I have to begin this week's column by passing along my best wishes to John Fox and Gary Kubiak, who each had medical episodes this weekend that caught them by surprise. In both cases, fortunately, it seems like the symptoms manifested themselves before they could become bigger problems, and it doesn't appear that there will be long-term effects to either coach's health. Kubiak's ailment, in particular, seemed so scary; to see a coach doing his job (very well, mind you) for a half on national television and return from a commercial break to see him surrounded by doctors on the ground was surreal and terrifying. In a way, it was a relief that Kubiak's episode occurred at Reliant Stadium on game day, when he could be immediately treated by doctors and whisked away by a waiting ambulance to a hospital minutes away from the stadium. You obviously hope that nobody ever has to deal with anything like this, but were this going to happen to Kubiak, it happened in the best possible location. It's great to hear that Kubiak and Fox are in stable condition.
This was a strange week of action in the NFL, and the decision-making by coaches on Sunday was no different. One of the head coaches in the running for worst team leader in league history pulled out all the stops and ended up on the positive side of the ledger. Meanwhile, a coach with a Super Bowl ring had such a high-variance day that he finished with one each of the three best and three worst calls of the week. And then, to finish the week off on Monday night, there was a call so boldly aggressive that it might even have been too strong for my tastes, and I'm basically a freak in terms of running or passing on fourth downs. Let's get into it.
The NFL should really be more specific in naming its awards. When I decided to look into who’s eligible to win Coach of the Year, my hope was that “Coach of the Year” meant just that — historically, it’s gone to head coaches, but theoretically, any coach could win. Well, no such luck. Only head coaches are in the running, and I say that if there’s a time to push for a change, it’s this year.
Right now, the likely Coach of the Year winner is Andy Reid, the man in charge of a 5-0 Chiefs team that finished last season tied for the worst record in the league. Reid and Alex Smith have helped arm Kansas City with a passable offense, but the real reason the Chiefs are still undefeated is that they boast the best defense in football. If you’re looking for who’s been the best coach on Kansas City’s staff, it’s probably been defensive coordinator Bob Sutton.
Mike Smith just can't get it right these days. When he's aggressive, his team fails and gets second-guessed. When he's conservative, his team eventually fails and gets second-guessed some more. I was ready to give his Falcons a week off from this space, since they were playing in the Monday-night game and I've usually got most of the column laid out by then, but a series of decisions by Smith and Rex Ryan in that game will keep them in Thank You for Not Coaching for another week. The only thing is that one of those two actually made the right calls.
Before I get to them, let's ease into this week's coaching evaluation with some smart decisions from around the league. Thank You for Coaching, you three folks
During Monday Night Football, Jon Gruden noted that every one of the coaches he knows (which is presumably a lot of coaches) breaks up the season into four quarters. It's their way of breaking down the season into manageable chunks; if you can go 2-2 in each quarter, you're doing a decent job. That logic is good enough for me, mainly because it allows me to get away with doing one of my favorite columns: short-term awards! I would do an awards ballot every week if I could get away with it. Once every four weeks is actually pretty good, since it strikes a reasonable balance between putting things in perspective and updating the bigger picture with a meaningful amount of new information.
So, here are my picks for the major award winners through the first four weeks of the season. Obviously, things are still very premature, so consider these selections to be my choices for who has been the best through Week 4, not who will win the award(s) at the end of the season. But if the person I pick now ends up winning the award(s) at the end of the season, please give me credit for mentioning them here. Thanks.
Another week in the NFL has brought us another bevy of coaching decisions to analyze in this Tuesday's edition of Thank You for Not Coaching. One of the goals in moving TYFNC to Tuesday was to make sure that some of the better decisions made by coaches during each weekend's action got their proper due; while coaches make a healthy number of missteps each week, there are a fair amount of decisions that do go right and a number of processes that make sense. Each week from here on out, I'm going to start this column with the moves that stood out to me as the smartest ones of the week, work my way down through some of the more curious decisions made by teams, and then finish with the three worst calls. So, now, let's get started with the smart stuff!
Welcome to your new Thank You for Not Coaching Day. After finishing off the Monday-morning columns each week with TYFNC, it became popular enough that I'm moving it to Tuesdays and giving it some space to stretch out. Hopefully, that will mean more opportunities for insight and some examination of coaching strategies that actually worked. Thank You for Coaching, even. Thanks to those of you who sent in TYFNC scenarios this week, which you can do by tweeting at me with the hashtag #TYFNC.
So, last night was pretty cool, huh? I'll have a lot more to say about the Chip Kelly experience tomorrow, but let's start with that Eagles game and one of the many ways that Kelly put his offense in a position to succeed.
Don't let your kids become bandwagon fans. It seems like an OK idea at the time, because hey their favorite team is winning and they're happy and that's all that matters. But one day that great team will stop being great, and then your son or daughter will be a traitor AND stuck with a terrible team. Let me explain. Learn from me.
This all happened on his radio show. As ESPN's Calvin Watkins explains, "Jones said he admired that Payton called for an onside kick to start the second half of Super Bowl XLIV against the Indianapolis Colts. The Saints would win the game 31-17. It's that type of risk-taking Jones sees in Romo, and he wants to utilize it more in game plans."
What's that? You were wondering exactly how many days until the start of the NFL season? Well, you're in luck! We here at the Triangle are set to spend the next few weeks providing a daily reason to get excited about pro football's return.
