NFL

Big Three must make the wise choice

Jon Gruden (Getty Images)
Jon Gruden likely would enjoy working with the Chargers and QB Philip Rivers.
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John Czarnecki

John Czarnecki has been the editorial consultant for "FOX NFL Sunday" since its 1994 inception. This season marks Czarnecki's 32nd year covering the NFL. He is one of 44 selectors to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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The late Al Davis, who knew quite a bit about coaching, believed that 10 seasons was the perfect length for a head coach’s relationship with any franchise. John Madden did his 10 years in Oakland (112-39-7), but he really didn’t want to coach anywhere else, so he turned to television and proceeded to win Emmys and become such a personality that he went into the video-game business.

The opportunities, let’s say, aren’t as grand as they were for Madden, whose many fans may not know he was a Raiders head coach.

We all know there will be several coaching changes — probably as many as five — by the end of the year. But let’s be honest. It’s really too early to start predicting because the big names — former coaches such as Bill Cowher, Jeff Fisher and Jon Gruden — don’t know for sure what jobs are going to be available. It’s still too early. I can speculate that Miami and Indianapolis will be open based on their on-field performances, but neither owner has come out and said he’s definitely in the market for a new head coach.

There remain critical scenarios to unfold before even discussing putting Cowher, Gruden or even Fisher with a particular franchise. For the sake of this column, let’s call them the Big Three.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize the Big Three would want a quality quarterback and stable (and preferably free-spending) ownership. All three, however, have had success with owners who didn’t spend wildly in free agency. In fact, Dan Rooney, Malcolm Glazer and Bud Adams are owners who lean toward the low end of the payroll scale.

The one job that might be more appealing to the Big Three than Miami and Indianapolis is San Diego.

The Chargers have a bona-fide franchise quarterback in Philip Rivers, plus they are in San Diego, a fairly desirable city in which to live. Granted, Rivers is having a difficult season and that’s why Norv Turner’s job could be at stake.

Dean Spanos is an owner who won’t get into a bidding war for a big-name head coach, but that doesn’t mean the Big Three wouldn’t be interested in such an opening. Gruden, who never really hit on a quarterback in Tampa Bay, would love to coach someone like Rivers. Fisher has West Coast connections. And Cowher may believe that the AFC West is a division he could dominate.

Personally, the Big Three may wait to see what happens in San Diego before accepting a job elsewhere. They really will wait if Spanos decides to clean house, meaning that general manager A.J. Smith is a goner, too. What’s unreal about all this conjecture is that Spanos does like Smith and Turner personally.

There are seven weeks of football left in the regular season. A lot can happen. For example, the Giants look solid right now, but what happens if they go into a tailspin and miss the playoffs? Is Tom Coughlin safe? What does Dallas owner Jerry Jones do if the Cowboys fail to make a playoff push? Jones recently compared rookie running back DeMarco Murray to Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson, which may tell you about his expectations. Mike Shanahan has lost five straight for the first time in his career and, at 59, he knows he needs a quarterback to win. Is he willing to continue to rebuild the Redskins? It should be noted, too, that Redskins owner Daniel Snyder owes Shanahan $21 million over the next three seasons.

Fans of the Eagles have grown tired of Andy Reid, who has made the playoffs in nine of the past 11 seasons but has never won a Super Bowl. Reid is a candidate under the Al Davis 10-season criteria to move on, but there have been no indications from owner Jeff Lurie or team president Joe Banner that they are leaning toward making a change. They like and respect Reid. It’s just the fans wish he was more like Buddy Ryan.

Knowing Reid, he’s a coach who would want to fix the current mess in Philadelphia. The Eagles are a perfect example of a locker room that needed a lot more than training camp in order to jell. Reid has two years left on his contract at more than $5 million a year, and his first order of business may be finding another defensive coordinator. Reid and the Eagles have struggled ever since Jim Johnson died in 2009.

WHAT A TRIP

Take a look at the up-and-down career of Donovan McNabb.

You see. The Big Three has a lot to think about and potentially a lot to consider come the New Year.

NFL ON FOX GAMES

Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers, 4:05 p.m. ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Cardinals figure to use three cornerbacks against San Francisco’s double-tight-end formations, believing they have to be able to cover Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker, who have combined for 53 receptions and seven of Alex Smith’s 11 touchdown passes this season.

Niners running back Frank Gore insists that he’s going to play on a sore, hyperextended right knee. Gore missed most of the second half last week and failed to gain a yard on six carries against the Giants as the 49ers came out throwing the ball in the first half. The 49ers are expected to use their jumbo run package, which they didn’t use against the Giants, to take advantage of the lack of bulk of Arizona’s linebackers.

John Skelton, who passed for three touchdowns and two interceptions last Sunday in a victory over the Eagles, starts again for the Cardinals in place of Kevin Kolb.

The 49ers have a solid front seven, and they should be able to contain Beanie Wells, who is less than 100 percent. Carlos Rogers will be matched against star Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald as much as possible.

CZAR’S SCOOP: The 49ers are close to wrapping up the NFC West, especially if they win. It would give them at least a five-game lead with six games to play. They would love to grab an early lead Sunday so they can rest some veterans.

ILB Daryl Washington and rookie Sam Acho are quickly adjusting to Arizona coordinator Ray Horton’s Steelers-style system. Washington may be one of the fastest linebackers in the league.

Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt isn’t concerned about all the quarterback questions as Kolb misses another game with a turf toe. Kolb figures to be active, though. The Cardinals have too much money invested in Kolb to give up on him, plus they know that Skelton has a NFL future as a solid backup. Skelton still makes mistakes, but he doesn’t let them rattle him.

