As NFL starts go, the new class of coaches needs to pop the clutch in Week 2.
Last week’s 0-7 stall from the new class of coaches was historic in proportion – officially the worst in history since the NFL-AFL merger. Even worse than the previous flaming wreck in 2001, which produced a coaching class that started 0-6 and then scattered itself on a scale between total failure and mild success.
If that 2001 class is foreshadowing where the 2018 class is going, the fanbases with new coaches may want to stop reading now because the look back ain’t pretty. But for those who care to remember, that 2001 thud included:
Marty Mornhinweg, Detroit Lions: 5-27 in two years. Still one of the worst head coaches in Detroit’s bleak history.
Butch Davis, Cleveland Browns: 24-35 in four years. All things considered, Butch’s record looks good in hindsight.
Gregg Williams, Buffalo Bills: 17-31 in three years. Believe it or not, these were considered Williams’ “intense” years.
Marty Schottenheimer, Washington Redskins: 8-8 in one year. Fired by team owner Daniel Snyder in favor of Steve Spurrier. Surely nobody in Washington still has an opinion on that decision.
Herm Edwards, New York Jets: 39-41 in five years. He won two playoff games in five years, which basically makes him a Hall of Famer when compared to the rest of this class.
Dick Vermeil, Kansas City Chiefs: 44-36 in five years. A hyped hire that really didn’t produce in the final analysis. Best remembered by Chiefs fans for the 13-3 season that flopped with a playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
Soooo … yeah. If fans were looking for some optimism with their portion of this 0-7 coaching class, they probably don’t want to consider history as a good indication. That said, it’s worth breaking down which franchises have more to worry about than others with their new hires. Here’s the sliding scale from Week 1:
Chicago had a handful of plays in the second half that could have secured this game and completely changed the narrative of a crushing loss. The most obvious of them was the brutal interception drop by cornerback Kyle Fuller, which can’t happen again. In hindsight, several things had to fall perfectly for the Packers to pull this out. Go back and look at Aaron Rodgers’ 39-yard touchdown pass to Geronimo Allison. Fuller was maybe two inches from deflecting that pass, which was an insane throw from Rodgers. That and the Randall Cobb catch-and-run to win the game, combined with the Fuller drop were mistakes, not examples of ineptitude.
Taken from a more global view, this loss settled on an absurd string of plays that went against the Bears. In reality, Chicago had some creatively mixed offensive formations in the first half and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky played well before the Packers made adjustments. The Bears’ defense was absolutely nasty in spots, too. Frankly, this roster looks far better (and more talented) than any Bears team in recent memory. There is a lot to work with here and feel good about.
But goal No. 1 coming out of that Packers loss should be figuring out how to counter the adjustments that had Trubisky mentally scrambling in the second half, while also running the ball far better with a lead. That, and don’t give away turnovers.
If you didn’t see the Colts’ loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, it was a misleading outcome. The critical drive in the last few minutes – which resulted in the Bengals returning a Jack Doyle fumble for a touchdown – completely skewed the vantage of this one. Watching that last drive again, I’m convinced Andrew Luck was taking the Colts into the end zone for the lead had the Doyle fumble not occurred. Reich shortened up the offense in the last drive, Luck was getting the ball out quickly and efficiently in his last 10 throws and the Bengals were on their heels. Similar to Kyle Fuller’s drop in the aforementioned Bears-Packers game, one play significantly altered the view of this whole thing in the final minutes.
But there is a bright side: While the defense is a work in progress, the hallmarks of the offense Reich ran so successfully with the Philadelphia Eagles are visible in Indy. Luck is going to run a ton of shotgun in an offense that is going to spread opponents out and create all kinds of intermediate space for the tight ends and running backs in the passing game. Go look at the 26-yard touchdown pass to Eric Ebron in the second quarter. Reich split running back Nyheim Hines out all the way to the sideline, dragging cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick with him. It created a one-on-one and spacing mismatch for Ebron, opening up the touchdown. This was a slightly longer developing play, but there aren’t going to be a ton of calls that will force Luck to wait and make decisions with the ball. Luck will get the ball out faster and take fewer hits under Reich.
The one downside is he may set a personal high in pass attempts this season, which probably isn’t ideal coming off the shoulder issues. Whatever the case, the Colts have taken a step in the right direction.
Running back Saquon Barkley is everything he’s cracked up to be and if the offensive group stays healthy, it has plenty of talent at the skill positions to compete. That’s the good news.
The bad news is the offensive line is still flattening out some issues. Anchor free-agent tackle acquisition Nate Solder had his hands full with Yannick Ngakoue and it showed on some key plays that ended with quarterback Eli Manning making rushed decisions under pressure. And Ereck Flowers appears to be a significant liability, no matter where he is placed.
The really encouraging thing on tape: Wideout Odell Beckham looked like the special player we expected. Not only did he have a good outing, but he was open a handful of times that Manning simply missed him – preventing what could have been a monster game. Manning missed Beckham on passes that would have produced short and long touchdowns, potentially meaning the difference between a win and a loss.