Last year’s New Orleans Saints finished the season third in the league in points scored. By Football Outsiders’ DVOA, they were the ninth-best offense in football. Drew Brees once again threw for more than 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns. For most teams, it would be a season worth raving about. For the Saints, it was a step back.
The previous season, New Orleans had been second in both points per game and DVOA, and Brees’s 5,476 yards was the highest single-season total in league history. Those 13-3 Saints were just the latest example of a head coach–quarterback combination that belonged in any argument about the league’s best. The Saints’ 7-9 2012 season wasn’t the fault of its offense (it was the fault of a historically bad — as in “most passing yards ever surrendered in a single season” bad — defense), but missing out on one half of that quarterback-coach combo certainly didn’t help matters.
The penalties from the Saints bounty scandal will likely be remembered even by those outside of New Orleans as a debacle, in which Roger Goodell seriously overstepped his bounds and will forever deserve to be disparaged for doing so, but for the people who care about the actual football, all they did was deprive us of an entire season of Drew Brees–Sean Payton magic. Even if we don’t consider that both men arrived in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and were instrumental in reviving a downtrodden franchise that would go on to provide at least some refuge for a devastated city (to be clear, we should consider that), what Brees and Payton have done on the field since 2006 is staggering. Starting in their first season, the Saints’ finishes in offensive DVOA with both Brees and Payton:
Much of the talk this offseason has been about stopping the read-option, but in Sean Payton's year away from the NFL, he had trouble with a much different offensive attack: the single wing.
During his Roger Goodell–mandated suspension from the Saints, Payton spent his time coaching his son's sixth-grade pee wee football team, the Liberty Christian Warriors, who eventually went to the league championship game. The Warriors lost just two games all season, but both of those losses came against the same team, the Springtown Orange Porcupines.
For those familiar with Sean Payton, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he took this seriously (well, at least mostly seriously). After losing to the Porcupines 38-6 in the regular season, Payton enlisted the help of some rather noteworthy former NFL coaches to help devise a plan that could slow down Springtown Orange's offense. It didn't work: Payton's Warriors lost 58-18.
With the NFL offseason trudging along, there are plenty of questions for every NFL team. But for most, there's one issue that trumps the rest. This is the latest in a team-by-team look at the offseason tasks that just can't get botched.
There were two elements of the Saints' 2012 season that were unprecedented in the NFL. The first was the season-long suspension of Sean Payton, a product of the punishments handed down after the (admittedly botched) investigation into the bounty program linked to former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Even without their primary play caller, the Saints and Drew Brees were still a top-10 offense, and with both Payton’s return and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael’s decision to not seek a head coaching job, they should be even better at moving the ball next year.
The other historic thing to happen to last year’s Saints is the more concerning one, because it has no such guarantee of righting itself. By most measures, the Saints were an all-time terrible defensive unit in 2012. New Orleans gave up more than 7,000 total yards during the regular season — the most ever surrendered and more than 900 yards worse than the league’s 31st-ranked team. Only Tampa Bay gave up more yards through the air, and no one gave up more yards on the ground. New Orleans posted a defensive DVOA of 14.8 percent, again worst in the league. Just about nothing went right on that side of the ball for New Orleans, and the result was Payton, immediately upon return from suspension, relieving Steve Spagnuolo of his defensive coordinator duties and replacing him with Rob Ryan.
In case you were out brainstorming baby names with Shakira and Gerard Pique last night, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
American teenager Sloane Stephens upset Serena Williams at the Australian Open in an exhilarating, injury-plagued three-set thriller, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. As the final shot was struck just before the clock struck midnight in New York, a hirsute figure scaled the walls of Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA National Tennis Center. "American tennis is dead! Long live American Tennis! American Tennis is dead! Long live American Tennis!" Was the figure that of Pete Sampras? Was it? Who could possibly know? (It was.)
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
Facing a hostile road crowd, AJ McCarron led no. 1 Alabama on a game-winning drive, completing the winning touchdown pass with 51 seconds remaining as the Tide beat no. 5 LSU 21-17. McCarron said he was motivated by school pride, the desire to win a national championship, and the pulsing pain emanating from the remote-activated chip implanted in his skull by Nick Saban.
What's happened to the New Orleans Saints? Unquestionably the most disappointing team in football through four games, last year's 13-3 NFC South champions have become just the second 13-3 team in league history to start the year at 0-4, joining the 2009 Titans. Being compared to a Vince Young/Jeff Fisher soap opera isn't very flattering, but after an offseason of bounty discussion and penalties, it's probably fair company.
The prevailing justification for New Orleans's struggles has been the absence of Sean Payton as head coach and offensive play caller, which very well might be true, but there's a lot of relevant questions about this team that go beyond such a simple explanation. How has Payton's absence manifested itself? Is there any evidence that this is a coaching issue and not a player performance issue? And is it something that's going to be fixed when Payton comes back after this season, or with the return of Joe Vitt in a couple of weeks?
FOOTBALL. After suffering through the baseball months, we couldn't be happier that the NFL is finally back. In celebration of Week 1, 13-year NFL veteran Ephraim Salaam and I talked last night's Cowboys-Giants game, Andrew Luck's NFL debut, the Saints' life without Sean Payton, and San Francisco's quarterback infidelity.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Carmelo Anthony notched his second career triple-double (35 points, 12 boards, 10 assists) as the Knicks beat the Celtics 118-110. Evil Celtics forward Kevin Garnett told reporters he was impressed with Anthony's performance, but that it should only be another week or so before he starts to feel the weakening effects of long-term arsenic poisoning.