The last couple of seasons have shown just how valuable the Offensive Line is to the success of a franchise. Consider that the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl after dominant performances down the stretch from the regular season all through the post-season. After that year, they had to totally retool their defense after future Hall-Of-Famers Ray Lewis retired and Ed Reed was released. They also lost a few valuable – but not critical – players on the defensive side. After bringing in several new players and notable free-agents, the defense played remarkably well. About as well as they had the year before with Lewis and Reed at the end of their careers. But where they fell apart was on offense.
During their Super Bowl run, the Offensive Line had dominated. The only real difference was that the one-time all-pro Center, Matt Birk retired after 16 years (??). The offense was putrid. The starting Running back Ray Rice had one of the worst averages of all RB’s in the league, second only to Bernard Pierce, the Ravens back-up RB. Rice was somewhat injured, but that in no way explained the totality of the difference. Add to that Pierce’s production and Joe Flacco’s precipitous drop in production, aided by a staggering 48 sacks, and it was obvious that this was more than just a Super Bowl hang-over. (One can also argue that the trading of WR Anquan Boldin and injury to TE Dennis Pitta had major effects, but there were other players that should have been able to substitute most of their production.) The one MAJOR difference was the retirement of Matt Birk.
An interesting fact about Offensive Linemen is that they are almost always the most intelligent players on a football team. Matt Birk had graduated from Princeton and got a score on the Wunderlich that was close to the highest of all time. The Offensive Tackles on the Ravens were former first-round bust Bryant McKinnie and the formerly homeless Michael Oher of “The Blind Side” fame. Neither of these players is known for his intelligence. Reports are that during their stretch run, after the play was called in the huddle, Birk would tell each lineman exactly what his responsibilities were. Hence, two players that had marvelous physical attributes, but who were not up to the demands of their positions mentally, were able to take the team to a Super Bowl victory. [Note: the Ravens traded McKinnie half-way through the 2013 season and Oher was allowed to leave in free-agency.]
Fast forward to the 2014 season and with a retooled offensive line and a new zone-blocking offensive scheme under Gary Kubiak, and the Ravens are back to beating their opponents with even less credentialed Running Backs.
After the 2013 season, long-time New England Patriots Offensive Line coach retired. Suddenly, the Patriots are looking ver y ordinary.
How things are really starting to heat up early this year. Lots of new coaches on the hot seat and some of the others fall off.
Breaking news: The Raiders have fired Head Coach Dennis Allen after an 0-4 start and will replace him with an internal candidate. Update: The Raiders have elevated Tony Sparano to the position of Interim Head Coach.
- Joe Philbin (2-2) – So what was that with Philbin NOT endorsing Tannenhill as the starting QB going forward. After starting off with a bang against the Patriots, Philbin is starting to pick up where things were at the end of last season. Things are not looking good in Miami.
- Lovie Smith (1-3) – After losing 56-0 to Atlanta, Lovie is looking like an extremely incompetent coach. This week’s win over Pittsburgh helps, but his continuing refusal to make Glennon his starting QB is raises serious questions about his player management. This echoes the problems he had with his offenses in Chicago. He’s lucky that McCown got hurt. Will it be enough to save him?
- Rex Ryan (1-3) – The Jets continue to play Jekyll and Hyde. Regardless of Rex’s coaching ability, there’s a serious disconnect between him and GM John Idzik. Unless Woody Johnson’s a Hell of a lot more perceptive than he’s ever shown himself to be in the past and fires Idzik, it’s unlikely that Ryan survives past this season.
- Tony Sparano (0-0) – So Sparano gets a second chance to prove that he can be an NFL head coach. A 12-game audition. Good luck with that with this team!
- Tom Coughlin (retires) (2-2) – After 2 strong games, I can no longer keep Coughlin on the Hot List. But I still think he retires after this year.
- Doug Marone (2-2) – Buffalo is looking much better than anyone outside of Buffalo expected. Breaking news is that Marone has now benched EJ Manuel in favor of Kyle Orton. He might be correct in thinking that this team is playing well enough in all other phases that Manuel is dragging them down. This doesn’t change the toxic relationship between him and the front office, and with new ownership set to takeover, something will be changing.
- Ron Rivera (2-2) – From an incredible 2 game start, the Panthers have suffered back-to-back embarrassing losses to AFC North teams. Management has to be asking how come the coaching staff couldn’t get the ball to Steve Smith last year, when he’s shown to be one of the best in the league again under Kubiak’s system.
- Jim Harbaugh (2-2) – The press is reporting that coach Harbaugh has lost this team. Regardless, the relationship with management isn’t getting any better. The only question is if he finishes out the season.
