Here are some thoughts on from Super Wild Card Weekend followed by a look at the head coaching landscape throughout the NFL.
- Blame analytics and Frank Reich’s coaching all you want, but this game ultimately came down to Buffalo’s explosive offense.
- Sure, kicking on fourth-and-goal on the four yard line instead of going for it with 1:52 left in the first half might have provided the Colts with the three points needed to get Saturday’s game to overtime, but Indianapolis also missed a field goal on their first drive of the second half – which represents those same three points – and squandered a gift from the officials on the last drive of the game.
- The Colts two plays immediately after the (unnecessary) review were the dagger. No rhyme or reason existed for either. Indianapolis only needed 16 yards for a reasonable kick and neither play was predicated on completing that objective.
- Zach Pascal’s fumble being upheld as “down by contact” had the potential to be one of the worst blown calls in playoff history if Indy capitalized on it. The refs throughout the game reviewed plays that didn’t needed to be looked at. If the plays did, then the review went on way too long. The end of the game only epitomized the issues that plagued it throughout.
- Indy had chances to win even outside of its own mistakes. The Colts got down two possessions and simply couldn’t close that gap up. They let Allen run all over them. Jonathan Taylor had just two good runs. Phillip Rivers only averaged 6.7 yards per attempt, thanks to a second half which saw downfield passing opportunities close up for the 39-year-old.
- Blame the call on fourth down all you want, but Buffalo was just better. Overtime gives no promises. Reich’s decision represented a higher ceiling for Indy in the game. If they convert, the Colts are up two possessions instead of down two. That arguably puts the game away, and is a much better guarantee than overtime.
- This was what we feared with Seattle.
- The Seahawks looked nearly unstoppable early in the year and suffered a perhaps greater than expected regression after its start, leaving their viability in the playoffs to be one big ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
- There was no way to the trust the offense coming in. Its turnovers – mostly thanks to the sudden carelessness from Russell Wilson – and the Rams formidable defense made betting on Seattle a risky proposition.
- Our fears were right. The Rams stifled everything the Seahawks did. Wilson was downright horrible, going 11/27 for 174 yards. He was sacked five times without Aaron Donald on the field for over a quarter. He fell victim to a pick-six, which was more of a great play by Darious Williams than a bad throw, but it ultimately put Seattle down two possessions early after their slow start. For an offense that’s been as jammed as the Seahawks’ has, a turnover like that was a death sentence.
- It was so important that Seattle couldn’t even fight its way back against an offense partially led by a QB making his second-ever career start and Jared Goff with a broken thumb. Goff did enough – when he threw he wasn’t holding back. Cam Akers made up for the Rams’ troubles at QB, gashing Seattle consistently on the ground and eating clock while doing so. But it was the Rams defense that put Seattle in a cage, locked them up and ran away with the game.
- Seattle needs another playmaker on offense. That – in addition to getting younger up front offensively and keeping its defense healthy – will allow the Seahawks to make their early season form a consistency.
- Concerns similar to those held about the Seahawks followed Tampa Bay into this game. Both teams teetered on them, with Seattle falling and the Bucs escaping.
- The inconsistency was on full display. Tampa Bay couldn’t pull away from Washington the way we expected them to. The Buccaneers defense let Taylor Heinicke hang around, who wasn’t amazing but beat expectations in his second career start, thanks to incredible poise he displayed while in the pocket. Tom Brady finished just above the 50 percent mark completing passes. Tampa couldn’t contain Cam Sims. It wasn’t exactly a performance that should make us ooze with confidence in them.
- Heinicke is too old for Washington to consider him to be a part of their future, but he should serve as a nicely-paid backup QB for somebody next year.
- A ton of credit should be given to Washington for this game and everything they accomplished this season with Alex Smith coming back and playing quite well.
- Tampa, meanwhile, has a date coming up with New Orleans where they will likely be the underdog, and deservedly so.
- In what was really two different games, Baltimore proved (for now) that their run to close the regular season was much more about them getting right than a fluke.
- After Tennessee took a 10-0 lead, the Ravens and Lamar Jackson turned into the team and player we saw last season. Jackson’s legs were an unstoppable force. The Ravens defense turned Ryan Tannehill into his Miami self. It also stuffed Derrick Henry in his tracks.
