This offseason, Shutdown Corner's Frank Schwab and Eric Edholm will look into what is overrated and underrated in all aspects of the NFL. We fully expect your angry emails and comments that are sure to follow.
OVERRATED AND UNDERRATED: NFL coach
Eric Edholm: Mike Tomlin, Steelers
You can’t argue too much with a coach going to two Super Bowls and winning one in a four-year stretch to kick off his career, especially one who started the job at age 35. Tomlin has won 63 percent of his regular-season games since taking over the Steelers’ head job in 2007, has never been below .500 and has a 5-3 postseason mark.
But what exactly does he do?
The mark of a head coach is that he touches every unit on the field, in theory, and yet most don’t have control over the players they have. Tomlin has a general manager in Kevin Colbert, whose suspect drafting in recent years might actually give Tomlin credit for the job he has done.
But he walked into a brilliant situation seven years ago, with a quarterback (who already has won a Super Bowl) entering his prime years and some of the best defensive talent in the game, coached by the master, Dick LeBeau. Tomlin wasn’t calling the offensive plays — Bruce Arians was — and was letting LeBeau call the defense.
You can’t blame Tomlin for having a good situation to fall into, but you also can’t give him too much of a pass for the past three seasons. Yes, they’re four games over .500 over that time, but they lost a playoff game to Tim Tebow and have been 8-8 over the past two seasons.
Getting rid of Arians as offensive coordinator was a mistake, but was that Tomlin’s call or from someone above him? See, maybe that’s why Tomlin is overrated for me: I just can’t for the life of me point to what he actually does or has power over.
And there are times where Tomlin has said he wants to change — such as blitzing less defensively, running the ball more offensively — but it doesn’t happen consistently enough. The team also has been very streaky at times, prone to hot spells but also cold snaps (winning and losing streaks of five games apiece the past five seasons), under his watch.
I believe Tomlin is a good head coach and that the blame for the Steelers’ leveling off likely should be pointed elsewhere first. But I also cannot say definitively that he’s a top six or seven NFL head coach, as many have asserted for years now.
Frank Schwab: Jeff Fisher, Rams
For a coach who ranks second among active NFL coaches in longevity (sandwiched between the five Super Bowl titles of Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin), there have been a lot of mediocre seasons for Fisher. In fact, you can argue that Fisher has the worst results among any coach with his level of longevity.
Fisher has coached 18 full seasons in Tennessee or St. Louis, and has just six seasons better than .500. Not many coaches survive having one winning season of every three, much less do it for almost two decades. What helps Fisher is that his lows haven’t been that low. He has just three 10-loss seasons, and one of them was his last with the Titans. He has basically just been mediocre.
Fisher hasn’t won a playoff game since the 2003 season, when Andrew Luck was still in middle school. He has three division championships in 18 seasons. In NFL history, only 14 coaches have had more service time than Fisher’s 18-plus years (he was an interim coach for part of one season in Houston). Of those 14, only Weeb Ewbank had a lower career winning percentage than Fisher, and Ewbank won three NFL championships. Only two had fewer than Fisher’s six playoff appearances: Ewbank and Curly Lambeau, who had six championships and mostly coached in a pre-playoffs era. Only three of those 14 coaches with more longevity than Fisher have fewer than two NFL championships. Dan Reeves, Chuck Knox and Marty Schottenheimer all match Fisher with zero NFL championships, but all three of those coaches won at least six division titles.
It’s a results business, and the results are not too impressive considering how long Fisher has been employed.
The Rams are building a very impressive roster, and seem to be on the verge of taking the step towards being a contender soon. Fisher has the opportunity to win big, something he hasn’t done in a pretty long time.
EE: Mike Smith, Falcons
The Falcons’ disaster of a 2013 season had little to do with Smith’s coaching style. He often is a target, though, and it’s so easy to forget just how far he has raised the bar — the Atlanta Falcons had as many winning season (four) in the previous 16 years before his arrival as they did in his first five.
When injuries crushed a thin, top-heavy roster that was put together by management, the Falcons fell to 4-12 last season, with seven of those losses (and the first four) decided by one score. There was also a potentially shocking Week 16 upset at San Francisco snatched in the final 90 seconds on an 89-yard pick-six with the Falcons down three points.
Up until last season, the knocks on Smith had been with his playoff mark (1-4), his crummy challenge record (16-for-39 in his first five seasons) and his sometimes faulty penchant for being aggressive on fourth downs.
I’ve always felt the head-coach challenge knock can be a bit of a misfire. Who is helping them determine whether or not to challenge? And though Smith’s postseason mark is not above reproach, it’s worth pointing out that the man still has won 62.5 percent of his regular-season games, even with a 4-12 mark to his name.
He’s way more of a forward-thinking coach than he’s given credit for, and the Falcons’ fourth-down attempts are not out of whack compared to the NFL median. Smith just has been hung out to dry for the team coming up short on a few important ones.
Smith’s team kept fighting last season, and it will bounce back this season. He might not be the most imaginative coach in the NFL, but his teams won consistently because they don’t beat themselves. The Falcons routinely are among the league leaders in fewest penalties (especially pre-snap ones and personal fouls) and fewest turnovers.
Despite the lack of a consistent or dominant defense since his arrival, which has as much to do with the players he has been given (three defensive Pro Bowlers in his six seasons), Smith finds a way to win without getting enough credit.
FS: Lovie Smith, Buccaneers
The NFL is all about the bottom line, and Smith has produced very good results. He had 81 wins in nine Bears seasons. After his 5-11 debut, he didn’t lose double-digit games in a season again. He won three division titles (the same amount as Fisher in half the seasons). I hear a lot of jokes about Rex Grossman as a quarterback, and that should mean praise for the coach that took a team with Grossman at quarterback to the Super Bowl. Smith also won NFL coach of the year in 2005.
Smith was fired after a 10-6 season in Chicago, then couldn’t land another job in 2013. No, he wasn’t the most fiery and energetic coach on the sideline, and he is chided as being too conservative, but his reputation doesn’t match his results. He has a higher career winning percentage than John Fox, Pete Carroll and Tom Coughlin, to name three active coaches.
Smith got his second shot, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired him this offseason. He falls into a good situation with a team that has far more talent than its 4-12 record last year would indicate. He made some curious offseason moves, most notably needing to get a veteran quarterback and signing career journeyman Josh McCown to fulfill that need, but he has a great chance to add to a track record that is a lot better than people give him credit for.
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