- Gus Bradley (0-4) – I applaud the team’s insistence that they would “red shirt” rookie QB Bortles. If for no other reason than it kept all the pressure off him until he could develop. So now Henne has shown that he can’t get the job done and they decide that it’s time to get Bortles some playing time. Kudos. Bradley’s future will depend on how Bortles fares from now until the end of the season. If his OC/QB coaches can keep him improving, Bradley should be fine for another year.
- Jeff Fisher (1-2) – (BYE) I have no idea what is going to go on in Saint Louis. They’re as hard to figure out as any team in the league.
- Sean Payton (1-3) – Rob Ryan’s defense that was resuscitated last year, has for some reason imploded this season. Sean Payton may be definitely safe, but Rob Ryan certainly isn’t.
- Marc Trestman (2-2) – Last week, the Bears beat the 49er’s and were leading the division. This week they lose to GB (against who Cutler is 1-10) and there’s no way they’re even in the play-off discussion. God, I love sports pundits!
- Andy Reid (2-2) –
- Chuck Pagano (2-2) – Luck’s Magic(tm)
- Chip Kelly (3-1) – This again points out the necessity of good Offensive Line play. A recurrent theme this week.
- Mike McCoy (3-1) – It’s amazing how bad QB’s start to perform when one of the best OC’s of all time (Norv Turner) becomes the head coach
- Bruce Arians (4-0) – And why was this guy not a head coach before?
- Jason Garrett (3-1) – With the improved O-Line (There it is again!) and having a real coach as a DC (Rod Marinelli as opposed to the retired Monte Kiffin), Dallas is really looking like a serious football team. Meanwhile, Manziel is still on the Cleveland bench. I guess Stephen Jones knows a lot more about NFL football than his old man.
- Mike Smith (2-2) – Atlanta has not returned to the form of the team that went to the NFCC two years ago. They have very poor run defense and have won by out-scoring their opponents.
- Mike McCarthy (2-2) – With no D-Line to speak of, Rodgers had all day to sit in the pocket spotting receivers. Not as if that was all that hard to start with.
- Marvin Lewis (3-0) – (BYE) The Bengals are looking like the best team in the AFC at this point. Okay, maybe second to Denver. Still, noone’s going to actually believe in them until they show they can win in the play-offs when it matters.
- Mike Tomlin (2-2) – Wow. You’re not supposed to lose to (arguably) the worst team in the league if you’re the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tomlin is downgraded from safe again this year.
- Bill Belicheck (2-2) – Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are looking below average for the first time in a long while. This again points out the necessity of good Offensive Line play. This the first time I’ve had Belicheck off the Safe list.
- John Fox (2-1) – (BYE) Ho, Hum. Wake me up when it’s January. Fox’s only problems are medical, and if he didn’t quit after last year, I’m doubting that he will this one either.
- John Harbaugh (3-1) – Gary Kubiak’s offense just keeps getting better and better. If they hadn’t lost the first game to the Bengals, we should’ve been hearing play-off talk again by now. But, no this is Baltimore, after all. One of the junior teams, not worthy of national news coverage, especially now that they don’t have Ray Lewis or Ed Reed.
- Pete Carroll (2-1) – (BYE)
First-Year Head Coaches (Generally safe):
A lot of up and down teams here. Lovie has officially moved onto the Hot List.
- Ken Wisenhunt (1-3) – Wisenhunt’s Titans start the year blowing out a playoff team from last year, but now have three straight bad losses.
- Jay Gruden (1-3) – After 2 stellar outings Kirk Cousins lays an egg and suddenly everybody is saying “OK, we were wrong, he can’t play.” Huh? Besides, the Giants always beat up the ‘skins.
- Bill O’Brien (3-1) – I’m not on the Houston Texans bandwagon. Their wins have been shaky against mediocre teams. Although they do get to play in the AFC South and have a last place schedule, they can’t keep up with the “big boys”.
- Mike Pettine (1-2) – (BYE) Nice trick on the Manziel reception. Too bad rookie RB West screwed it up. Cleveland continues to look like a contender in the AFC North regardless of their record.
- Mike Zimmer (2-2) – A tumultuous time for the Vikings: Losing the best offensive player in the league (Adrian Peterson) for domestic abuse preceded a bad loss to the Patriots; losing Matt Cassell to injury has now issued in the Teddy Bridgewater era – for now; TB played well enough to win in his first start, against the up-and-down Falcons. Let’s see how long it takes for the league’s D. Coordinators to get the amount of tape on him that they need.
- Jim Caldwell (3-1) – The Lions are looking like world-beaters again. After week 4.
So, now we’re starting to see some things shake out. I refrained from downgrading Mike Zimmer this week due to the last minute deactivation of Adrian Peterson.
- Tom Coughlin (retires) (0-2) – If the Giants don’t look any better than that, Coughlin may not make it through the season! Not really – we’ve seen this act before: the Giants start horribly, look totally lost, go 2-6 and then finish 9-7, make the playoffs as a wild-card and go on and win the SuperBowl. Go figure.
