In any given year, only 30% of the head coaches in the NFL will be people I’d consider hiring. They range from Bill Belicheat and Mike Tomlin (clearly proven they know what they’re doing) to Marvin Lewis and Andy Reid (visible limits on their ability, but teams could do worse).
The largest slice (about 50%) are people I’m not sure about. Dan Quinn took over an Atlanta team I thought was being mismanaged. The front office also brought in a ton of talent at the same point it changed coaches. He’s gone 21-13, and could have won a title. Maybe he’s a great coach. But Atlanta folded under pressure… and I don’t know how much of the improvement is him.
I’m not impressed with Ben McAdoo; Adam Gase seems very overrated. I know their records look impressive… but Todd Bowles went 10-6 his first year and now looks hopeless.
John Fox has been a very solid coach for a long time. But he’s now 9-25 in Chicago. Has he lost it– he’s in his 60’s and seems to have lost something. But his GM hasn’t made his life easy.
About 20% are coaches I know I wouldn’t hire. Mike Mullarkey has struggled with three teams; Bill O’Brien understands nothing about handling quarterbacks.
Then there are people like Chuck Pagano, the Colts coach. I have no idea how he got hired, much less how he keeps his job:
1. Nothing in his resume suggests that he can coach. He spent 20 seasons coaching defensive backs (including four years with the Browns under Butch Davis) and only three seasons as a coordinator (UNLV in 1991, North Carolina in 2007 and the Ravens in 2011).
2. He had immense luck. Indianapolis went 10-6 in 2010– then lost Peyton Manning for the entire 2011 season. They went 2-14, got the #1 pick, hired Pagano… and the #1 pick in the 2012 draft turned out to be Andrew Luck, a gifted quarterback almost identical in style to Manning.
A year earlier, the #1 pick was Cam Newton. He’s a find player, but he had growing pains– and wouldn’t have fit the system at all. A year later, the draft was historically weak, and the best quarterback was E.J. Manuel.
3. 20% of his wins belong to someone else. He’s credited at 49-33, but he missed 12 games in his first season due to cancer, and Bruce Arians went 9-3 as an interim coach.
4. His win total is inflated by his schedule. The AFC South is, by any standard, the NFL’s weakest division by far. The Colts have gone 22-8 against their division rivals:
- 10-0 against Tennessee, scoring 289 points and allowing 204.
- 6-4 against Jacksonville, scoring 250 and allowing 178.
- 6-4 against Houston, winning by a combined 224-194 margin
The Colts are 4-7 against the AFC East, 4-4 against the AFC North (with two wins coming against the Browns), 6-5 against the West and 12-8 against the NFC.
5. I don’t see any area of strength. With a good coach, you see areas of strength. With Pagano, it’s been fairly random. The defense– supposedly his area of expertise– has been bad.
Remember, in five seasons, the only good quarterback any divisional opponent has offered is Marcus Mariota.
A list of the Pro Bowl players by year is also enlightening. Other than Luck and receiver T.Y. Hilton, they’ve all been players he inherited, free agents signed or kicking teams players:
- Three Selections: QB Andrew Luck (2012-14); WR T.Y. Hilton (2014-16)
- Two Selections: DE-LB Robert Mathis (2012-13); SS Mike Adams (2014-15), CB Vonta Davis (2014-15), P Pat McAfee (2014, 2016)
- One Selection: WR Reggie Wayne (2012), LS (long snapper) Matt Overton (2013), LB D’Qwell Jackson (2014), K Adam Viniateri (2014)
Yes, that’s Mike Adams the former Brown. Pagano hasn’t developed anyone to take up the slack for Mathis and Dwight Freeney. Every so often, a player has a career year (last year, 31-year-old Erik Walden had 11 sacks), but basically the defense has been very ordinary. It hopes Luck has a big game, and that it can hang on.
In five years, Pagano hasn’t found any offensive linemen to protect Luck. That’s why he has taken 156 sacks, missed 10 games in 2015-16 and been out for the first two games on 2017. There’s no young running back to diversify the attack (they’re using 34-year-old ex-49er Frank Gore) and no weapon other than Hilton (last year it was Gore, TEs Jack Doyle and Dwayne Allen).
If you like Pagano, you can say the problem is GM Ryan Grigson. I wouldn’t argue– he did trade a #1 pick for Trent Richardson in 2013. Owner Jim Irsay apparently thought Grigson was the weakest link– Irsay fired him and brought in Chris Ballard from the Chiefs.
Ballard, like Grigson, is a first-time GM. He signed DE-LB Jabaal Sheard to bolster the defense, and drafted defenders in each of the first four rounds. They’re starting. Whether they’re doing well is debatable.
The offense got dicey enough that Ballard traded WR Philip Dorsett (a former #1 pick in 2015, with 51 catches in 98 throws) to New England for QB Jacoby Brissett on September 2. After saying he wouldn’t rush Brissett, Pagano started Brissett against Arizona last week.
