If there's one thing that working in the NFL media for nearly a decade has taught me, it's to look at stories and situations with a wide lens. Too often, fans get caught up in the moment.
We see the quarterback throw a gut-wrenching interception and think: bench him! We see a head coach looking uninspired on the sidelines in the waning moments of a horrible loss and think: fire him! But in the NFL, you simply cannot view situations only at the surface level. Dig a little deeper and you'll be fascinated by what you find.
Below are four teams that are currently under .500. These four organizations feature rightfully emotional fanbases, and these fans want answers. Let's examine who's being blamed, and who actually deserves the blame:
Philadelphia Eagles (3-4)
Who's being blamed: Michael Vick
Who's actually to blame: Andy Reid
Michael Vick is no longer a viable starting, franchise quarterback in the National Football League. In fact, I've been saying all season that rookie signal-caller Nick Foles would start for the Eagles in 2012, sooner rather than later.
Watch Vick's postgame press conference after Sunday's loss to Atlanta. He's a beaten man. He all but capitulated the starting QB job to Foles. He's had a series of horrendous turnovers, shown a propensity to get hurt and has seemingly lost all pocket awareness.
But I say the blame should fall on Andy Reid.
Let's take a close look at the Eagles, as constituted in 2012. They're coming off an extremely disappointing 2011 campaign, arguably the most disappointing of the Reid era. In the offseason, owner Jeffery Lurie basically admitted that it was playoffs-or-bust for Reid in 2012.
Knowing this, Reid still didn't add a veteran backup quarterback to the roster, throwing caution to the wind by elevating Foles to the spot. I'm not saying that Foles can't or won't succeed, but when you know you have an injury-prone starting quarterback in a must-win year, wouldn't you have tried to upgrade at the backup position?
Reid also made the decision to retain defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, despite a disastrous performance by the Eagles' defense in 2011. In a related story, Reid fired Castillo earlier this month.
But, above all else, the reason why Reid deserves the blame in Philadelphia is because he seemingly refuses to run the football with LeSean McCoy. McCoy is one of the best backs in football, but Reid would rather drop back Vick 35 times per game than feed McCoy the rock.
Perhaps the most telling statistic is this: In the Eagles' three victories this season, McCoy has averaged 23 carries, and in their four losses, he's only averaged 14. Quite simply, Reid has put his team in a position to lose.
Michael Vick and Andy Reid should both be ex-Eagles come Black Monday, 2013.
Dallas Cowboys (3-4)
Who's being blamed: Tony Romo
Who's actually to blame: Jason Garrett
When Cowboys fans vent, it's usually about Tony Romo. I picked Dallas to make the playoffs this year, mostly because I believe in Romo. I still think that Tony is capable of winning a Super Bowl.
Is he one of the best quarterbacks in the league? No, but he's definitely in the top half, and you can win with a guy like Romo. While he hasn't had his best season thus far, I don't blame him for the Cowboys' poor start; I blame head coach Jason Garrett.
Simply put, I don't think Garrett is a winning head coach in the National Football League. Romo can win elsewhere, but I don't believe Garrett can win anywhere as the head guy—at least not now. His game management is so grotesque that Herm Edwards will be trick-or-treating in a Garrett mask and Princeton sweatshirt this Wednesday night.
When I think of Garrett in end-of-game situations, horrible decisions come to mind—the inexplicable play-calling in Detroit, continuing to throw the ball despite holding a large lead in the second half and eventually losing, 34-30 (Week 4, 2011).
Icing his own kicker after letting a crucial 18 seconds tick off the clock in what ended as an overtime loss in Arizona (Week 13, 2011).
The very next week against the New York Giants, with the Giants at the Cowboys' 1-yard line and about to take the lead late, Garrett let 16 seconds run off the clock before using a timeout. Dallas went on to lose that game on a Jason Pierre-Paul blocked field goal as time expired (Week 14, 2011). If the kick had been closer, would the outcome have been different? We'll never know.
Then, there's the debacle in Baltimore earlier this month. In a game where the Cowboys rushed for 227 yards, Garrett found a way to lose, letting nearly 20 seconds tick off the clock—with a timeout in hand—before settling for a 51-yard, potentially game-winning field-goal attempt from Dan Bailey, who predictably missed.
And the cherry on top is this past Sunday's home loss to the Giants. How in the world does Jason Garrett not run the ball one time in three "and 1" situations late in the game, deep in Giants territory? Garrett said Monday that, basically, if he could have done it differently, he would have.
Wait. What? Really? As a head coach in the NFL, how are you not prepared for these situations? You can be the greatest play-caller in the world, or you can be the best defensive guru out there, but if you can't manage critical situations as the head guy, you have no business holding the position.
Don't get me wrong. This isn't a moratorium on Garrett's coaching career. He's clearly an intelligent guy and a bright offensive mind. I think he'll be a great offensive coordinator somewhere in 2013. But Jerry Jones should fire him at the conclusion of this season.
Tony Romo can win as a starting quarterback in the NFL. Jason Garrett can't win as a head coach. That's the difference.
San Diego Chargers (3-4)
Who's being blamed: Norv Turner
Who's actually to blame: A.J. Smith
Chargers head coach Norv Turner might be the No. 1 reason why I love Twitter. Few things in life entertain me more than reading the hilarious tweets directed at Norv during another Chargers collapse. Have I participated in this practice? Of course.