- When you take away Henry from the Titans, it forces their offense into flux. Tannehill’s improvement over the past two seasons has been incredible, but there’s still aspects of his game that haven’t and won’t change. Take away play-action from him – as Baltimore did Sunday – and Tannehill’s still among the average tier of QBs in the league.
- It’s a massive credit to Baltimore overall. Stopping Henry is no easy task, but the offense’s ability to turn on the jets and execute exactly when needed made the defensive effort mean that much more.
- Tennessee had a chance to take the lead late. They got into Baltimore territory with about 10 minutes left and hit a 4th and 2 “wall” at the 40 yard line, and punted instead of going for it.
- Ultimately, it was a time wasting move. The Ravens only scored a field goal on the ensuing drive to make it 20-13, but Tennessee was then left with just one possession to make up the deficit, which ended in an interception that was partially Tannehill’s fault and partially the field’s fault as his intended receiver slipped. There’s a good chance that without Kalif Raymond falling down, the pass would’ve been picked since it was a bit high.
- Mike Vrabel’s call to punt wasn’t a vote of confidence in his defense – it was one in his offense. And based on how that group had played in the second half, it couldn’t have been more wrong and misguided.
- This is what Mitch Trubisky in a playoff game looks like.
- It started off okay. Trubisky showed a bit of a willingness to push the ball downfield, but only truly connected on one of them thanks to a penalty and Javon Wims’ horrible drop in the end zone – which if caught would have tied the game at seven late in the first quarter
- After that drop, everything seemed to fall apart for the Bears. Trubisky took the crown as the checkdown, short throw king. David Montgomery was way too involved for how ineffective he was. The offense simply couldn’t move the ball, and killer penalties on both sides of the field (including a million false starts) didn’t help.
- New Orleans’ offense wasn’t that much better in terms of aggressiveness. The Saints just possessed the play-makers Chicago didn’t. Their running game showed up, with Alvin Kamara running for 99 yards and a touchdown. Short passes got action after the catch from Deonte Harris and Michael Thomas, who picked apart the Bears zone defense like it was nothing.
- New Orleans could move the ball despite their QBs limitations. Chicago couldn’t.
- You know those games where it’s so evidently clear from the very beginning that it’s going to go a certain way? That was how this one went.
- The high snap by Maurkice Pouncey on the very first play from scrimmage that rolled into the end zone and gave the Browns a 7-0 lead right off the bat was the catalyst for the feeling described above. Pittsburgh – which has an offense not designed to come from behind thanks to its washed up, dink-and-dunking QB – was in a hole from the very start. And before they could climb out of it, it only got deeper.
- The Steelers’ next drives were additional disasters. Roethlisberger threw a bad interception once they got the ball back, which Cleveland capitalized on immediately thanks to Nick Chubb. A three-and-out followed, which the Browns converted into a 21-0 lead. Then another pick followed – this time not Roethlisberger’s fault – which put the nail in the coffin before the casket was even picked as the Browns turned it into a 28-0 before the first quarter ended.
- Pittsburgh didn’t go out uninspired. It had the Browns on edge for a little bit in the second half, but four possessions ultimately became too insurmountable. An unwise decision to punt on 4th and 1 with a quarter left while down just 12 thwarted the comeback.
- While it wasn’t all their own doing, the Browns looked scary Sunday night. Pittsburgh’s defense is good, and Cleveland gashed it with the duo of Chubb and Kareem Hunt. They may not be able to put up as many points as Kansas City, but they could come quite close next weekend.
- As for Pittsburgh, Sunday isn’t who it truly was, but 11-0 wasn’t either. The Steelers were destined to run out of steam at some point – an offense that has that much trouble moving the ball can only be supported so heavily by the other side, no matter how much talent may exist. Decisions from players and the front office await in Pittsburgh this offseason, and 2021-22 could bring about a much different team than we’ve been used to.
On the head coaching mill…
Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is the hottest name on the market, and deservedly so. There are four teams that should be leaning toward hiring him, and if they can’t, they should be in the business of hiring an offensive-minded, potentially play-calling head coach instead.