Manning is still worrisome, but his pick-six on a somewhat fluky deflection was more a product of Flowers’ blocking flaws than Manning making a bad decision. Truth be told, Manning wasn’t that far off on some difference-making throws. I’ll give him a mulligan against a great Jacksonville defense, with the assumption that the Giants are closer than people think to getting into an offensive rhythm.
Three good things stood out when I re-watched the Raiders’ loss to the Rams. First, if Gruden can keep quarterback Derek Carr’s decision-making pace on par with the first half of Monday’s game – when he was processing quickly and getting the ball out before defensive penetration – that’s going to be good for Carr in the long run. Second, a big beneficiary of that kind of quick throw mentality is going to be tight end Jared Cook, who should constantly pop up in Carr’s early progressions. Finally, the running game looks capable if the offensive line can hold it together. So there is some good to be had.
That said, there is a lot of downside, too.
The defense is going to operate all season long through the “Khalil Mack Distortion Field.” No matter what it does well, it could have been exponentially better with Mack in the fold. And if you don’t believe that, watch the comfort level of Rams QB Jared Goff in the second half of this loss. That’s where Mack’s absence hurts most – in the pressurized stretch of games.
But the bigger thuds are Carr’s turnovers, which were a combination of bad decisions and the reality that once a defense takes Amari Cooper out of the passing game, Carr is left to press with options that aren’t on the same level of playmaking. Being blunt: Jordy Nelson is a No. 3 wideout. He’s not going to pull any coverage away from Cooper. In fact, in this offense, Cook might be more concerning for defenses than Nelson.
It’s on Gruden to scheme more opportunities for Cooper while keeping Carr from pressing bad throws. If that doesn’t click soon, it’s going to be a long season.
This opening loss to the Miami Dolphins is harder to gauge in a way that puts the onus on Vrabel.
A long stoppage in play and some less-than-stellar officiating skews the measure, not to mention a litany of injuries that Vrabel can’t control. So I’m not going to go all the way in on the Titans after the loss. But two things stuck out.
First, Marcus Mariota is running out of excuses. Yes, he was injured on a late hit and that’s hard to control. But it can be argued that his entire banged-up history in his short NFL life has been out of his control. It doesn’t erase the fact that his physical stature was a worry to some teams in the NFL draft and he has done nothing to dissuade arguments that he can’t hold up to the rigors of a physical game. If he’s going to be hurt and his play is going to struggle because of that, then he’s never going to fulfill his talent because the growth curve will be stunted.
The other thing that stood out for the Titans: When Mariota does something right, the talent around him can’t fail to capitalize. Taywan Taylor dropped a touchdown that could have changed a lot for Mariota and the Titans. That’s an issue. But this stacks up in the bad category for one reason. If you asked what is the one thing that can’t happen in Week 1, the answer would have been “no injuries for Mariota.”
Well, here we are. Again.
There’s a lot to be concerned about here. The defense missed tackles, got pushed around by an aging running back and couldn’t handle the Redskins’ offensive line while trying to hold the edge. It couldn’t get off the field on third down, either.
Offensively, Arizona’s line isn’t going to hold up this season. You can already see it. As for Sam Bradford, maybe the only plus is that he’s still upright to take the punishment so that Wilks doesn’t have to throw Josh Rosen to the slaughter. If Rosen is the future (and the Cardinals believe he is), there is a significant amount of building on that side of the ball that needs to take place. We’re talking draft picks and free agency.
This looks every bit like a rebuild and a team that is very much staring at a top-five pick in next season’s draft.
Patricia suffered the worst loss of the opening week. There’s no getting around it. This was embarrassing to the point of being fearful over whether this is going to get catastrophic. A team can’t get its guts kicked out, at home, by a rebuilding New York Jets team – let alone one that is being led by a rookie quarterback. Along with the Cardinals’ loss to Washington, this was the only other first-year coach whose game looked worse on replay.
Outside of Detroit taking the lead 20 seconds into the game on the pick-six, there wasn’t anything close about it. It’s the worst performance I’ve ever seen from quarterback Matthew Stafford in a game which he wasn’t sacked. The rushing defense was poor, while the rushing offense was basically nonexistent … even in a first half that was still close.
As much as I hate to invoke Marty Mornhinweg in the Patricia conversation, I’ll say this: I covered Mornhinweg’s two years in Detroit and it was apparent quickly that the team wasn’t entirely sold on him as a head coach. That became a significant issue after a blowout loss to the Packers in the 2001 opener and 12 straight losses to start the season. That team had far, far less talent than this one. So I can’t see Patricia falling into that kind of hole. But Detroit’s next four games prior to the bye week are on the road against the San Francisco 49ers, at home against the New England Patriots, on the road against the Dallas Cowboys and then at home against the Packers. That doesn’t look good. And really, if the Week 1 performance is an indicator of what this Lions team is going to be, Detroit may be favored in only one game this entire season – Week 16 against the Buffalo Bills. Yikes.
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