Six Points for Week 7: Checking in on NFL coaching class of 2014
In January 2014, seven NFL teams hired new coaches — men they believed would get their franchises out of their ruts and bring with them the success they had as coordinators, pro head coaches or college head coaches.
Through a season and nearly a half, there’s a real question whether any more than one or two of them might make the decisions those teams made look wise.
With Bill O’Brien’s Houston Texans once again losing in embarrassing fashion and Jim Caldwell’s Detroit Lions looking like a lost bunch of young players instead of the savvy group of veterans they’re supposed to be, the combined overall records of the 2014 NFL coaching class over the past two regular seasons is now 57-101, with only Caldwell sporting a winning record of 12-11. That’s due to last year’s 11-5 record, though that mark was inflated because the Lions only played four games against teams that wound up with a winning record.
Ideally, coaches would get much more than two seasons to establish their new regime. The four- to five-year deals they sign when they’re hired indicate teams aren’t exactly planning to fire them after only 32 games.
But Marc Trestman, Greg Schiano and Pat Shurmur were all fired after two seasons recently, and Rob Chudzinski only got one year with the Cleveland Browns, so it’s not too soon to check in on the class of ’14 and wonder if any of them are already on the hot seat:
Mike Zimmer, Vikings (4-2 this season, 11-11 overall)
Minnesota was a trendy pick to be a breakout team this season, on account of the impressive rookie season for Teddy Bridgewater, the return of Adrian Peterson and a solid coaching staff. So naturally, the Vikings opened the season by losing to a team that’s been as bad as many projected in the San Francisco 49ers.
"Maybe we’re just not ready for prime time," Zimmer said after that game.
The Vikes sort of faded into the background after that loss and a Week 4 loss at Denver, but they’re winning the games they’re supposed to win (3-0 at home) and have a shot to pad their record over the next three weeks with games against the Chicago Bears, St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders before a very tough closing stretch that includes road games against the Atlanta Falcons and Arizona Cardinals, a home game against the Seahawks and two meetings with their NFC North rival Green Bay Packers.
Zimmer is off to a fine start to his head-coaching career and has a chance to prove all of the teams that passed over him over the years made a huge mistake.
USING ALL OF THEIR ROPE
Ken Whisenhunt, Tennessee Titans (1-5 this season, 3-19 overall) and Lovie Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4 this season, 4-18 overall)
These two belong in the same category because they both made it to the Super Bowl in their previous stint as a head coach and they’re working with rookie quarterbacks this season.
In Smith’s case, he also has a major say in personnel matters, so that usually gives a coach even more time to build things the way he wants to build them. Quarterback Jameis Winston has looked really good in spurts (8.1 yards per passing attempt) and like the rookie he is at other times. Meanwhile, there’s young talent elsewhere on the roster (linebacker Lavonte David, defensive lineman Gerald McCoy, wide receiver Mike Evans) that should only continue to improve.
As for Whisenhunt, he seems like he’s getting tired with the honeymoon phase and would like to get back to winning soon while his roster develops. There’s no question after watching his body language on the sideline Sunday — combined with his decision to go for it on fourth-and-3 from his own 37 with 3:35 left — he felt that was a winnable game against the Atlanta Falcons.
"Obviously, we have to get over that hump," Whisenhunt said, adding: "It hurts because our guys have worked so hard to get there, and they’re so close."
Even if they’re not, don’t expect Whisenhunt or Smith to be close to losing their jobs.
A MIXED BAG
Jay Gruden, Washington Redskins (3-4 this season, 7-16 overall) and Mike Pettine, Cleveland Browns (2-5 this season, 9-14 overall)
Let’s be honest here, Gruden might have been on the hot seat if not for Sunday’s comeback against Smith’s Buccaneers.
"You like that?!" quarterback Kirk Cousins yelled at the media on the way into the locker room. "You like that?!"
OK, we’ll keep Gruden off that hot seat for now. Just don’t yell at us, Kirk.
Still, Gruden was supposed to be the guy that could fix Robert Griffin III, and he’s done anything but that. He’s supposed to be a quarterback guru, yet Cousins hasn’t exactly flourished and has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in four of the team’s seven games.
But the fact Gruden convinced owner Daniel Snyder it was time to allow him to make the switch to Cousins over Griffin was a big moment for anybody coaching under Snyder. It said a lot about Snyder’s trust in Gruden, trust that was also reflected in the fact he gave him a five-year contract (instead of the standard four-year deal a first-time coach often gets).
Plus, general manager Scot McCloughan is only in his first year with the club. It’ll take him some time to undo the work of the previous regime and establish solid depth across the roster. All indications are he and Gruden have a good working relationship.
