Reality check for first-time coaches

You can follow Charles Robinson on Twitter at @YahooSportsNFL.

First, yeah I ripped off Al Gore’s movie title. I thought I’d get away with it longer than one week, but I’ve already read more expletives on my Twitter (Twixpletives?) than I can count. Shame on all of you. Wikipedia says cussing contributes to global warming. And if Al Gore can try to Bogart credit for creating the Internet, then Yahoo! can borrow his movie title. But if he tries to take credit for inventing the exclamation point (or yodeling), we’re going to fight the next time I see him.

Second: In the hopes of clearing up any confusion, this is not former Detroit Lions wideout and current Dallas Cowboy Roy Williams in this video. I mean, come on people – clearly this woman lifts weights in the offseason. As an aside, security should have escorted her to Detroit’s middle linebacker spot and let her scream obscenities at Brett Favre for a quarter. That way, we all win.

Photo Spagnuolo (left) will be lucky to match Zorn’s eight wins from last year.
(James Lang/US Presswire)

So that sort of brings me to this week’s most pressing truth: After two weeks of watching Lions coach Jim Schwartz and some of his newly minted NFL counterparts, it’s already clear that 2008 was a monumental fluke. Never again will we see a class like the Atlanta Falcons’ Mike Smith, Baltimore Ravens’ John Harbaugh, Washington Redskins’ Jim Zorn and Miami Dolphins’ Tony Sparano. For that quartet to go a combined 41-23 (a winning clip of 64 percent) in their first regular season is downright astonishing. Particularly through the lens of 2009, when there are going to be some ugly results from a handful of newcomers.

While it’s worth noting that Sparano started that 2008 campaign with two losses, the truth is that a portion of this year’s rookie class of head coaches is already on its way to a painful NFL christening. That’s not meant to disparage the group, which includes seven men who never presided over an NFL team before this season: Schwartz, the St. Louis Rams’ Steve Spagnuolo, Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Raheem Morris, Kansas City Chiefs’ Todd Haley, Denver’ Broncos’ Josh McDaniels, Indianapolis Colts’ Jim Caldwell and the New York Jets’ Rex Ryan.

Instead, we should see 2009 as a season bringing us back to normalcy. Regardless of some of the overnight successes that have been part of the NFL of late, it’s time for some cities to get their expectations back into check. Yes, Ryan and Caldwell have playoff-caliber rosters. And even McDaniels has enough talent to make it an interesting season. But in places like Detroit, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Kansas City, the talent cupboard is either bare or tainted with past personnel mistakes.

That foursome is a combined 0-8 through the first two weeks of the season. And it’s already looking like anything more than six wins for either franchise would be cause for some Coach of The Year votes. Consider some of the fatal flaws:

Kansas City’s offensive line has produced 14 plays where the quarterback was sacked or the running back was dropped for a loss or no gain. The unit has also been penalized seven times, including four flags on franchise left tackle Branden Albert(notes).

Detroit’s defense is porous, as expected. But the offensive line, which wasn’t supposed to be a major concern, has contributed to running back Kevin Smith’s(notes) 2.6 yards per carry average. On the bright side, quarterback Matthew Stafford(notes) has only been sacked three times – partially due to his quick release and willingness to attempt to throw the football through the spleen of opposing defensive backs.

In two games, Tampa Bay’s defense has surrendered 900 yards of offense. Mind you, this team still has to play the New Orleans Saints – twice.

And St. Louis – ugh. Lance Armstrong doesn’t have the stamina to list all its woes. Let’s just leave it with this: the Rams have tallied seven total points against the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins … which last time I checked, aren’t Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens.

So you get the idea. In spite of the pristine, white-gloved seasons seemingly ahead for the Colts and Jets, this will be nothing like 2008 for most rookie head coaches. Instead, Ryan and Caldwell’s counterparts will spend this season performing roster surgery all season long. And more often than not, they’ll be passing over the scalpel in favor of the bone saw. Welcome back to reality, fans.

Here are a few more doses after two weeks of football.

It’s time to shut up about Eli’s contract
There were few players more maligned this offseason than New York Giants Eli Manning(notes) when it came to the big-money deals that were signed. But after watching his Sunday night performance against the Dallas Cowboys, it’s time to stop talking about whether he’s worthy. Big-time quarterbacks find a way to make the most out of the cast around them, and Manning is doing that with guys like Steve Smith and Mario Manningham(notes). And lest we forget, other than Ben Roethlisberger(notes), Manning is the only quarterback who has started and won a Super Bowl and is still in his 20’s. Like it or not, that means something.

Next time Manning does something to irk Giants fans, they should look on the other side of the ball at Chris Canty(notes), who has a long way to go to justify the monster deal he received this offseason. Or better yet, tune into a Carolina Panthers game and decide whether defensive end Julius Peppers(notes) is worth the $16.68 million he’s making this season – a number that jumps to $18.18 million if he makes the Pro Bowl, and tacks on $250,000 for every Carolina playoff win.

