Hot Seat Watch for NFL Players, Coaches After NFL Week 11
Week 11 was another interesting week in the National Football League that included a number of starting quarterbacks being benched midway through games, while losing streaks continued for underperforming teams such as the Houston Texans and Atlanta Falcons.
A number of those quarterbacks that were benched, and those underperforming Texans and Falcons, are both represented in this week’s Hot Seat Watch.
While some of these may yet have long-term futures beyond this season with their teams, and some may prove not to be on the hot seat at all, some people on this list are fighting just to keep their job from week-to-week.
Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings’ quarterback depth chart has been fluid all season, and it only became more fluid in Week 11, when starter Christian Ponder was benched after throwing a pair of interceptions early in the fourth quarter of a 41-20 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
While Ponder helped lead the Vikings to a 34-27 victory over the Washington Redskins in Week 10, completing 17 of 21 passing attempts for 174 yards and two touchdowns before leaving with an injury, his mostly poor play in his seven starts has been a major factor in the Vikings’ 2-8 start. Ponder has thrown nine interceptions with only six touchdowns, and his 74.9 quarterback rating ranks 27th among NFL starting quarterbacks.
At this point, it is largely a foregone conclusion that the Vikings will bring in a new starting quarterback this offseason, but for Ponder, he is still on the hot seat in the starter position. Vikings coach Leslie Frazier declined to name a starter Monday for Minnesota’s Week 12 game, Ben Goessling of ESPN.com reported.
The Vikings’ other starting quarterback options, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman, aren’t necessarily any better. Cassel only completed five of 13 passing attempts and threw an interception after taking over for Ponder on Sunday. Freeman has only made one appearance for the Vikings since he was signed in October, and he completed just 20 of 53 passing attempts in that game.
Even so, Ponder has failed to play well enough at any point this season to keep Minnesota’s confidence as a starter beyond the next game. Even if he starts for the Vikings Sunday versus the Green Bay Packers, he could be one big mistake away from being benched again.
Case Keenum, QB, Houston Texans
In his first two career starts against the Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts in Weeks 7 and 9, Case Keenum showed significant promise. He played his way ahead of Matt Schaub on the Houston Texans’ depth chart by completing 35 of 59 passing attempts for 621 yards and four touchdowns.
He has not been as impressive in Houston’s last two games, however, completing just 35 of 67 passing attempts for 381 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. On Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, Keenum struggled enough that Texans head coach Gary Kubiak decided to bench him in favor of Schaub in the third quarter of Houston’s eighth consecutive loss.
Kubiak said Monday he has “complete confidence” in Keenum, Tania Ganguli of ESPN.com reported, but the coach’s decision to bench him on Sunday showed otherwise. While it is most likely neither will be starting for the Texans next season, his hold on the starting job for the rest of this year is certainly on the hot seat after his benching.
While he has been throwing the ball better than Schaub was earlier this season, Keenum has yet to lead Houston to a win in any of his four starts. For a team that has lost every game it has played since Week 3, Keenum has not been able to yield the outcomes that the Texans are looking for.
That said, the smart move for the Texans—though it may not matter to Kubiak if he also ends up on the hot seat—would be to continue playing Keenum in order to evaluate his long-term potential. At 2-8, Houston is no longer in the playoff hunt. The Texans are almost certainly going to move on from the aging, declining Schaub in the offseason, but they can continue to see what they have with Keenum by playing him.
Geno Smith, QB, New York Jets?
No, Geno Smith is not really on the hot seat, or at least he shouldn’t be. But on a New York Jets team where every adjustment to the quarterback depth chart over the past two seasons has made headlines, Geno Smith’s uninspiring performance against the Buffalo Bills could, at the very least, get the rookie quarterback’s critics and doubters talking.
Smith has started all 10 of New York’s games this season, but his 10th start of the season Sunday was his worst. He completed just eight of 23 passing attempts for 103 yards while throwing three interceptions and fumbling the ball twice, losing one of them to the Bills defense.
As a result of his horrendous play, he was benched in the fourth quarter in favor of Matt Simms. Jets head coach Rex Ryan said Monday that Simms could start to see more repetitions in practice, Dan Hanzus of NFL.com reported.
Smith has thrown 16 interceptions to only eight touchdowns this season. His play has regressed rather than progressed—in his last five starts, he has just one passing touchdown and eight interceptions, while he has only completed eight passes in each of his past two starts.
That said, Simms has never started an NFL game for a reason, and he is not the quarterback of the future for the Jets. Smith, the Jets’ second-round pick in this year’s NFL draft, has shown franchise quarterback potential in his better moments this year, and benching him now could be a damaging blow to the confidence of a player expected to be a key long-term piece of the organization.
Steven Jackson, RB, Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons were excited to sign Steven Jackson to a three-year, $12 million contract this offseason. But while the Falcons did not break the bank to sign Jackson, the St. Louis Rams have looked smart in moving on from him as he has looked like a shell of his former self this season.
