & @Broncos - only teams to align pre-snap w/ 2-High safeties (Middle of Field Open) on 60+% of def snaps per @PFF & employ light boxes on 75+% of def snaps per @NextGenStats pic.twitter.com/ddYQQ1LZsv
Fangio and his disciple, Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley, run more two-high or “middle of the field open” (aka MOFO) looks than any other teams in the NFL. Two high looks also help defend perimeter rushing attacks, having a safety on each side of the formation to run the alley and fit perimeter runs. They do invite more inside run concepts, which is why having stout interior run defenders and smart, athletic linebackers fill the run is imperative in split safety defenses.
These two ideologies will square off in dramatic fashion, as Roman and Fangio will face one another for the first time Sunday in Denver. The chess match will be epic with these two masterminds attempting to gain schematic advantages. Both teams don’t have their full arsenal — Baltimore missing Nick Boyle, Ronnie Stanley, Tyre Phillips, J.K Dobbins and Gus Edwards, while Denver is missing Bradley Chubb, Josey Jewell (PFF’s No. 5 linebacker) and Ronald Darby. Their schemes and ability to outsmart one another will go a long way in determining which AFC team walks out victorious.