That’s a crisis that could have been avoided had Pagano simply done what he said he would. It illustrates why I dislike him.
The reaction to Sunday’s 24-10 loss to Baltimore– a game that many people had thought the Browns could win– was predictable.
- Now that WR Corey “Hands” Coleman is out for the year with a broken hand, coach Hue Jackson (who wanted to keep Terrelle Pryor) is screaming at Kenny Britt that he needs to do better. Terry Pluto blasted Britt as well, meaning that either the coach or front office has the knives out for him.
- RB Isaiah Crowell, (26 carries for 70 yards– 2.6 per touch) has told the media that he needs more carries and his #1 concern about the season is getting an extension. The way this front office reacts to criticism, that’s a good way to prevent one.
- The Marx Brothers simultaneously claim that (a) they knew all about QB DeShone Kizer‘s migraines and (b) it never caused him to miss a practice or a game at Notre Dame. If he never missed time, how did they know? Players rarely volunteer than sort of issue.
- LB Jamie Collins (who got barbecued by 37-year-old Ben Watson) has a concussion. I don’t think he’s faking, but it just adds to the chaos.
This, of course, is the problem with dumping all the veterans and bringing in people from all over the league. Nobody knows anyone, so nobody looks up to anyone– which means nobody can rally the troops. The other day I read a story that said “Browns secondary surprised that Jason McCourty can play pretty well.”
He actually isn’t that good– he just hasn’t been targeted when there are so many other options, But of course the players think that– how would they know?
It’s difficult to tell how bad the Colts really are, after two games.My guess is that:
They’re not nearly as bad as they looked against the Rams in game one. Los Angeles won 46-9 because they (a) added receiver Sammy Watkins (who can play), (b) subtracted Jeff Fisher and his incompetent coordinator Rob Boras and (c) added QB coach Matt LeFleur (who worked for the Shanahans) as their coordinator. They scored 20 points against Washington and 41 against San Francisco, so the beating looks more respectable.
The Colts also started Scott Tolzein at quarterback in that game. Tolzein is 30, is with his fourth organization and had thrown only 128 passes before this season. His career rating was 66.7; he had 2 TDs and 7 INTs and had taken 7 sacks.
He was sacked four times, threw two picks , fumbled once (recovered) and a ball that Hilton caught but fumbled. He ensured they wouldn’t score, putting unneeded extra pressure on the defense.
The Cardinals game was misleading. Arizona’s offense has gone into the toilet– at 38, Carson Palmer has looked washed up for more than a year. The Cards also lost their franchise RB David Johnson in game one, putting former #7 pick Kerwynn Williams into that role.
On the other hand, Arizona still has a world-class defense. Even last year, when it was on the field most of the game, it was only 14th in points.
Which means that losing 16-13 in overtime isn’t the worst offensive showing ever… but the defense ought to hang its head.
Brissett played nine snaps in relief against the Rams and looked decent. Arizona gave him fits– four sacks, a fumble and a pick. They held Gore to 46 yards on 14 carries– and rookie Marlon Moore (a #4 pick) to -3 yards on six carries.
But, of course, the Browns do not play defense nearly as well as the Cardinals.
Another factor clouding the issue: Indianapolis has many starters injured. Most won’t play– if they do, the probably won’t play well.
Can they beat the Browns? The opportunities will be there.
Cleveland has done a hideous job against backs and tight ends– now Collins is out. Davis, Gore and Mack should be open all day. Brissett isn’t a high-percentage passer– but if he calms down, he’ll be able to complete balls.
The Browns haven’t played good run defense. Gore doesn’t seem to have much left (his contract expires at year’s end, and he’s been telling writers he’s probably done). That said, he still knows how to follow blockers– and Mack does have a burst.
Kizer is starting and there is no reason to think he’ll be any better about avoiding the sack. Sheard, as you might remember, has a nice strip sack move. That could produce a fumble or two.
The Colts haven’t played good pass defense, but they spent a #1 on S Malik Hooker and a #2 on CB Quincy Wilson. Most young players get better over time. Plus, the Browns have a bunch of receivers (other than TE Seth Devalve) who can run fast but struggle to catch the ball.
The game could boil down to “Who makes the last mistake?” or “Who makes the most egregious error?” That could be the Browns– or it might be the Colts.
This would be a good spot for Jabril Peppers– and one of the backs– to show up.
If I liked Pagano better, I’d expect him to be able to rally the troops. It’s a home game against a bad team, Luck will be back soon. But his team often underperforms.
On the other hand, Hue Jackson hasn’t been able to get anyone playing for him either, and they’ve been rotating receivers in and out, seemingly at random. The Browns aren’t on the same page at all.
The Colts are playing at home; they have better kicking teams. This might make the difference