Jackson missed a number of games with a hamstring injury, but when he has been in the lineup, he has done very little for the Falcons, running for just 192 yards on 58 rushing attempts this season. The Falcons have lost all five games in which Jackson has received double-digit touches.
Atlanta signed Jackson to be its feature running back, but his total touches, which not have exceeded 16 in a game this season, should only continue to decrease unless the 30-year-old can suddenly find another gear.
The Falcons do not have a true feature back on their roster, but Jacquizz Rodgers offers more than Jackson as a receiver (500 yards, four touchdowns on 115 total touches), while Jason Snelling could also take carries away from Jackson, although he was arrested Friday for marijuana possession.
Stevan Ridley, RB, New England Patriots
Stevan Ridley led the New England Patriots with 13 rushing attempts in their Monday night loss to the Carolina Panthers, but what the box score does not tell you is that Ridley was benched after fumbling on New England’s first drive of the second quarter and did not return to the game until the Patriots’ final drive of the third quarter.
Ridley leads all NFL running backs with three lost fumbles this season and has lost a fumble in each of his last two games. Patriots coach Bill Belichick is notorious for sending running backs who fumble the ball to the bench—including in Week 1 this season, when Ridley did not receive another touch after a second-quarter fumble against the Bills—and Ridley’s recent errors might be enough to push him down New England’s running back rotation.
Shane Vereen only received one carry on Monday, his return to the active roster after missing eight games with a fractured wrist, but he was on the field and used frequently in passing situations, and he is a candidate, along with LeGarrette Blount, to take Ridley’s carries if Ridley continues to have ball security issues.
All in all, Ridley’s numbers have been similar in his third season (4.3 yards per carry, seven touchdowns in nine games) to in 2012 (4.4 yards per carry, 12 touchdowns in 16 games), but in a game where turnovers often play a large role in the outcomes of games, the Patriots are unlikely to put up with many more costly fumbles from their starting running back.
Derek Cox, CB, San Diego Chargers
Derek Cox has been a mainstay on this list, but his four-year, $20 million contract continues to look like one of the worst signings of the 2013 offseason, as his performance has not been getting any better.
Cox was not benched against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, as he had been in his past two games, but he continued to be a liability in coverage for San Diego, finishing the game with a minus-2.8 rating that Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked as the fifth-worst among all NFL cornerbacks in Week 11.
If it was not for an overall weak group of cornerbacks with no better starting candidates to offer, it is likely Cox would have already lost his starting job. Overall, PFF has rated him as the league’s fourth-worst cornerback this season, and he has only recorded seven pass defenses even though he has been thrown at often. His only pass defense against the Dolphins was a dropped potential pick-six.
Cox may end up keeping his starting job this season by lack of competition, but when the Chargers have a chance for a much-needed reload at the position in the 2014 offseason, it is unlikely Cox will have a job at all considering his recent play. According to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Cox’s contract is only guaranteed beyond this season in case of injury, and the Chargers could save $4.25 million by releasing him prior to the third day of the 2014 league year.
Brian Moorman, P, Buffalo Bills
Although Brian Moorman looked like a slight upgrade over Shawn Powell in his first couple of games after the Bills made a midseason punter change, Moorman has been terrible in recent weeks. Moorman has averaged less than 37 yards per punt in each of his last three games.
Moorman’s overall average of 40.6 yards per punt ranks dead last among qualifying NFL punters, while his 34.7 net yards per punt are the league’s second-worst. His struggles were highlighted Sunday on a muffed punt which he recovered but only managed to shank for two yards.
While Powell’s net punting average was only .5 yards per punt than Moorman’s is, the Bills should strongly consider bringing Powell back or bringing in another punter if Moorman’s struggles continue coming out of Buffalo’s Week 12 bye. Moorman simply does not get the distance or elevation on his punts that he used to, and even his directional punting has not been close to what it used to be.
Mike Smith, Head Coach, Atlanta Falcons
After coming up a play short of the Super Bowl last season, the Atlanta Falcons have been the NFL’s biggest disappointment this year with a 2-8 record. While the aforementioned rushing offense and has been bad, and so has the defense, some believe the team’s collapse should also result in the firing of head coach Mike Smith.
It would be quite a fall from grace for Smith, who was widely praised for leading the Falcons to the NFC Championship Game last season, to lose his job. Considering some of the devastating injuries the Falcons have had on both sides of the ball, it may be unfair to blame him for the team’s steep downturn.
Nonetheless, coaches tend to be scapegoats when a team underperforms in the “Not For Long” league, and the Falcons have fallen far short of expectations this season.
Thus far, Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff has publicly supported his coach; on November 10, Dimitroff responded to a media question about Smith’s future by saying Smith is a “hell of a football coach” and “going nowhere,” according to Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com.
Publicly defending a coach midseason, however, does not always reflect what actually happens when the season concludes.
Bleacher Report’s Scott Carasik is among those who thinks it is time for the Falcons to make a coaching change, saying defensive coordinator Mike Nolan should take over if Atlanta lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 11.
The Falcons fell 41-28.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.