Gruden should be safe, but next year will be enormous for him and Cousins, or whoever is under center for Washington.
As for Pettine, the Johnny Manziel situation would be extremely difficult to manage for any coach, let alone one with no NFL head-coaching experience and only 12 years in the league before taking over a team. Frankly, Pettine has done a nice job.
Another coach might have been tempted to keep Manziel as the starter after his one-game stint in place of the injured Josh McCown but Pettine and the Browns stuck to their plan of the slow rollout for Manziel and of forcing him to show them on a consistent basis he’s capable of being their franchise quarterback both on and off the field.
Pettine’s future with the Browns might very well be tied to Manziel, so it’ll be critical for him to continue managing that situation well.
SEATS GETTING HOT
Caldwell, Lions (1-6 this season, 12-11 overall) and O’Brien, Texans (2-5 this season, 11-12 overall)
The good news for O’Brien is owner Bob McNair has been patient with his head coaches since he gave Dom Capers a fourth season, despite the fact the Texans’ franchise began with three straight losing seasons under Capers. Gary Kubiak then kept his job even though he didn’t get Houston to the playoffs in his first five seasons. So unless McNair suddenly changes his tactics, O’Brien should be safe.
But the Texans were just outscored 41-0 in the first half by a team with an interim coach in his second game. And this came three weeks after the Falcons, with first-year coach Dan Quinn, racked up the first 42 points of the game in a blowout of Houston.
Like Gruden, O’Brien was supposed to be a quarterback guy, yet the Brian Hoyer-Ryan Mallett situation is a mess. Neither has looked any better under O’Brien than they did under other coaches and O’Brien looks like he didn’t have a feel for which one was the better option or how to manage the situation.
People around the league say McNair trusts O’Brien and there’s been a lot of speculation about general manager Rick Smith’s job security, so maybe the changes in Houston will be made upstairs.
Meanwhile, Caldwell should seemingly fall under the same category as Smith and Whisenhunt, right? After all, he took the Colts to a Super Bowl and another playoff appearance. But that didn’t win him any security in Indy, and that says a lot.
Success with QB Joe Flacco while Caldwell was the Baltimore Ravens’ offensive coordinator should have translated to his working well with Matthew Stafford. That’s what the Lions thought, anyway. However, Stafford is on pace to throw 20 interceptions, which would be the most for him since his rookie year in 2009. Caldwell’s attempt to wake up Stafford by benching him last week didn’t work. This franchise doesn’t have time to waste to get the best out of Stafford in his prime.
Also, the Lions’ proclamation that this year … finally … would be the year … no, seriously … they’d run the ball effectively … ha! … has come up short so far. Detroit is ranked last in the NFL in rushing. The Lions haven’t ranked higher than 17th in rushing since Barry Sanders retired, and Caldwell’s staff hasn’t done anything to change that.
He is as much on the hot seat as any of these coaches in Year 2. If he and the Lions don’t turn things around, he could be the first one fired.
DEZ ’50/50′ FOR NEXT WEEK
Dallas’ Dez Bryant walked through the lobby of the Westin in Jersey City on Saturday night and took the elevator up to the third floor, where many of his teammates were wrapping up their meeting. They were surprised to see Bryant, who hadn’t flown with the team the day before and paid his own way so he could be on the sidelines on Sunday.
That was Bryant’s way of pushing to be a part of the game six weeks after surgery on his foot. This week, he will make another push to be a bigger part — as in, a part of the huddle.
A source with knowledge of the training staff’s assessment of Bryant told FOX Sports it’s "50/50" right now whether he plays against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. The source also said, if Bryant can’t make it this week, the Cowboys fully expect Bryant to be on the field the following week against the Philadelphia Eagles.
FOX’s Jay Glazer reported on Sunday morning Bryant experienced pain his foot after doing some work last week. Glazer also suggested the Cowboys wait until the bone is fully healed before Bryant plays, but the team’s belief he’ll be ready in the next two weeks (which would be eight weeks removed from surgery) indicates it knows it won’t be fully healed. It actually takes a few months after surgery for a Jones fracture to fully heal.
The Cowboys are reeling. Bryant’s return, along with Tony Romo, is their only hope to stay afloat in the NFC East. The Cowboys are expecting that return to be sooner, rather than later.
DEZ TRIED TO CALM HARDY, BUT FAILED
FOX cameras showed Bryant and Greg Hardy feuding on the sideline after what proved to be Dwayne Harris’ game-winning 100-yard kick-return touchdown for the Giants.
What wasn’t shown on TV, but was evident from a clip tweeted by Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News (since deleted), was Bryant engaged Hardy after Hardy yelled at, and shoved, members of his own team. NBC showed video Sunday night that revealed Hardy’s initial target was special teams coach Rich Bisaccia. Hardy took a swipe at Bisaccia’s play chart and then got nose-to-nose with him.