- Dennis Allen (0-2) – I may have been a bit hasty with my positive evaluation of Derek Carr. How he develops will determine Allen’s and Mackensie’s fates.
- Jason Garrett (1-1) – So Dallas’ “historically bad” defense comes to play again. I can’t see that I saw this coming, but based on last week, I’m not overly surprised.
- Joe Philbin (1-1) – Hmmm. So are they the dominating team we saw against the Patriots or is Buffalo that much better than we thought. Based on Chicago’s win, perhaps it’s the latter. (See next entry. Again).
- Doug Marone (2-0) – WTF? “Saint Doug”?
- Andy Reid (0-2) – Now we start seeing the results of the Chiefs’ disastrous off-season.
- Jim Harbaugh (1-1) – After 2 gift TD’s and 2 big plays to score another – all in the first quarter – The 49ers had one sustained scoring drive against “a historically bad defense”. No scoring in the second half when the Cowboys scored 17 points. Not the MO of championship teams.
- Rex Ryan (1-1) – Sloppy win against a bad team with a rookie QB. Then again, a win’s a win.
- Jeff Fisher (1-1) – In spite of how respected Fisher is, how patient will the Rams’ management be after another disastrous season?
- Marc Trestman (1-1) – Oops. They better correct that pronto!
- Chuck Pagano (0-2) – With a depleted O-Line, the only way this team stays above water is through Luck’s Magic(tm)
- Mike McCoy (1-1) – I would take Arians over most coaches. Better luck next week Mike.
- Bruce Arians (2-0)
- Chip Kelly (2-0) – Two weeks in a raw with Nice half-time attitude adjustment. Let’s hope they don’t make a habit out of it.
- Gus Bradley (0-2) – Good start. Now let’s see if Chad Henne has the ability to do it again.
- Ron Rivera (2-0) – Wow! I guess the reports of the Panthers demise might have been a teensy bit overrated.
- Mike McCarthy (1-1) – Yeah, Seattle’s still good.
- Mike Smith (1-1) – Great recovery after a bad year.
- Marvin Lewis (2-0) – Shaky start for two new coordinators (if you can consider Hue Jackson “new”), but they got the ‘W’.
- John Fox (2-0) – Ho, Hum. Wake me up when it’s January.
- Sean Payton (0-2) – That’s 2 in a row directly attributable to Rob Ryan’s defense. Sean Payton may be definitely safe, but Rob Ryan certainly isn’t.
- John Harbaugh (1-1) – That looks a lot better for Kubiak’s offense. But now they have to find a better long-term replacement for Ray Rice.
- Mike Tomlin (1-1) – After going 8-8 for 2 consecutive years, how would the Rooney’s react to a third non-winning season? They have always been the most patient owners, so it may only be Dick Lebeau’s head on the chopping block.
- Bill Belicheck (1-1) – That’s more like what we expect to see. But remember, Minnesota lost the most valuable non-QB in the league in Adrian Peterson 2 days before the game. His replacement was not an improvement. ???
- Pete Carroll (1-1) – See Mike McCarthy.
First-Year Head Coaches (Generally safe):
Note that it’s a bit easier to fire a coach after one year when he’s already a retread. Therefore, Lovie and Jim Caldwell get the first billing in this section. I don’t know how the Washington “brain trust” (if I can call it that) will react to what’s coming.
- Lovie Smith (0-2) – Losing to one of the consensus worst teams in the league start their 3rd string QB does not bode well for Lovie’s job security. Another week like that and he’ll start making it onto the Hot List even as a First Year Coach.
- Jim Caldwell (1-1) – From the Giants to last years NFC South champion Panthers. We still don’t know what exactly we have in the 2014 Lions.
- Jay Gruden (1-1) – So now we get an extended look at Kirk Cousins who is probably better suited for Gruden’s offense than RG III. That says something about a coach who isn’t tailoring his offense to his players.
- Bill O’Brien – (2-0) It’s a good thing that effort was against the ‘skins.
- Mike Pettine (1-1) – Even Rob Chudzinski was 3-0 with Hoyer as his starting QB. Cleveland had more Pro Bowlers than anyone??? What’s the point in putting Johnny Manziel out there for a 3-and-out? So you could say you did? The kid’s not ready and won’t be this year, no matter what every pundit in the business is saying.
- Ken Wisenhunt (1-1) – Based on Wisenhunt’s past history, why did this surprise anyone?
- Mike Zimmer (1-1) – A Mike Zimmer defense with a Norv Turner offense. I think we have the leading candidate for the worst-to-first team. Minnesota lost the most valuable non-QB in the league in Adrian Peterson 2 days before the game. His replacement Asiata was not an improvement.