Written 9/30/2014

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.

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Hot Seat – Week 4

Written 9/30/2014

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.

Fired:

  • Dennis Allen (0-4) –

Hot Seat:

  • 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.

Warm-up Deck:

  • 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.

Successful Sophmores:

  • 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?

Stable Position:

  • 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.

Definitely Safe:

  • 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.

Hot Seat – Week 2

Written 9/12/2014

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.

Hot Seat:

  • 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”?

Warm-up Deck:

  • 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?

Successful Sophmores:

  • 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.

Stable Position:

  • 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.

Definitely Safe:

  • 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.

Week 1 Random Thoughts

If the Dallas defense is so bad, why didn’t the 49’ers score more than 1 TD on them after the 1st quarter?

The wire reports are about Cleveland’s futility in Pittsburgh when they should be about Pittsburgh’s near-miraculous escape with a win at home.

The reports of Carolina’s crapitude appear to be greatly exaggerated.

Maybe we should hold off on crowning New England AFC champs just yet.

Dolphins made an emphatic statement – once they stopped turning the ball over.

Browns are a good deal better than people think. Could challenge for the division. No Manziel sightings yet.

Despite having the ball inside the 10 twice, a long punt return, and a fumble, Cincinnati could only get 5 field goals and 1 big play.

The Ravens drove the length of the field twice in the first half and got an interception in Bengals territory and managed to get no points.

Everybody’s worst QB’s: Geno Smith, EJ Manuel, Derek Anderson, Fitzpatrick, Cassell, Locker all won. Hoyer came within a whisper of Overtime.

Rookie Derek Carr acquitted himself well.

After win over Redskins, pundits proclaiming Houston as favorites to go to playoffs. LOL

Vikings looked as good as I expected, but the Rams without a QB aren’t a real test.

And what was KC doing all offseason?

Jake Locker has been my most under-rated QB for over a year. Hoyer may join him soon.

I saw a lot of bobbled catches that bounced the right way.

TB may not be ready to take over the NFC South just by getting Lovie Smith as Coach. Where’s Mike Glennon?

Gus Bradley had the Jaguars start strong, but ultimately they couldn’t keep up with Chip Kelly’s Eagles after half-time adjustments.

Half-time scores:

Jaguars 17-0 – Eagles 34-17 (34-0)

Patriots 20-10 – Dolphins 33-20 (23-0)

Steelers 27-3 – Steelers 30-27. (24-3)

Most surprising results: Dolphins, Bills

Next most surprising (point spreads): Seattle, Minnesota, Tennessee, Texans

Coaches Week 1 Hot Seat

No changes in the categories yet. Week 1 is always a week of over-reacting, so I’ll hold off for now. Comments on individual coaches added.

Hot Seat:

  • Tom Coughlin (retires) – 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.
  • Jason Garrett – I don’t think that Dallas looked as bad as other people say. Stop the turnovers and this would have been a much different game. I’d be more concerned about the 49er’s not scoring at all the second half against “a historically bad defense”. That said wins and losses are what counts.
  • Dennis Allen – Allen and McKensie may have gotten lucky with Derek Carr. Time will tell.
  • Doug Marone – WTF? “Saint Doug”?
  • Joe Philbin – Whoa! They totally outplayed the Patriots for 60 minutes –  just turned the ball over a couple of times in the 1st half. How did they get an offensive line that good from starting over??

Warm-up Deck:

  • Andy Reid – Now we start seeing the results of the Chiefs’ disastrous off-season.
  • Jim Harbaugh – 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 – Sloppy win against a bad team with a rookie QB. Then again, a win’s a win.
  • Jeff Fisher – In spite of how respected Fisher is, how patient will the Rams’ management be after if this season is as disastrous as it looks like it might be?
  • Ron Rivera – Wow! I guess the reports of the Panthers demise might have been a teensy bit overrated.

Successful Sophmores:

  • Marc Trestman – Oops. They better correct that pronto!
  • Chip Kelly – Nice half-time attitude adjustment. Let’s hope they don’t make a habit out of it.
  • Mike McCoy — I would take Arians over most coaches. Better luck next week Mike.
  • Bruce Arians – See above.
  • Chuck Pagano – With a depleted O-Line, the only way this team stays above water is through Luck’s Magic™.