Although many are praising the coaching job of Jim Harbaugh with the 49ers, the team’s winning streak is also an indictment of the awful coaching job Mike Singletary performed last season. “He might have cost them four wins,” an NFL executive said of Singletary. The big reason is that Harbaugh basically has the same team that Singletary had last season, the lone major additions being Rogers and receiver Braylon Edwards.

Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams, 4:05 p.m. ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Both of these teams have suffered horrible offensive-line injuries. Seattle must replace the right side of their line with Paul McQuistan and RT Breno Giacomini after losing top rookies James Carpenter and John Moffitt last Sunday, so look for Seattle to run Marshawn Lynch left behind tackle Russell Okung.

The Rams are without both starting tackles, while Tony Wragge is at center for Jason Brown. That means Sam Bradford could be under pressure from Chris Clemons, who has five sacks, and Raheem Brock, who had 2-1/2 sacks in his last game against the Rams. Bradford is getting a feel for WR Brandon Lloyd, who does make some spectacular catches but also continues to drop some routine passes. Look for the Rams to keep running Steven Jackson, who has 417 total rushing yards in his past three games.

The Seahawks upset Baltimore last Sunday, and Tarvaris Jackson continues look for rookie WR Doug Baldwin, who has 484 receiving yards, and big-play receiver Sidney Rice, who is averaging 15.5 yards a catch.

The Rams better be careful with Leon Washington, who has seven career kickoff returns for touchdowns. St. Louis defensive end Chris Long has eight sacks on the season, five of them in his past three games.

CZAR’S SCOOP: With the loss of LT Rodger Saffold to an early morning weight-room accident for a torn pectoral muscle, the Rams have put 15 players on injured reserve, including nine cornerbacks, since the start of training camp.

These next two Rams home games — Arizona comes to town next Sunday — could prove crucial in deciding coach Steve Spagnuolo’s future. Yes, the Rams continue to play very hard for Spags, but you have to think that owner Stan Kroenke would like to see wins against these two NFC West rivals who aren’t exactly world-beaters by any stretch of the imagination.

A year after leading Seattle in receptions with 65, Mike Williams has virtually disappeared this season. He is eighth on the team with just 12 catches for 130 yards and a TD. Williams has missed two games this season with a concussion and a hamstring issue, but he’s not getting open and Jackson has quit looking his way.

OTHER SUNDAY GAMES

Tennessee at Atlanta, 4:15 p.m. ET: Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck proclaimed that the Titans are definitely in the AFC South race. If they truly are, this is a game they need to win. It won’t be easy, because the Falcons have been so tough in the Georgia Dome under Mike Smith, who is still taking some local heat for his failed fourth-down gamble last Sunday against the Saints. The Titans’ Chris Johnson ran for a season-best 130 yards last week, but Michael Turner has been scoring a lot at home; plus, the Falcons are 21-1 when he gets at least 23 carries.

San Diego at Chicago, 4:15 p.m. ET: These are two teams going in opposite directions. The Chargers have lost four straight, while the Bears have won four straight to get into NFC wild-card contention. Chicago’s defense has been playing great during the winning stretch. That should continue against a San Diego team that has offensive line problems, leading to 25 sacks of Philip Rivers, who also has 19 turnovers. The Bears need to maintain time of possession and field position with Matt Forte because San Diego still has the ability to strike quickly with WR Vincent Jackson and TE Antonio Gates. The Chargers will be without six starters today, and one of their offensive linemen — Tony Moll — was a bartender a week ago.

Philadelphia at NY Giants, 8:20 p.m. ET: Nothing has gone right in Philadelphia this season. They will get receiver DeSean Jackson back from his one-game benching this week, but Vince Young will start for the injured Michael Vick — that would bring the league-wide total of quarterback changes to 43 this season. The Eagles have been outscored 74-27 in the fourth quarter this season while blowing a team record five fourth-quarter leads. The Giants will be tuned up to stop Eagles RB LeSean McCoy, who beat them last season in Week 11 with a 50-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter. McCoy leads the NFL with 12 total touchdowns and runs best out of a two tight-end formation.

Tagged: Falcons, Bills, Bears, Bengals, Browns, Cowboys, Lions, Packers, Titans, Colts, Raiders, Rams, Dolphins, Vikings, Giants, Eagles, 49ers, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Redskins, Panthers, Jaguars, Ravens, Cardinals, Chargers, Michael Vick, Peyton Manning, Matt Hasselbeck, Steve Smith Sr., Ray Lewis, Mike Williams, Maurice Morris, Howard Green, Shayne Graham, Rex Grossman, Tony Romo, Chris Clemons, Philip Rivers, Steven Jackson, Ben Hartsock, Michael Turner, Vincent Jackson, Alex Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jason Brown, Tony Wragge, Ben Graham, Ryan Grant, Tarvaris Jackson, Reggie Bush, Vince Young, Vernon Davis, DeAngelo Williams, Tony Moll, Leon Washington, Fred Jackson, Michael Bush, Tanard Jackson, Doug Free, Calvin Johnson, Kevin Kolb, Chris Houston, Sidney Rice, Matt Moore, Felix Jones, Matt Forte, Fred Davis, DeSean Jackson, Ray Rice, Chris Long, Stevie Johnson, Ryan Torain, Chris Ogbonnaya, Josh Freeman, LeSean McCoy, Jahvid Best, Mike Neal, Colt McCoy, John Skelton, Sam Bradford, Rodger Saffold, Daryl Washington, Mike Williams, Chris Johnson, A.J. Green, John Moffitt, DeMarco Murray, Sam Acho, Mike Smith, Ryan Donahue

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