4-Down Territory: Best/worst coaches, Ohio teams without QBs, Worst of the Week

With 11 weeks of actual football in the books for the 2023 NFL season, it’s time for Doug Farrar of Touchdown Wire, and Kyle Madson of Niners Wire, to come to the table with their own unique brand of analysis in “4-Down Territory.”

This week, the guys have some serious questions to answer:

  1. Will there be another head coach fired in-season this year?

  2. Who’s the Coach of the Year so far?

  3. Can the Browns or Bengals make it to the postseason without their franchise quarterbacks?

  4. And, what was our Worst of the Week?

You can watch this week’s “4-Down Territory” right here:

You can listen and subscribe to the “4-Down Territory” podcast on Spotify…

…and on Apple Podcasts.

1. Will there be another head coach fired in the 2023 NFL season?

(Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)
(Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)

We’ve already seen one head coach fired in-season with Josh McDaniel of the Las Vegas Raiders. Is it possible that we’ll see a second? 

Doug: Ron Rivera should be leasing, not owning, at this point. The Commanders have a new ownership group, they’re desperate to paste over the stink of the Dan Snyder area, and they also want a new stadium. You know what sets all that up? Success, and after the Commanders lost 31-19 on Sunday to the New York Giants’ broken offense and Tommy DeVito at quarterback… well, I don’t know what else to say. Jack Del Rio’s defense has been a fountain of blown coverages for years, and it was never worse than in this game. When you sack an opposing quarterback nine times, as the Commanders did to DeVito, and you still allow that guy to complete 18 of 26 passes for 246 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 137.7, you are in the wrong business, buddy. 

Sam Howell threw three awful interceptions, and the Commanders lost three fumbles, so I guess you can call THAT a balanced offense. After the game, Rivera put out the same old like about looking at things to see what they can change. I like Rivera as a person and as a coach, but it’s not working, and if nothing else, this franchise needs a head coach who inspires confidence to move their plans forward. This team is now 4-7 after a 2-0 start, and Rivera has amassed a 26-34-1 record in nearly four seasons. Change is coming, and it may happen in-season. And when Eric Bieniemy is your offensive coordinator already – well, that’s an interim head coach hire that would certainly make waves in the battle of public perception. 

Oh, by the way – the Commanders get to play against Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving, and Dak’s going to find Del Rio’s coverages more appetizing than anything he tucks into when it’s dinner time. 

Kyle: It’s honestly a little bit surprising that Brandon Staley is still around in Los Angeles. Not that this year in a vacuum would be enough to justify sending him out the door, but we’re on Year 3 of this version of the Chargers underachieving. Perhaps most notably, their defense has struggled with defensive mastermind Staley running the show.

His press conference Sunday underscored why it’s time for LA to move on though. The fire wasn’t necessarily bad, but the clear reversion to anger as a means of disguising the fact he doesn’t have any good answers looked like a move from a guy who knows he’s on thin ice and it’s only getting warmer. This was supposed to be a Chargers club that contends with the Chiefs. Right now they’re not even contending with the Raiders. Staley’s gotta go. There’s too much talent being wasted here. 

2. Who's your Coach of the Year?

(Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)
(Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

Conversely, who’s your Coach of the Year so far? 

Doug: Kevin O’Connell of the Minnesota Vikings. Not only has O’Connell transcended Kirk Cousins’ season-ending injury and Justin Jefferson being out for multiple weeks, he also traded for a quarterback in Josh Dobbs who is running his entire offense with just a few weeks in the building. It’s difficult to explain how hard that is for a coach and quarterback to line that up, except to say that you rarely see it. O’Connell is also a top-five offensive play-caller in the NFL, though he might want to ditch the direct snap to T.J. Hockenson and handoff to Dobbs that led to one of Minnesota’s two fumbles against the Broncos on Sunday night. More on that in a minute. 

O’Connell is aggressive when he needs to be, you can tell that his players have bought in completely, and he’s let defensive coordinator Brian Flores do all his crazy blitz and coverage stuff without let or hindrance. It’s a tough balance as a coach to have an eye on everything, and at the same time, know when to put things in the hands of your most talented people. The Vikings are 6-5 in circumstances that would have a lot of teams looking forward to the draft, and they should be 7-4 right now. Again, more on that in a minute. 

Kyle: I’ve gotta go with my guy DeMeco Ryans. What an unbelievable job by him with a rookie quarterback, rookie offensive coordinator, and a roster that’s still probably a few players away from being a real contender. Alas, Ryans has Houston at 6-4 through 10 games and sitting firmly in the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff picture. With a relatively soft schedule down the stretch, Houston should easily hit the over on its preseason win total of 6.5, and they have a real shot to win the AFC South and host a playoff game in January. That’s incredibly impressive given what this roster looks like top to bottom, and that starts with the guy up top. 