Stable Position:

  • Gus Bradley – Good start. Now let’s see if Chad Henne has the ability to do it again.
  • Mike McCarthy – Yeah, Seattle’s still good.
  • Mike Smith – Great recovery after a bad year.
  • Marvin Lewis – Shaky start for two new coordinators (if you can consider Hue Jackson “new”), but they got the ‘W’.
  • John Fox – Ho, Hum. Wake me up when it’s January.

Definitely Safe:

  • Sean Payton – Ouch that hurt. Let’s see if Rob Ryan can fix that.
  • John Harbaugh – Not a good start for Kubiak’s new offensive scheme, but Thursday’s game against Steelers will tell us more.
  • Mike Tomlin – After picking-up the way they ended last year in the first half, the Steelers forgot that the Browns get paid, too.
  • Bill Belicheck – And this is supposed to be the year that the Patriots make their final Super Bowl of the Tom Brady era? Maybe Tom’s sucking sooner than he expected.
  • Pete Carroll – See Mike McCarthy.

First-Year Head Coaches (Generally safe):

Note that it is 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 – Yeah, Josh McCown is good enough to build your offense around.
  • Jim Caldwell – The New York Football Giants. Just what the doctor ordered for a raising the hopes for already overrated teams.
  • Jay Gruden – Uhm. Maybe he can blame it on Mike Shanahan (or George W. Bush). It’s the eco… er, team he inherited.
  • Bill O’Brien – It’s a good thing that effort was against the ‘skins.
  • Mike Pettine – Good start. Hoyer, Cassell, and soon to be Ryan Mallet. That makes 3 former Tom Brady back-ups starting for other teams.
  • Ken Wisenhunt – Based on Wisenhunt’s past history, why did this surprise anyone?
  • Mike Zimmer – A Mike Zimmer defense with a Norv Turner offense. I think we have the leading candidate for the worst-to-first team.

Coaches Pre-season Hot Seat

I thought that I had posted this last week, but it doesn’t look like it got up.

Hot Seat:

  • Tom Coughlin (retires)
  • Doug Marone
  • Jason Garrett
  • Dennis Allen
  • Joe Philbin

Warm-up Deck:

  • Andy Reid
  • Jim Harbaugh
  • Rex Ryan
  • Jeff Fisher
  • Ron Rivera

Successful Sophmores:

  • Marc Trestman
  • Chip Kelly
  • Mike McCoy
  • Bruce Arians
  • Chuck Pagano

Stable Position:

  • Gus Bradley
  • Mike McCarthy
  • Mike Smith
  • Marvin Lewis
  • John Fox

Definitely Safe:

  • Sean Payton
  • John Harbaugh
  • Mike Tomlin
  • Bill Belicheck
  • Pete Carroll

First-Year Head Coaches (Generally safe):

Note that its 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.

  • Lovie Smith
  • Jim Caldwell
  • Jay Gruden
  • Mike Pettine
  • Bill O’Brien
  • Ken Wisenhunt
  • Mike Zimmer

New Coach Evaluation

Houston TexansBill O’Brien (from NE by way of Penn State)

O’Brien was practically a done deal before the season was over. It makes me curious about why it took so long for them to actually hire him. Penn State’s season was over, so it could only be the contract negotiations. That means either a) Houston GM Rick Smith was playing hardball with salary negotiations, b) Bill O’Brien was holding out for more money or most likely (as I will explain), c) O’Brien was trying to get as much power over personnel as possible. I consider this the most likely scenario because of O’Brien’s history with Bill Belicheck. More on that later. The big problem I see with this hire is the track record of previous Bill Belicheck disciples. They have all been uniformly rotten. This has at least something to do with their assuming the Belicheck “My way or the highway” attitude in their new gigs. This has been shown to be a bad thing. Repeatedly. The fact that O’Brien went to be a college HC for a couple of years does absolutely nothing to lessen this effect. College coaches rule their players with an iron fist just as much as Belicheck – a stance that does not work with professional players (reference Greg Schiano, Bobby Petrino, Nick Saban. See future status of Jim Harbaugh.)