Bryant was trying to calm Hardy down. That’s interesting, considering Bryant was the one who needed calming two years ago when he was ranting on the sideline during a loss to the Lions.
But Bryant never pushed any of his teammates or coaches the way Hardy did. He yelled and gestured, and NFL Films audio revealed later that week he was trying to encourage Romo for much of the game. Even if Hardy was saying similar things (we don’t know because he refused to answer any questions in the postgame locker room), there’s no reason to put your hands on the guys wearing the same colored jerseys. That’s just dumb.
Hardy’s sideline antics ignored everything coach Jason Garrett had told his team when he took them to the World Trade Center on Friday. Garrett told his players about the resilience of the first responders and those who helped rebuild the area. He wanted his players to act that way.
Hardy ignored that request.
Hardy got into a confrontation with a teammate in the spring during workouts, so maybe it’s not surprising he was getting after several of them on Sunday. It’s yet another example of questionable behavior the Cowboys should consider before deciding whether to give Hardy a contract extension beyond this season.
Since they clearly didn’t consider it before signing him this year.
RUNNING ON EMPTY
Here’s a stat that illustrates the importance of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Coming into the season, the Steelers had won 23 of their last 24 regular-season games in which they’d had a 100-yard rusher.
Sunday’s 121-yard game from Le’Veon Bell was the fourth 100-yard rushing effort by a Steeler this year. The team is 1-3 in those games and it was nearly 0-4. The only one of those games Pittsburgh has won was the Monday nighter in San Diego when Bell reached across the goal line as time expired.
Roethlisberger was on the field in Week 1 when DeAngelo Williams rushed for 127 yards in a loss to the New England Patriots but the Steelers’ lack of a passing game in Bell’s three 100-yard games has made it clear a solid rushing attack isn’t enough without the big guy in the pocket, shrugging off pass rushers and giving his receivers time to get open.
While the Steelers were running but not winning, the Patriots were not running and winning anyway.
A team that’s been able to win games and make the postseason with a variety of offensive styles from season to season and even week to week, the Pats had no issue adjusting to life without running back Dion Lewis, who was inactive with an abdominal injury. New England had only 16 yards rushing — the third-lowest output of the Bill Belichick era.
In those three games the Patriots are 2-1.
Sunday’s win over the Jets, in which Tom Brady led the team with 15 yards rushing (the first time Brady has led the way in that category), featured 54 passes from Brady. That’s the 12th time in his career he’s thrown that many passes or more in a game. That’s not the way the Patriots would like to do it every game, but when they have to, they have to, and they do it well.
Belichick and his assistants have been outstanding game-planners over the year, as they’ve matched the plans to their personnel and the situation. Sunday’s plan and execution was another masterpiece.
One of the big problems for the Eagles this year has been their first-half offense. On Sunday night, they scored only six points in the first two quarters against the Carolina Panthers, marking the fourth time in Philly’s first seven games it had less than one touchdown on the board when headed to the locker room at halftime.
That already matches coach Chip Kelly’s first season, when the Eagles were held under a touchdown in the first half four times. Last year, it happened three times.
The Eagles have lost all four of their games this year when scoring six points or fewer in the first two quarters. They’re 2-8 under Kelly when that happens.
Everyone knew it would take quarterback Sam Bradford some time to get comfortable in each game after being out the past two seasons with ACL injuries. Running back DeMarco Murray and the running game also seem to need time each week to find a rhythm. But Kelly’s team is costing itself wins with slow starts and badly needs to fix that issue.
- Arizona Cardinals
- Atlanta Falcons
- Baltimore Ravens
- Ben Roethlisberger
- Brian Hoyer
- Carolina Panthers
- Chicago Bears
- Cleveland Browns
- Dallas Cowboys
- DeAngelo Williams
- DeMarco Murray
- Detroit Lions
- Dez Bryant
- Dion Lewis
- Dwayne Harris
- Gerald McCoy
- Greg Hardy
- Houston Texans
- Indianapolis Colts
- Jameis Winston
- Joe Flacco
- Johnny Manziel
- Josh McCown
- Kirk Cousins
- Lavonte David
- Le'Veon Bell
- Matthew Stafford
- Mike Evans
- Mike Zimmer
- New England Patriots
- New York Giants
- New York Jets
- Oakland Raiders
- Philadelphia Eagles
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Robert Griffin III
- Ryan Mallett
- Sam Bradford
- San Francisco 49ers
- Seattle Seahawks
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Teddy Bridgewater
- Tennessee Titans
- Tom Brady
- Tony Romo
- Washington Redskins