Bush is headed for a renegotiation … or the chopping block
The only way this doesn’t happen is if Bush stays healthy and finally experiences his long-awaited career explosion – or if the Saints feel like giving money away. There is no denying what Bush is right now: the fourth or fifth best player on New Orleans’ offense. As it stands, there are two backs on the roster who are more efficient as ball carriers (Mike Bell(notes) and Pierre Thomas(notes)), and at least one wideout who is a more explosive receiver in Marques Colston(notes). After that, you have to ask yourself: Iis he more explosive downfield than Devery Henderson(notes)? Is he a better red-zone option than Jeremy Shockey(notes)? Is he more

consistent than a healthy Lance Moore(notes)?

Photo Bush did reach the end zone against the Eagles last weekend.
(Howard Smith/US Presswire)

OK, I’ll admit that it’s not an apple-to-apples comparison, but just because Bush is versatile doesn’t mean he’s your best player. And NFL paychecks can’t continue to be earned on “potential” and “ability to be versatile”. They are earned on results. And frankly, Bush’s results have been uneven – on top of the fact that his health has consistently failed down the stretch.

All of which begs the question: Is Bush worth his $8 million in base salary in 2010, or his $11.8 million in 2011 (neither of which includes incentives)? The answer: Not on your life. Not only is Bush not worth that money at his current production level, the Saints have three major deals that need to be done in the next 18 months. Left tackle Jammal Brown(notes) is in his contract year, and barring collective bargaining issues, negotiations on astronomical new deals for Brees and Colston will begin in the middle of next season, if not sooner.

It’s time to stop getting excited about second-round quarterbacks
Almost every year there is a quarterback (or multiple quarterbacks) plucked in the second round of the NFL draft, you hear franchises trot out the idea that the player will be patiently “grown and groomed” into the system. Sometimes coaches or executives even tantalize with the overused suggestion of “we thought he was a first-round talent”. And of course, the fan base blindly buys into it because (a) The second-round tag doesn’t bring the immediate angst of expectations, and (b) The pick is still high enough that the quarterback is assumed to be abundantly skilled and not in the category of “long-term project”.

Well, looking at the last decade’s worth of second-round quarterbacks, the group is remarkable in its feast or famine in aspect. Essentially, since the 1999 draft, the round has produced one superstar (Drew Brees(notes)) and a whole lot of nothing else. I’ll be fair and exclude the recently drafted Miami tandem of Pat White(notes) and Chad Henne(notes), but add that their existence on the same team likely doesn’t bode well for at least one of them. Nor does the fact that Miami has drafted a quarterback in the second round of three straight drafts.

Indeed, the only thing we’ve learned about second-round quarterbacks in the last 10 years is that regime change is the kiss of death, and the expendability of their contracts gives them a wickedly short leash.

Consider the past decade:

1999: Shaun King(notes) (Tampa Bay) … doomed by a weak arm.
2001: Brees (San Diego Chargers) … arguably best second-round QB in history.
2001: Quincy Carter (Dallas) … troubled from start to finish.
2001: Marques Tuiasosopo(notes) (Oakland Raiders) … gifted but injury prone.
2006: Kellen Clemens(notes) (Jets) … Brett Favre stole the show.
2006: Tarvaris Jackson(notes) (Minnesota Vikings) … see Clemens.
2007: Kevin Kolb(notes) (Philadelphia Eagles) … in the midst of his last chance.
2007: John Beck (Miami) … already on his second team.
2007: Drew Stanton(notes) (Detroit) … abandoned and forgotten.
2008: Brian Brohm(notes) (Green Bay Packers) … fodder on the practice squad.
2008: Henne (Dolphins) … supposedly the future of the conventional offense.
2009: White (Dolphins) … supposedly the future of the Wildcat offense.

Jackson should be Buffalo’s permanent starter at running back
Fred Jackson(notes) has the job for at least one more week, while Marshawn Lynch(notes) serves the last of his three-game suspension. But Lynch should be relegated to a healthy platoon role until he proves he can be more effective than Jackson, whose versatility has been sensational through the first two weeks of the season. He may not be the consistently punishing runner that Lynch is, but Jackson is physical in his own right. Moreover, he gives the Buffalo Bills chunks of yardage one way or another – either rushing or receiving.

Buffalo coaches have already said they plan to spell Lynch more this season, meaning an expanded role for Jackson. But after two games, it’s clear he has the ability to be a more difficult player to prepare for than Lynch, who is serviceable but not explosive out of the backfield. Whatever happens, here’s hoping that the Bills don’t make a decision dictated by money, with Lynch’s first-round salary getting the nod over Jackson’s extremely equitable four-year, $7.5 million deal signed this past offseason. Buffalo should reward the guy who gives you the most pop on the field and the fewest problems off it, and make Lynch earn his way back into a starter’s role.

Charles Robinson is the senior investigative reporter for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Charles a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Sep 23, 2009