So whereas O’Brien is obviously a talented coach, I see this ultimately failing. If Houston fans are lucky, it will happen quickly and the owner Bob McNair can clean house with Rick Smith leaving as well. Grade: C-

 

Tampa Bay BuccaneersLovie Smith (former Head Coach Chicago Bears)

Lovie Smith may have benefited from having a year off from after being fired from Chicago after 2012 season. However, I’m already seeing the same characteristics that doomed him in Chicago (where he had 3 different OC’s in the last 4 years). He brought in [back-up QB] and immediately named him the starter over solid rookie starter Mike Glennon. His hiring of Jeff Tedford as his OC is also highly questionable. Since then, TB has made several key free-agent signings and had a solid draft during which Lovie backtracked and called Glennon his starting QB. Hmm. Let’s hope he doesn’t try to get him killed like he did with Jay Cutler. Bringing in Leslie Frazier as his DC will be helpful, but until he figures out how to hire an Offensive Coordinator, I see him struggling.

Lovie is a solid if unspectacular coach. I expect that he will bring the Bucs back into the NFC South division competition, where they will be up and down just like the Bears were under his tenure. Grade: B-

 

Minnesota VikingsMike Zimmer (DC at Cincinnati)

Mike Zimmer is one of those coaches who everyone says would make a great head coach, but never gets the chance. Well, he now has the chance with the directionless Minnesota Vikings and I expect him to straighten out this team immediately. He has already brought in Norv Turner (arguably the best OC of the past 20 years). He is also making strides to revamp the defense which was what let them down in so many games last year. Grade: A

Washington RedskinsJay Gruden (OC at Cincinnati)

I could just say that no coach no matter how good (even Joe Gibbs) can overcome the effects of a truly bad owner and just leave it at that, but I won’t. Because, this is just about the most perfectly bad hire that Snyder could make.

Jay Gruden is most famous for being the brother of Super-Bowl winning Head Coach John Gruden. How much similarity there is beyond that is debatable. Cincinnati has had an up and down performance since, well, forever. But especially since Mike Brown inherited the team from his father. He has been notorious for penny pinching, refusing to pay the going rate for star players; even opting out of the league’s scouting service for college players back when every other team was a part of it. It was so bad that when he hired Marvin Lewis (who had been the top HC candidate for the past two years), Lewis would not even apply for the position. He would rather risk becoming a “too frequently passed over” Head Coach prospect than would for the Bengals. Mike Brown had to personally call Lewis and agree to his change his behavior before he would consider the position. It has been a learning process for the two of them and they have to be given credit for trying to do different things and staying at it. Although not having a former coach taking up dead money probably has a lot to do with it, the Bengals’ recent success gives credence to the notion of stability in the coaching situation.

Now as far as Jay Gruden, he has been the OC at Cincinnati for the past 3 years, since they drafted Andy Dalton in the second round and traded away their long-time starter Carson Palmer (it was time for a new contract). Dalton came in and was immediately effective throwing to fellow rookie WR AJ Green. Every year since then, they have added star players to the offense, yet each year has brought no better results. There is no indication that Gruden has the knowledge/aptitude/ temperament to be a successful NFL Head Coach. This hire follows the Daniel Snyder’s pattern of signing based on people’s name rather than their production.

Grade: F for Jay Gruden being stupid or desperate enough to take this job. Team: Unrateable, as always.

 

Tennessee TitansKen Wisenhunt (former HC Arizona Cardinals, OC of Pittsburgh for SB XL, OC in SD in 2013)

Ken Wisenhunt was the Offensive Coordinator at Pittsburgh during Bill Cowher’s only Super Bowl with a rookie QB Ben Rothlisberger. He left after being passed over for the Head Coaching position in favor of Mike Tomlin, but was immediately snatched up by the Arizona Cardinals as their HC. With Curt Warner as his QB, the Cardinals made the only Super Bowl appearance in their history. However, he was not able to “coach-up” any of the other string of QB’s that paraded through Sun Devil stadium. So, he was fired after the 2012 season. As the OC for the San Diego Chargers last year, he made a complete turn-around in Phillip Rivers play.

Everybody had Wisenhunt going to Detroit as their HC to help coach erratic wunderkind Matthew Stafford. I’m not privy to the backroom dealings that occurred, but something is very suspicious that a OC that has excelled with star QB’s, but not with others would pass up an opportunity to coach a fine young talent to go to a team that has struggled to get a durable starting QB.

Jake Locker has shown that he is NFL caliber when healthy, but hasn’t been healthy enough of the time. This makes it even more important to have a capable back-up

Grade: B

 

Detroit LionsJim Caldwell (OC for Baltimore in 2013, former HC at Indianapolis under (sic) Peyton Manning and QB Coach (?) under Tony Dungy.)

