Not too early to push NFL panic button
This is the time of season when every NFL head coach whose team started 0-1 publicly channels the spirit of Alfred E. Neuman.
What, me worry?
In many cases, these coaches aren’t, ahem, mad. They’re telling the truth.
Cincinnati and Arizona rebounded from opening losses last season to win their divisions. Clubs like Indianapolis, Dallas and San Diego have the talent to do likewise in 2010.
And then there are those teams that really do have reason to press the panic button even with 15 contests to go.
Here are five franchises that need to address some significant issues or risk the rest of the season unfolding as roughly as it began.
Problems: All the preseason optimism surrounding the 49ers has quickly dissipated — and Mike Singletary and his staff largely have themselves to blame. Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye couldn’t relay his play calls to quarterback Alex Smith quickly enough in Sunday’s 31-6 loss at Seattle. Combined with poor execution, this helped contribute to an offensive implosion. The 49ers got inside the Seattle 6-yard line on their first three series and came away with only six points.
“We took one on the chin,” 49ers cornerback Nate Clements told me and Damien Woody during a Tuesday night Sirius NFL Radio interview. “When you have a chance to put teams away, you have to take advantage of that.”
The debacle continued after the game. Smith spilled the beans about the coaching chaos that was transpiring; Singletary tried blaming a faulty helmet headset. And to further show how discombobulated the 49ers are, Singletary threw a second team meeting Sunday night after returning to San Francisco because he thought his post-game message came across as muddled.
Solutions: According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Raye could be moved from the press box to the sideline. This would eliminate the middle man relaying the signals (quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson) and theoretically allow Smith to receive the calls more quickly. Smith may also start wearing a wrist band that has numbered plays to accelerate the process. Regardless of what system the 49ers use — carrier pigeon, Twitter, etc. — San Francisco’s offense needs a cohesive effort for any shot at keeping up with New Orleans in Monday night’s home matchup.
As for the second team meeting, Clements described Singletary’s message as “Hey, don’t get down. Don’t lose your confidence, your (swagger) at all.”
That’s easier said than done when your franchise hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2002.
New York Jets
Problems: The team’s top run-stuffer is already out for the season, and the starting quarterback shows no sign of being able to carry the offense when needed. In other words, New York’s preseason Super Bowl boasts may very well be remembered as hot air.
Solutions: The numerous penalties and mental errors in Monday night’s 10-9 loss to Baltimore are correctable. There is no easy fix for losing nose tackle Kris Jenkins to a torn anterior cruciate ligament for the second straight season. New York did survive his midseason loss last year en route to an AFC Championship Game appearance, but expecting such magic again is pushing it. The Jets knew Mark Sanchez would experience growing pains in his second NFL season, yet watching him flounder against Baltimore makes you wonder how much progress he really made this offseason.
On the bright side, Sanchez won’t always be facing such a dominant unit. The Jets have their own staunch defense providing support. Plus, New York’s deep passing game should improve immensely when wide-out Santonio Holmes returns from a four-game drug suspension. The Jets just have to hope they aren’t 1-3 by then with upcoming games against all three AFC East rivals.
Problems: A potential quarterback controversy and mounting injuries. The start to the Kevin Kolb era was a dud in Sunday’s 27-20 loss to Green Bay. He completed just five of 10 passes for 24 yards before being knocked from the game with a concussion. Although replacement Michael Vick almost led a double-digit comeback, Eagles coach Andy Reid has verbally committed to Kolb as his starter when healthy. That’s easy to say but may not fly inside his team’s locker room. Should the unproven Kolb be forced to miss games, it’s fair to wonder how many Eagles players would want Vick to keep the job if Philadelphia wins. Middle linebacker Stewart Bradley also could be sidelined with a concussion, while two other starters — versatile fullback Leonard Weaver and center Jamaal Jackson — suffered season-ending injuries against the Packers.
Solutions: Detroit and Jacksonville, which are the Eagles’ next two opponents. Neither squad was considered a strong playoff contender entering the season. If the Eagles don’t at least split those matchups, this may truly be the start of a rebuilding season for a franchise that reached the playoffs eight of the past 10 years with Donovan McNabb under center.
Problems: I have confidence that, in time, new head coach Chan Gailey can fix an offense that hasn’t ranked above No. 25 since 2002. But Sunday’s 15-10 home loss to Miami saw more of the same old dreck. Buffalo gained fewer yards (166) than any other team last weekend against what is considered a good-but-not-great Miami defense. Trent Edwards still shows no signs of being a big-time quarterback and is further hamstrung by shoddy bookend tackles.
The injuries that annually hamper the Bills are also mounting again, especially at inside linebacker. Kawika Mitchell (foot) is already on injured reserve, while brittle Paul Posluszny is out for the next two to three weeks with a knee injury.
Solutions: Jake Locker? I’m not kidding. Without major improvement, Buffalo could very well land the first overall pick in the 2011 draft. That would be the best way to address an unstable quarterback situation for the long haul, with a pick like Locker, the University of Washington standout who is considered the draft’s top prospect at the position.
As for 2010, sensational rookie running back C.J. Spiller won’t always get as bottled up as he was in a seven-carry, 6-yard effort against Miami. Reggie Torbor and Akin Ayodele — both of whom were released by Miami in the offseason — are serviceable replacements at linebackers. Those veterans have a history with George Edwards, their former Dolphins position coach who has talent issues trying to run a new 3-4 system in his first season as an NFL defensive coordinator.
Problems: Give second-year Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman credit for quickly developing behind a young supporting cast. But falling to a team like the Bucs doesn’t bode well for the Browns. After a strong offseason, Jake Delhomme reverted to his mistake-prone ways with two interceptions and a 9-of-19 passing performance in the second half of a 17-14 defeat. The secondary is a work in progress with two rookies (cornerback Joe Haden and safety T.J. Ward) getting to start against Tampa Bay.
Solutions: That’s for new team president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert Jr. to figure out. The Browns weren’t expected to push for a playoff berth in 2010, but significant progress is still expected. If not, Holmgren and Heckert may figure Eric Mangini is part of the problem rather than the solution and find a new head coach in 2011.