It's easy to ridicule Norv. He's failed at previous stops in Washington and Oakland, and often displays the kind of facial expression that you'd expect to see on a man who's just been told his wife's cheating on him.
He's a great offensive mind, but he's not the guy you want leading your team in a must-win game. However, despite all of that, I say that the blame in San Diego extends past Norv to a largely faceless character long characterized as a curmudgeon: general manager A.J. Smith.
Remember, it was Smith's decision to fire Marty Schottenheimer on the heels of a 14-2 season in 2006 and institute Norv as the head man. It was Smith who drafted poorly, highlighted by major swings-and-misses with Craig "Buster" Davis in 2007 and Larry English in 2009. He traded up to draft Ryan Mathews in 2010, and let Mike Tolbert walk this past offseason. The result: Mathews can't stay healthy or hang onto the football, and I'd consider both of those characteristics to be fairly important at the running-back position.
But, more than anything else, Smith slammed the coffin door shut on his own team last week, when he released that outrageous, unacceptable statement to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, burying the team he lords over, questioning its confidence and ability to handle adversity. Really? I mean, seriously? If I were Dean Spanos, I'd have fired Smith on the spot.
One of my all-time favorite NFL "what if" questions is: If Philip Rivers and LaDanian Tomlinson had both been healthy in the 2007 AFC Championship Game, would the Chargers, in Norv's first year, have beaten the then-undefeated Patriots? They would have. But, that doesn't matter. They lost. And now, they continue to lose, often in horrendous fashion.
Norv Turner needs to go. That much is obvious. What's less obvious is that general manager A.J. Smith—more to blame for the Chargers' mess than Norv—needs to go, too.
New York Jets (3-5)
Who's being blamed: Mark Sanchez
Who's actually to blame: Rex Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum
I'm not sure I'll ever forgive myself for picking the 2012 Jets to make the playoffs as a wild-card team. That's just about as bad as it gets.
The main reason that I liked the Jets going into this season was because I believed in Mark Sanchez. I thought he'd bounce back from a subpar 2011 season and lead NYJ back into the playoffs.
Boy, was I wrong.
Sanchez has been awful. I cannot believe that this is the same quarterback who won four road playoff games in his first two seasons. Sanchez is just not a quality starting quarterback in the league. But, he's not the main person(s) to blame for the fiasco that is the 2012 New York Jets. That would be the pu-pu platter of head coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum.
It's hard to fathom that the glow of two consecutive AFC-title-game appearances in 2009 and 2010 has dulled, but Rex and Tannenbaum have somehow managed to accomplish that dubious feat.
In 2011, Rex was too busy making asinine proclamations and not worried enough about the toxic chemistry of his locker room (which, by the way, was stocked with players chosen by GM Mike Tannenbaum), culminating in an embarrassing, season-ending defeat at Miami that ended their fading playoff hopes. But, many, including me, were willing to give Rex and Tannenbaum the benefit of the doubt. After all, they were coming off back-to-back playoff appearances, which just about gets you a statue built by long-suffering Jets fans.
But what transpired this past offseason and in the first eight games of 2012 is just about outside the realm of comprehension. First, the decision was made to allow offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to "leave" the organization and take the same job in St. Louis. I was and still am fine with that.
What I'm not fine with is the decision to hire Tony Sparano, who had little experience calling plays, and give him full autonomy over the offense. The Jets have scored 10 points or fewer in three of their eight games, and their overall scoring offense looks better as a result of the 48 points they hung on hapless Buffalo in Week 1.
Then, you make the decision to trade for Timothy Richard Tebow, inviting the circus to town. You know what? I'm OK with the circus being here, as long as you're winning games. The most stunning thing when it comes to Tebow is that, for all the hoopla, for all the publicity, for all the articles, contrived television segments and gossip columns, he's barely on the field!
When you trade for a huge name like Tim Tebow, you've gotta use him. And, they aren't. After promising time after time to get Tebow more involved, the Jets ran him once—one time!—in New York's latest humiliating defeat, a 30-9 drubbing at home, to the Miami Dolphins.
Let's move on from Tebow and talk about "ground and pound." I know Shonn Greene has had a few good games in 2012, but the guy is just not a championship-level lead back. How can you "ground and pound" with substandard talent? Simple: You can't.
The Jets are averaging less than four yards per carry on the season. And then, there's the wide receivers. Santonio Holmes, one of the main culprits of 2011's poisonous team, is out for the year. Injuries happen. It's part of the NFL. That's why teams plan in the offseason and add depth to their roster.
What did Mike Tannenbaum do to add talent around his young, struggling quarterback? He drafted Stephen Hill in the second round. If you received points for dropped passes, Hill would be the No. 1 overall pick in fantasy leagues across the nation. Chaz Schillens? What is this, Oakland circa 2008? Might as well trade for Louis Murphy or sign the immortal Johnnie Lee Higgins. Jeremy Kerley has emerged as Sanchez's go-to-guy, which says more about the poor situation than it does about Kerley.
Simply put, Sanchez has no chance out there. Right now, he cannot win, and it's not just because he isn't good enough, but it's because his coaches and general manager have put him in a position to lose. The Jets' 53-man roster just isn't good enough. That falls on Mike Tannenbaum. The poor coaching decisions and arrogant bravado fall on Rex Ryan. I think there's a strong possibility that at least one, and perhaps both, will be gone come 2013.