NFL Reality Check: How Are New Coaches Handling Their New Jobs So Far?
There are eight new head coaches in the NFL in 2013, each entering his new job this season with a completely different set of expectations. Some coaches took over playoff contenders. Others took over complete rebuilding projects. After two weeks, it's unfair to look at the standings and point to which new coaches are doing the best job. It's more telling, perhaps, to look at their words.
Chip Kelly came into the NFL with more fanfare than any coach in recent memory. Many suggested before the season that Kelly's lightning-fast offense was going to revolutionize the professional game, and after a Week 1 victory over the Washington Redskins, people all over the league were starting to buy in.
But what about the defense?
Since halftime Monday, the equivalent of one game, RG3 and Rivers are a combined 41-for-56 for 492 yards, three TDs, one INT vs. Eagles.— Reuben Frank (@RoobCSN) September 15, 2013
Despite a pedestrian first half on both sides of the ball, the Eagles stayed with San Diego—thanks in part to two first-half turnovers by the Chargers—with the Birds managing to grab a fourth-quarter lead after a brilliant 10-play, 76-yard drive capped by a Michael Vick touchdown run with just over seven minutes to play.
That's when the reality check for Philadelphia hit.
Thanks to a calamity of mistakes, highlighted by a silly personal foul call on DeSean Jackson and exacerbated by the fact the Eagles employed nobody on defense who could stop Eddie Royal, the Chargers retook the lead, 30-27, with just over three minutes left to play.
It was almost too much time for Kelly's offense. Wait, not almost—it was too much time.
The Eagles marched down the field with aplomb, moving from their own 29-yard line to the San Diego 14-yard line in just 56 seconds. Rather than sit on the clock, knowing a game-tying field goal was in reach and eating time to ensure the Chargers wouldn't have enough time to get back down the field after an Eagles score, Kelly went for it...and lost. As he told reporters after the game, via PhiladelphiaEagles.com:
We were trying to score. We were trying to score a touchdown. We weren't trying to kick a field goal, we were trying to score a touchdown hoping we could get it to a situation where we made it a four-point game.
Scoring a touchdown was the right game plan, but doing it so damn fast was bad clock management. The Eagles had the ball with 1st-and-10 at the San Diego 14 with 2:09 to play and gave the ball back to the Chargers with 1:51 still on the clock.
Talking to Sports Radio WIP on Monday morning, Kelly admitted the mistake was his, saying, "When you look at it in hindsight, maybe we should have bled the clock and not given him enough time to come back into it. You learn from those situations."
Three incomplete passes and a field goal to tie the game gave the ball back to Rivers with way too much time. The defense didn't help either, surrendering plays of 15 yards, 21 yards and six yards twice in a span of five snaps to get the Chargers into field-goal range for the eventual game-winner.
Kelly may be an offensive innovator, but his clock management skills need work, especially with a defense that shaky.
Mike McCoy: A Leader of Men
The coach on the other side of the field from Kelly, Mike McCoy, is also known as somewhat of an offensive innovator. However, during the CBS telecast, much was made of McCoy's decision to hand the play-calling duties off to coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.
Unlike Kelly, McCoy feels he needs to be focused on the bigger picture during the game. Certainly his postgame comments in the Chargers locker room illustrate that. Via Chargers.com:
When you have the right mindset and you believe, in everything we do around here, men, great things will happen. Coaches, a helluva job in the game plan. And then, helluva job executing it, men. That's the way it's gotta be. Every week. You've gotta believe.
That's why you play for 60 minutes this game. It does not get any better than this. This is what you work all week long for week in and week out, men.
Every coach has his own style when addressing his team, but it was fascinating to note how many times McCoy said "men" in his brief speech to the players. The Chargers are 1-1, winning a squeaker on the road after a demoralizing loss in Week 1 could have derailed the early part of the season for a new coaching staff.
Surely the win will get more people to buy in to McCoy's system, but the simple ways to build up a player's confidence—treating men like men—can go a long way as well.