It says a lot about this franchise that they are one of only 3 teams to never it make it to a SuperBowl and by far the oldest. It would seem that the possibility of coaching a team that includes Matthew Stafford, Megatron, Reggie Bush, Ndakamon Suh, is something that any potential NFL Head Coach would jump at. Obviously, there’s more to it. When Wisenhunt went to Tennesse instead – a move that puts him right back into the same situation that got him fired from ARZ – you gotta know that there’s major problems in MoTown. This is probably even more so due to the recent death of John Ford. Jim Caldwell’s last 2 stops were in Indy where he had Peyton Manning as his on-field OC and Baltimore where he took a Ravens offense that worked to perfection during the play-offs and  made it into one of the worst offenses in the league.  Additionally, whether Jim Caldwell has anything near the temperament to toughen up this Lions team we’ll have to see, but color me skeptical.

The big winner in this one is the Baltimore Ravens who get rid of Caldwell and are able to get Gary Kubiak to come in as their OC. Grade: D+

 

Cleveland BrownsMike Pettine, (DC in Buffalo)

After running a coaching search that made them the laughing stock of the league, new owner Jimmy Hazlet fired his entire front office and started over. The new ownership was supposed to bring a higher level of competency to this organization. Instead, they have shown more incompetency than even the Oakland Raiders after Al Davis went senile. This is not surprising seeing as the front office was comprised of guys that have failed repeatedly in multiple organizations. After firing Rob Chudzinski (both a questionable fire and even a questionable hire in the first place), they refused to name a new head coach until they were able to interview all the potential coaches. Since several of those coaches went to the Super Bowl, this meant that they left their early interviewees hanging. That is, until, the interviewees one by one declined to pursue the position. In the end they were again left with going after a lower tier prospect in the Buffalo Bills DC, Pettine. Thankfully for the Cleveland fan base, the owner then promoted the newly hired pro personnel man Ray Farmer to GM and fired all the other front office stooges. Put this one down as a learning experience for Haslett and lets see if he’ll get a clue from this. As a Baltimore fan, I’m hopeful that the Browns don’t get their act together, as we have enough concerns with Pittsburgh and a re-invigorated Bengals squad….   Grade: C+

 

Season 2013 – Coaching Change Evaluations

After the changes in coaches, I want to take a little time to examine if the teams in question made the right decision to fire or retain their coaches. Note that this is ONLY concerned with the teams’ decisions about whether to retain or fire their Head Coaches (with some divergence into the General Managers.) My next blog will evaluate the new coaching staffs.

Fired Coaches:

Houston Texans – Head Coach Gary Kubiak was fired after the Texans’ week 14 Thursday night game. The Texans owner Bob McNair had stuck with Kubiak for several years when all their fans were calling for his firing. The coach rewarded him by bringing the Texans their first playoff appearances and victories. A major ingredient of this success was made possible by bringing in Wade Phillips (and his 3-4 defensive scheme) as the Defensive Coordinator. In the last few years, the Texans’ personnel have degraded noticeably, especially on defense. It was so bad that last year after paying big bucks to an over-the-hill Ed Reed, Reed called out the team for not having the type of players that they needed to play Phillips’ defensive scheme. (He was released within a week.) While General Manager Rick Smith deserves some recognition for building those teams, he has also presided over the subsequent degradation. Look at the star players that have been traded or released – Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans, etc. The most obvious problem was their status at QB, where Matt Schaub has been declining and they had no capable backup or heir apparent. It may have been time to move on from Kubiak, but he was by no means the biggest problem.

Action Rating: 3/5 (below average)

Detroit Lions – Jim Schwartz came into a very bad situation, taking over after the Matt Millen, General Manager experiment ended with a 0-16 season. Schwartz is now finishing up his 5th year as head coach of the Lions. And while he did an exceptional job at turning around a team that went 0-16 the year before he came, they appear to be stuck in neutral. They play like a very undisciplined team – which mirrors Schwartz himself. They had both the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers without their starting QB’s for extended periods this year, but have still not been able to take the division. In contrast the General Manager Martin Mayhew seems that he has done a good job of assembling the talent.