Those four organizations are the Jets, Texans, Eagles and Chargers. Why them and not Jacksonville, Atlanta or Detroit? Well, New York either needs someone to A) Turn Sam Darnold into the quarterback the Jets traded up for in 2018 despite limited weapons or B) Develop a rookie QB taken at No. 2 overall in the upcoming draft despite limited weapons. The Chargers defense is among the best in the league from a talent standpoint and just needs to stay healthy, negating the need for a head coach who focuses on that side of the ball. Plus, if Justin Herbert had the season he did with bad coaching, then imagine what’s possible with good coaching.
The Eagles recent firing of Doug Pederson seems to be a culmination of a couple things. It’s not his 100 percent his fault that Carson Wentz likely isn’t who we thought he was. It’s also not his fault that Philadelphia has been ravaged by injuries since its Super Bowl winning season, and that no overhaul of the medical and training staff has taken place since then. It is on Pederson – however – that he wasn’t Frank Reich, who seemed to unlock Wentz before he tore his ACL. Philly needs someone who’s going to be able to do what Reich, for reasons we’ll address below.
Finally, there’s Houston, which seems to be a complete and utter fiasco organizationally right now. Nobody could use Bieniemy more, and the Texans have refused to even interview him – irking franchise QB Deshaun Watson to the degree that he might be on the trade block. With limited talent and draft capital, Houston has to make something out of nothing offensively outside of Watson. No better coach exists to do that than Bieniemy. If Houston uses its brain, Bieniemy should be the hire, no matter what the bill to ownership might be.
If that is what Houston does, here’s how the rest of the market should play out:
Brian Daboll: Jets
The Jets and Chargers don’t need to pony up the money for Biememy as much as Houston does, especially considering the consolidations that are available.
Daboll’s ability to elevate Josh Allen from a talented and incredibly frustrating QB to an MVP candidate makes him a prime candidate to turn Darnold around, if that’s what the Jets intend to do. If not, Daboll’s developmental skills would serve whichever QB the Jets take in the draft well.
Darrell Bevell: Chargers
Justin Herbert put up an Offensive Rookie of the Year performance under a staff that likely didn’t maximize him. While Titans’ offensive coordinator Arthur Smith would be the perfect fit here, the new opening in Philadelphia should be where he ends up.
The Chargers get one of the best options left. Bevell has been a hot name since his Seattle days, and has never gotten a shot. Him working with Herbert would be a blast, and ignite the Chargers offense to a whole new level.
Robert Saleh: Falcons
Atlanta needs a culture change and a reset on the defensive end. The Falcons roster, like the Chargers’, is consistently banged up and just needs health to be successful. Experience is aplenty on the offense, and Atlanta could use Saleh’s leadership and defensive prowess to get back to the playoffs.
Jaguars: Brandon Staley
Assuming Trevor Lawrence is who Jacksonville selects No. 1 overall in April’s draft, Staley makes the most sense. Lawrence doesn’t need an offensive mastermind to be his head coach – he’s good enough already. Jacksonville’s defense is still incredibly talented, and even if Lawrence struggles, Staley has spent this year at the helm of a defense that dragged an offense almost single-handily to round two of the playoffs.
Lions: Doug Pederson
Detroit seemed locked into promoting Bevell until Pederson became available. Now the best option, Pederson would be an excellent fit while attempting to lift the Lions offense. It seems as though Pederson needs at least some talent around him as a coach, and Detroit offers more of it than we may think – if they decide not to blow things up.
Eagles: Arthur Smith
The Eagles don’t need a quarterback developer. They need a fixer and elevator.
The bottom line is that it’s not possible or worth it for Wentz to not be on the roster next season. Cutting him would put the team in salary cap hell, while trading him would still incur a cap hit the size of his salary. Wentz likely told the Eagles it’s him or Pederson, and Pederson was much easier to cut bait with, causing his firing.
This means Wentz is an Eagle next season, and also means he’s the starting quarterback over Jalen Hurts. Philly has to get as much as they can out of Wentz and the offense. Smith would be the perfect fit – the turnaround Tannehill experienced in Tennessee under him is exactly what needs to happen with Wentz in order for the Eagles to be successful.