Big Red W
The coach who had perhaps the most interest in the outcome of the Eagles-Chargers game was Andy Reid, new head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. The former Eagles head man heads back to Philadelphia for a game this Thursday night sitting atop the AFC West, which is already shaping up to look like the most improved—and possibly best—division in football from top to bottom.
After a complete blowout of Jacksonville in Week 1, the Reid era in Kansas City officially began at home with a narrow win over the Dallas Cowboy, 17-16, as the Chiefs started 2-0 for just the second time since 2005.
After the game, Reid talked about getting a win in such a close, hard-fought game, and what playing—and winning—under adversity means to a team trying to rebuild. Via KCChiefs.com:
They fought. That’s what they did. They kind of put everything else out of the picture and just fought. There are certain games where you just have to do that. There are going to be highs and lows when you play a good football team. If you get caught too high or too low, you’re in trouble and they didn't do that. They just kind of put their heads down and kept going. That might be what I’m proudest [of]. ...
We haven’t been down this road. We’re experiencing it all together and that’s OK. That’s how you come together as a team; you have to go through all these different experiences and just keep battling.
The Chiefs have given up just 18 points on the season, the second-fewest in football, while Alex Smith looks to have found a home with Reid in K.C.
The bugaboo with Reid during his time in Philadelphia, which is ironic given Chip Kelly's issue this week, was his inability to manage the clock. Thanks in large part to an ill-timed pass interference penalty on Dallas with just over two minutes to go on a key third down in the fourth quarter, Reid's offense actually managed the clock well enough to secure the nail-biter victory.
After holding Dallas to just a field goal in the fourth quarter, Kansas City took over the game, holding on to the ball for all but 16 seconds on the back, and legs, of Jamaal Charles.
The Chiefs still passed the ball more than they ran it—36 pass attempts to 25 rushes, including the final drive that featured nine of Charles' 16 runs in the game. At times, rooting for a Reid-coached team can be impossibly frustrating. As Chiefs fans found out Sunday, it's a lot easier after wins.
Speaking of frustrated fans, the Chicago Bears fans have reason to celebrate after a 2-0 start under new head coach Marc Trestman, leading the NFC North after the first two weeks of the season.
Now, granted, the Bears have played two games at home, but they have beaten two potential playoff contenders in Cincinnati and Minnesota so far this year. Most importantly, it's Jay Cutler who seems to be buying into Trestman's system.
Cutler does have four turnovers in two games, but that comes with five touchdown passes on 532 yards and a completion rate of more than 68 percent. Most importantly, Cutler, who has shown a tendency throughout his career to shrink in the game's biggest moments, has led the Bears on two fourth-quarter touchdown drives to win games this year.
After the game, Trestman—who sounds more like a stock analyst than a football coach in his postgame news conferences—lauded his team before reminding everyone to pump the brakes on the great start. Via ChicagoBears.com:
We're going to show up tomorrow and we're going to say the same thing we said a week ago. We can get better. The evidence is out there today. We can get better. We can do some things better and we'll go back to work on that after we look at the tape.
Doug Marrone Seems Unexcitable
It's understandable that Trestman would be calm and reserved in his press conference, talking through the media about the things the team needs to do better. It's another thing when a coach does that in the locker room after his first NFL coaching victory.
Doug Marrone came within inches of beating the New England Patriots in Week 1, but his team bounced back with a last-second victory over the Carolina Panthers in Week 2, giving him a well-deserved game ball for his first win.
Yet before the celebration, Marrone spent some time putting his team—and his offense—in its place. After lauding the defense for some key stops late in the game, Marrone went for a little tough love to tone down any post-win euphoria. Via BuffaloBills.com:
Very easily—and we talk quite a bit about the human spirit—very easily we could have gotten ourselves down and go. And we made mistakes on offense we need to clean up. Don't ever miss the point that we are going to continue to get better and not make those mistakes. And then, offensively, we go down with no timeouts and a minute and something left, OK, and they score the touchdown to win the game. And you know why? Because they all believed they could. That's important.