Action Rating: 5/5 (Good)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – After the Josh Freeman debacle early in the year, I was convinced that Greg Schiano would be fired. There wasn’t much to change that view as the Bucs went 0-8 before winning a game. They then won 4 of their next 5 against Buffalo, Miami, Detroit and Atlanta – all average or below teams. After closing the season with blow-out losses to the Panthers and 49’ers, it was a no brainer that Schiano would be canned. Tie into that with the debacle surrounding Josh Freeman with his personal details being leaked and both Schiano and the GM had to go.

Action Rating: 4/5 (Above Average)

Minnesota Vikings – The Vikings have been much better over the last month with Matt Cassell playing QB. This has been the case all season, even though the always return to Christian Ponder when he’s healthy. It’s hard to say what the exact dynamics of the situation are, but it looks to me like the GM Rick Speilman is mandating that the coach play his high draft pick QB instead of the one that gives them the best chance to win. Couple this with his disastrous pick-up of Josh Freeman and immediately playing him and it looks like Speilman needs to be the one being fired. Unfortunately, he has the ability to fire the coach. This doesn’t bode well for Frazier, who may not have earned a longer tenure anyway. With the Vikings moving into a new stadium next year, something needs to change.

Action Rating: 3/5 (Average)

Tennessee Titans – The acquisition of a NFL caliber starting QB and a reliable back-up is the responsibility of the GM. Jake Locker has shown that he is NFL caliber when healthy, but hasn’t been healthy enough of the time. This makes it even more important to have a capable back-up This is not a problem that Munchak has any control over. After last season, Munchak was forced to replace his Offensive Coordinator (???). When the Titans management requested more changes to the coaching staff this year, Munchak decided that there weren’t any changes that he felt needed to be made. The new owner and his GM decided that they didn’t believe in Munchak enough as a coach to make his own decisions.

Action Rating: 2/5 (Below Average)

Washington Redskins – In case anyone needs any additional ones, this is a prime example of how no coach no matter how good (even Joe Gibbs) can overcome the effects of a bad owner.

Action Rating: 1/5 for Mike Shanahan (or anyone) taking the Redskins job (Bad). Team: Unrateable.

Cleveland Browns – New ownership was supposed to bring a higher level of competency to this organization. Instead, they have shown more incompetency than even the Oakland Raiders after Al Davis went senile. This is not surprising seeing as the front office was comprised of guys that have failed repeatedly in multiple organizations. After firing Rob Chudzinski (both a questionable fire and even a questionable hire in the first place), they refused to name a new head coach until they were able to interview all the potential coaches. Since several of those coaches went to the Super Bowl, this meant that they left their early interviewees hanging. That is, until, the interviewees one by one declined to pursue the position. In the end they were again left with going after a lower tier prospect in the Buffalo Bills DC, Petine. Thankfully for the Cleveland fan base, the owner then promoted the newly hired pro personnel man Ray Farmer to GM and fired all the other front office stooges. Put this one down as a learning experience for Haslett and lets see if he’ll get a clue from this.

The latest wrinkle in this soap-opera of a football team is the revelation that hey actually approached San Francisco about getting Jim Harbaugh from them AND THAT THEY LISTENED! It was only after discussing the issue with JH that he nixed the deal. More on that to come.

Action Rating: 1/5 (Bad) trending towards upwards.

Kept Coaches:

Oakland Raiders – Dennis Allen – GM Reggie McKensie fired the outspoken Hue Jackson in 2011 even though he had been doing a better job in Oakland than anyone since Jon Gruden. Dennis Allen was hired as the youngest coach in the league (a familiar theme in Oakland) and was not considered a high-quality hire. Allen has rewarded McKensie by publicly dissing his highly paid free agent QB Matt Flynn (forcing McKensie to release him), and generally doing a mediocre job. After a second straight 4-12 season, both of them appear to be completely out of their league

Action Rating: 1/5 (Bad)

New York Jets – Keeping this team competitive with a rookie QB and its general lack of talent has probably been the best coaching job of Rex Ryan’s career. First year GM John Idzek appears to recognize this and, after jettisoning Mark Sanchez and his outrageous contract, will have a chance to bring in some better players. However, when a new GM is appointed, he usually gives the existing coach one year before he’s fired. (See Lovie Smith in 2012). It may only be a one-year reprieve.