3. Which Ohio team has the best chance for the postseason without their star quarterback?

(Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)
(Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)

The NFL’s Ohio teams have had hard times at quarterback recently, with both Joe Burrow of the Bengals and Deshaun Watson of the Browns now out for the rest of the season. With Jake Browning and Dorian Thompson-Robinson as the fill-in quarterbacks for the rest of the way, do either of these teams have a realistic chance at the playoffs? 

Doug: The Browns… maybe. But Joe Flacco ain’t it, boss. The Browns signed Flacco to back up Dorian Thompson-Robinson and P.J. Walker. Remember that the Jets deemed Flacco expendable. That said, I think Kevin Stefanski has a generally good system to get young quarterbacks to at least a passable point – a lot of multiple tight end stuff, and going from checkdown to touchdown. It’d be nicer if they had Nick Chubb, but things are what they are. 

Most importantly, the Browns have the kind of defense that will keep you in any game, and while I don’t think you can advance too far in the postseason with the “great defense/below-average quarterback” model, this defense is good enough to keep the Browns on track for perhaps a wild-card berth. 

The Bengals? We’ve seen over the last few seasons how much they put in Joe Burrow’s hands, and how everything kinda falls apart when he’s unable to be who he is. Burrow’s wrist injury is just brutal, because as an aficionado of quarterback play, I just love watching him. But yeah… there’s not enough there to make the Bengals a functional concern for the rest of the season.

Kyle: The Browns do for sure because we’ve seen just how low the bar is for QB play. I’m not necessarily picking them to make it since Pittsburgh and Indianapolis aren’t exactly inspiring choices to sneak up and eclipse Cleveland in the standings. If they get even D-plus quarterbacking from whoever is under center (and it shouldn’t be our guy Dorian Thompson-Robinson, which is devastating for the DTR Hive) the Browns should punch their postseason ticket. I’m not picking them to win a game though.

As for the Bengals, they feel cooked. Browning will need to be maybe 75 percent of Joe Burrow and it’s hard to imagine he gets there in his first stint as the team’s starting signal caller. Unless defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has some tricks up his sleeve that put the Bengals defense in the top one or two in the NFL, there doesn’t appear to be a postseason path for Cincinnati. 

4. What was your Worst of the Week?

(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

What’s your Worst of the Week for Week 11? 

Doug: Ron Torbert’s two blown calls on the Vikings’ two fumbles in that Sunday night game against the Broncos. Cost Minnesota the game. If there’s one guy in the NFL whose tendency to launch himself at opposing  players should be easily caught by referees, it’s Broncos safety Kareem Jackson. This season, Jackson had been ejected from two different games, fined four different times, and suspended for two games due to his unnecessary roughness penalties.

Jackson was back for this game, and on the Vikings’ third play from scrimmage, T.J. Hockenson took that direct snap and handed the ball to quarterback Josh Dobbs in what became a Dobbs fumble. How did that happen? Well, Jackson launched himself, leading with his helmet. No call from Torbert’s crew, though of course the NFL is now saying they’re “investigating” the play. The Broncos got a field goal on their subsequent drive. 

Then, with 2:52 left in the third quarter, Vikings running back Alexander Mattison fumbled on a run, and the Broncos recovered the ball again. However, the snap didn’t occur until a full second after the game clock hit zero. That should have been a five-yard penalty with the play blown dead, but no deal. The Broncos got another field goal on that ill-gotten fumble.

As the game ended with a 21-20 score in favor of the Broncos, and the Broncos got two field goals on turnovers that shouldn’t have been turnovers, it’s fair to say that Torbert and his crew were directly responsible – at least in part – for the result. I can’t wait for Kareem Jackson to get a four-game suspension out of this (which is exactly what happened after the fact), and for Tobert to get a playoff assignment regardless. There is no accountability for NFL officials, and that’s just the way it is. 

Kyle: The quarterback play in New York. I’ve been trying really hard to buoy the Jets as a playoff team that just needed okay QB play to make a run. They’re not getting okay QB play. It’s not getting any better and Sunday’s game in Buffalo highlighted just how bad things are. Zach Wilson was 7-of-15 for 81 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He was relieved by UCONN legend Tim Boyle who completed half of his 14 throws for 33 yards and one interception. Punter Thomas Morstead had one completion for 18 yards – which tied the Jets’ longest completion of the game. It’s over in New York, and I agree with ESPN’s Dan Graziano who wondered whether Aaron Rodgers should even be trying to return this season. The Jets need to bask in the bed of abominable QB play they’ve made for themselves and try again next season.

Doug  When the news came across that the Jets had benched Wilson in favor of Tim Boyle, I did what I do – I went to the tape. I hadn’t watched a lot of the Jets’ passing game recently, because there are only so many hours in the day, and I’m not a masochist. It didn’t take long to see the wisdom in the decision. On Wilson’s first throw against the Bills, he had a clean pocket, with receiver Garrett Wilson and tight end Jeremy Ruckert coming open downfield on a switch release. Wilson didn’t see either guy. He fixated on running back Breece Hall underneath, and misfired a short pass. Bleh. I didn’t need to watch much more than that, thank God.

Story originally appeared on Touchdown Wire