Notice that when Marrone, who is an offensive coach by trade, talked about the offense, he said "they," not "we." Semantics, sure, but a clear message when combined with the idea that the offense came back because the rest of the team believed in them.
An odd lesson in team building, to say the least. Marrone also reminded his team that one win is just a part of the process and nothing to get too excited about:
Listen. Obviously, they're going to make a big deal out of this thing. Hey, we won a game. We expect to win. Everyone's got that. All right, and some guys did some good things to help us there. But we expect to win games. Get that mindset about ourselves. We've got a long way to go, we're going to work our asses off. OK?
Marrone is changing a failing culture in Buffalo one giant wet blanket at a time.
Arizona's Bounce-Back Win
Arizona lost the debut for head coach Bruce Arians in Week 1 after getting out to a double-digit fourth-quarter lead before surrendering 14 straight points to lose to the division rival Rams, 27-24.
Arians did not want to start the season 0-2. Via AZCardinals.com:
That's all we talk about—finishing games. Two minutes—you know 80-something percent of games are decided in the two minutes at the end of the half and the end of the game. We practice two-minute a ton and we talk two-minute a ton. Last week, we didn't finish it; this week, we did.
The Cardinals were the team scoring all the fourth-quarter points this week, putting up nine in the final stanza while holding Detroit's electric offense off the board to secure the 25-21 victory.
The win came at the end of a seven-play, 61-yard drive that took the Cardinals just 2:29, leaving Detroit a chance to answer with a full two minutes on the clock and two timeouts remaining.
Arians admitted after the game that he probably should have run the ball rather than throwing on 1st-and-goal, either scoring on first down or bleeding the clock down to the two-minute warning.
Unlike Kelly with the Eagles on Monday, however, Arians doesn't have to answer questions about scoring too early because after putting the ball in the end zone, his defense was able to hold.
The lesson: Finish games on both sides of the ball, because a good defense can make the coach look a lot smarter.
The Browns Are Just a Little Off
There are some people who think the Cleveland Brown have a lot of talent and are just a few players away from making a run in the playoffs.
When one of those players is your quarterback, that's a problem.
To be fair to Brandon Weeden, the loss to Baltimore wasn't really his fault. He was sacked five times before being taken out of the game with a thumb injury. The Ravens added 12 quarterback hits to their pressure on Cleveland signal-callers on Sunday, a complete breakdown of protection.
First-year head coach Rob Chudzinski, who is looking at an early schedule where suddenly any wins look hard to come by, knows this season is a work in progress, with an emphasis on work. Via ClevelandBrowns.com:
We just have to keep grinding. We have to keep working at it. The plays are there. The things are there. We’re just off a little bit here. We’re there on some things. The guys are working at it. I feel like there’s improvement being made, but it’s not good enough. It needs to be better, and that’s what we’ll do.
Gus Bradley's Season-Long Reality Check
I feel bad for Gus Bradley. He was in line to get offered the Eagles head coaching job before Chip Kelly called—during Bradley's interview—to say he'd accept the job. Bradley, who had scheduled a visit to Jacksonville after his stop in Philly, never left Florida after accepting the job. He got to be a head coach in the NFL. It's every coach's dream.
Only this feels like a nightmare.
The Jaguars have scored 11 points in two games, giving up 47 to the Chiefs and Raiders, two teams that, by the way, combined to win just six games last year.
Bradley sounded more like a personal psychiatrist than a coach when talking to his players in the locker room. Via Jaguars.com:
You see it. I know you see it. And when you want to get that step—and we all want to get that step taken care of—you're going to see it make great strides. So that's what we have to do.
So that's the challenge for us. To make the next step. ... We have to hold each other accountable to it. Hold each other accountable and then you'll see us get even better, and get even better.
I applaud your efforts. I applaud it, but we've just got to play smarter. We have to play smarter to get where we want to go, men. To get where we want to go.
It's going to be a long season in Jacksonville. Hopefully for Bradley, it's a long head coaching career there, or somewhere else.
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