Action Rating: 5/5 (Good)

Dallas Cowboys – The Cowboys are a mess, as they have been ever since Jerry Jones fired Jimmy Johnson as his coach. Although Jason Garrett is ostensibly the coach, it was Jones who mandated that Rob Ryan be fired as the Defensive Coordinator and replaced with the 167 year old Monte Kiffin. The result was predictably disastrous, as the Dallas D couldn’t stop anyone. (Meanwhile the afore mentioned Ryan has taken the Saints defense from a total disaster after Bounty-Gate to one of the best.) Jones also demanded that Garrett be stripped on the play-calling ability and that it be given to Bill Callahan. However, Garrett has been Jerry’s guy from before when he promoted him to Offensive Coordinator (thus hastening the end to Bill Parcells’ coaching career.)

Action Rating: 2/5 (Below Average)

New York Giants – Coach Coughlin at 67 is the oldest head coach in the NFL by five years. (The next oldest coach is Pete Carroll at 62). Although Coughlin has won 2 Super Bowls over the last 6 years, they have failed to make the playoffs the other 4 seasons. In fact, six years ago when they eked into the playoffs and won the SB, just making the playoffs probably would not have been enough to save Coughlin’s job. Only by winning the SB was he able to survive.

This year it has been reported that management was going to force Coughlin to fire his OC Kevin Gilbride and that Coughlin would not have done it. He was again miraculously saved by Gilbride’s decision to retire. Winning 2 SB’s apparently gives you the luxury of going out on your own terms.

Action Rating: 3/5 (Average)

Miami Dolphins – Joe Philbin – The Jonathan Martin/Ritchie Incognito scandal will stain this franchise for a long time. Even before that GM Jeff Ireland’s performance was so bad that many league insiders wondered how he managed to keep his job. It was a given that he was gone once the scandal broke. However, owner Stephen Ross has supported his Head Coach throughout the process. However, he may have rued that decision once the investigator’s report came out. Philbin did fire his OC after the season after starting QB, Ryan Tannenhill apparently lost confidence in his former college coach.

Action Rating: 3/5 (Average)

Atlanta Falcons – Mike Smith has done a very good job with the Atlanta Falcons over the last 5 years, getting into the playoffs 4 of those 5 years. However, it wasn’t until last year that they actually won a playoff game. The play of the Falcons this year was abysmal. This was after they were expected to be a Super Bowl contender. Not only were they losing, but they didn’t even seem to be trying in many games. It’s not too common that one bad season leads to the coach being fired unless that just gives the front office a reason to fire someone that they were already disenchanted with. This was not the case in Atlanta, but the magnitude of their collapse will put Mike Smith on the Hot Seat to start 2014.

Action Rating: 5/5 (Good)

Saint Louis – Jeff Fisher – The Rams are one of the most enigmatic teams in the NFL – you never know what you’re going to get on any given Sunday. Still, Fisher has them playing hard and winning occasionally despite losing starting QB Sam Bradford midway through the season.

Action Rating: 4/5 (Above Average)

Safe:

San Francisco – In my last blog I wrote the following: “Jim Harbaugh would be considered untouchable if he wasn’t so prickly.“ Now word has come out of Cleveland that they had tried to get him for their HC job and the 49’ers CONSIDERED it! This would be unprecedented except that Al Davis traded Jon Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for IIRC 4 draft picks back in 1999. Now their neighbor across the bay has been looking into doing the same thing. This sets up a power struggle. Harbaugh believes that he has “outplayed” his contract 3 years into a 5-year deal and wants a new contract. After taking a team to 3 straight NFC Championships, He wants to be paid like a Super Bowl winning coach. The 49’ers management believes that they have built a team that anyone can do as well with and are not willing to make him the highest paid coach just yet. Stay tuned for more developments after the coming season.

Action Rating: 2/5 (Below Average)

Cincinnati Bengals – Marvin Lewis has done a credible job as Head Coach over his tenure in Cincinnati (currently the longest in the league), even when he didn’t have much to work with. He has taken the Bengals to the playoffs for 3 straight years, although they have lost in the first round each year. Andy Daulton has been progressively worse in those 3 playoff games. Major coaching changes this year as both the coordinators left for NFL Head Coaching jobs.

Action Rating: 5/5 (Good)

Carolina Panthers – Many NFL observers were surprised that the Panthers kept Ron Rivera as the coach this year. Especially after the team went 0-2 and it was looking like they wouldn’t be able to go half a season with him. With Ron Rivera’s week 3 epiphany about taking more chances earlier in games, “Riverboat Ron” was born. With an improved Cam Newton under center and 2 rookie NT studs allowing MLB Luke Keuchley to make the kind of plays that brought him into the DPOY conversation, the Panthers had their first division win since ???. Nevertheless, it was not a given that Rivera would keep his job until they finished at 12-4 ??? and won the Conference 2nd seed.

Action Rating: 3/5 (Average)

Green Bay – Mike McCarthy Despite losing Aaron Rodgers for ½ the season, the Packers are still won the division title. With an improved defense and bell cow Eddie Lacy at RB, this team looks set for the future if they can keep Rodgers healthy.

Action Rating: 5/5 (Average)

Pittsburgh – Mike Tomlin – Can anyone tell me why the Steelers went from 0-6 to start the season to finish 8-2 in their last 10 games? Anyone? Bueller?

First Year Coaches:

A+ to the following teams:

Philadelphia Eagles

Jacksonville Jaguars

San Diego Chargers

A to the following teams:

Indianapolis

Chicago Bears

A- for the Arizona Cardinals

B+ for the Kansas City Chiefs

C+ for the Buffalo Bills

Let’s see if they can keep it going (AZ and KC in particular)

Summary:

1/5

Washington Redskins

Cleveland Browns

Oakland Raiders

2/5

Miami Dolphins

Dallas Cowboys

Tennessee Titans

San Francisco 49’ers

3/5

Houston Texans

Minnesota Vikings

New York Giants

Carolina Panthers

4/5

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Saint Louis Rams

5/5

Detroit Lions

New York Jets

Atlanta Falcons

Cincinnati Bengals

Green Bay Packers

No Decision: (Nothing to Rate)

Pittsburgh Steelers

New Orleans Saints

Baltimore Ravens

New England Patriots

Denver Broncos

Seattle Seahawks

Rookies:

Buffalo Bills ??

Jacksonville Jaguars 5/5

San Diego Chargers 5/5

Chicago Bears 5/5

Arizona Cardinals 4/5

Indianapolis Colts 5/5

Kansas City Chiefs 5/5

Philadelphia Eagles 5/5

Injury prediction fulfillment

OK, so the Patriots probably weren’t going to win that game anyway, but when their best (really their only decent) CB Aqib Talib got knocked out with a knee injury, the game was over. Whether, Peyton would have been able to get the ball to Demaryus Thomas or not we’ll never know. He didn’t even seem to be looking at him before Talib went out.

This brings up another strike against Bill Belichick. His plan was to play man press coverage, but after losing Talib, that wasn’t going to work. Regardless, he didn’t do anything to adjust to the situation. This reminds me of the AFCC last year against the Ravens where he also seemed completely lost. I wonder how much of his difficulties are due to his having control over both Coaching and personnel. This set-up seems to be the Holy Grail of NFL coaches and has ruined almost all that have tried it. (Holmgren, Shanahan, Seifert). This frustration was on full display on Monday when he claimed that Wes Welker’s hit on Talib that caused the injury was a dirty play. Absolutely noone agrees with that sentiment, so it just makes Belichick even more of a poor sport.

So Peyton goes to another Super Bowl as the clear favorite. The Seattle QB Russell Wilson has not played well the last several games, so it may not even be close. The Broncos have so many weapons on offense and their OL has been one of the best even *after* losing their Pro Bowl Left Tackle and starting Center. Of course, the Seahawks have the best defense in the league, so we’ll see another installment of the Irresistible Force vs the Immovable Object trope.

On the other side, the Bronco’s run defense has played surprisingly well over the last few weeks and their defensive backfield looks to be getting healthier and just overall better. If Bronco DT Terence Knighton continues to play at an all-pro level, it could be a LONG day for the Seahawks fans.

Peyton vs Brady

I recently figured out the real difference between Peyton Maning and Tom Brady.

Peyton is a perfectionist who wants to be able to play the perfect game. So, when it comes down to the playoffs, it’s just like any other game to him – he wants to play the best he can. In contrast, Tom Brady HATES losing, just like his coach. I think this provides a more meaningful emotional lift in the big games for Brady (and Belichek). I think that it also explains why people don’t like Brady as much – his win-at-all-cost attitude is rather off-putting. (Shout out to Judy Batista of the NFL Network who led me to this conclusion).