This NFL season has provided some particularly dramatic examples that coaching quality is a big deal, and one of them will be starting today’s marquee game. So it’s fitting that yesterday featured two coaching mismatches of the first order. Doug Pederson did a beautiful job of putting his replacement-level but not farcical QB in a position where he only had to make throws he could make, and did just enough to let the team’s talented and extremely well-coached defense win it for them. As for the Falcons, I tweeted yesterday that giving the Falcons offense to Steve Sarkisian was like giving the keys of your Maserati to a blind four year-old. Someone observed, however, that this was too generous, since it would at least involve some excitement before the inevitable unhappy ending. Fair enough! That’s not to say it was all on Sark — as weird and ineffective as the playcalling was, Ryan also made some crucial bad throws and bad decisions, and the team as a whole just never seemed quite recovered from 28-3.
As for the Titans/Pats, I think I can just cite the two-minute drill that culminated in a critical wasted timeout, which gave Coach E. Smashmouth 60 additional seconds to dial up a play that would have been a massive failure even had it succeeded and did not come remotely close to succeeding and drop the mic. (If he had two timeouts to analyze the situation more carefully, presumably he would have run Chuck Pagano’s fake punt play, figuring the second time’s a charm. In conclusion, the Titans probably lost because of inflated footballs.)
I don’t know if I buy that Mike Mularkey was coaching for his job against the Jaguars, but if he was, that’s fucking stupid. Please note that I’m not defending Mike Mularkey here. He should be jailed for what he’s done to Marcus Mariota this season. But for an owner to sit there and be like, “Let’s see how this ONE game plays out” to decide on a coach’s fate is insane. You gotta judge Mike Mularkey for his whole BODY of failure, not just one game that happens to come at the end of the schedule. And yet, teams do this with coaches all the time! I still remember Rex Ryan saving his job just because he won some dead games at the end. Now Mularkey’s won that one Week 17 game and Titans fans are stuck with a whole other year of him. They should file a class action suit.
Reports seem to suggest that he would have been fired had they missed the playoffs, and he may have been canned had they lost last week. But if that’s the case, it’s insane to keep him. As we discussed yesterday, the win over the Chiefs was a case in point of why you generally don’t judge coaches by individual game outcomes. It’s not that they didn’t “deserve” to win — they got some breaks, they took advantage of them, they had a come-from-behind win on the road, more power to ’em. But when evaluating coaches and players, the fact that they needed a succession of freak plays, bad calls, and opposition injuries and blunders to win over a team that hasn’t looked good since October is relevant. Because the next week you might face a real contender, and some of the injuries and bad calls might start going against you rather than for you, and then they have to scrape you off the field at Foxborough with a squeegee. None of which is surprising, because a head coach with no record of NFL success and a coordinator who should have retired about 5 years ago have parlayed a Grade A QB prospect and the best base of talent in the division into a team that isn’t good offensively or defensively, and that’s what matters, however the bounces of any one game come out.
Speaking of recycled hacks, with Mike Shula out of the league the NFL apparently needs someone to show that coaching talent can run screaming from the next generation, and Seattle has hired Mr. Brian Schottenheimer as OC. Working a couple of aging vets (Pennington and Favre) and then mostly with young #5 and #1 overall picks, Schottenheimer’s offenses have ranked 12th, 22nd, 18th, 22nd, 16th, 21st, 21st, 22nd, and 22nd in DVOA. I was living in markets where the Jets were on TV every week, so I’ve WATCHED THE TAPE and I assure you there’s no hidden brilliance here that’s not showing up in the stats. It’s not a coincidence that his most successful year was his first, when he got a decentish year out of a 30-year-old Chad Pennington, who threw with less velocity than Barbara Bush throwing out a first pitch but was extremely precise and intelligent. Essentially, Schottenheimer has spent his career trying to replicate this formula with different skill sets, with consistently unimpressive results. I’ve seen worse coordinators, such as Steve Sarkasian (who apparently Carroll had his eye on, so I guess I should be grateful.) But if this is the alternative I’d rather have stuck with Bevell. I guess the idea is that he might improve the running game, which they certainly need, but 1)firing Cable should help, and 2)the team needs to be focused on getting the most out of Wilson. But if you’re a Seahawks fan and you like pointlessly complex trees of bubble screens, you’re in for a treat!
STEELERS (-7) OVER JAGS The Jags are liver dogs than the Titans in that their defense gives them something important they do really well. And while Bortles is a genuinely bad player he’s not always as ridiculously bad as he was last week. But, still, he’s Bortles — guys like this generally have their random decent games against bad teams in the middle of seasons, not against playoff teams with two weeks to prepare. The running back they built their offense around seems pretty well below 100%, and they’re going up against the second-best team in a conference with two good teams. And lest the Jag’s 30-9 win earlier this year tempt you to take the points, as Tanier observes they won despite a typically horrendous Bortles performance with 2 defensive TDs, and padded the score with a long garbage time TD run by Fournette. So, sure, the Jags can win if they get 5 INTs again, Good luck! Or, really, bad luck, because I don’t think the Pats need 3 byes.
Saints (+ 5 1/2) over Vikings Here’s the lifetime stats of three QBs, all contemporaries:
8805 ATT 7.5 Y/A 488 TD 160 INT 97.6 rating
9380 ATT 7.7 Y/A 549 TD 251 INT 96.5 rating
9294 ATT 7.6% 488 TD 228 INT 96.7 rating
#1 is Tom Brady, #2 is Peyton Manning, #3 is Drew Brees.
The consensus is that Brady and Manning are better, and I’m not saying that’s wrong. Brees has plays half of his games indoors, which inflates his stats a little — but then, in his prime, so did Manning. Brady has the most postseason success, but give Manning or Brees to Belichick and it’s hard to see the results being much different. But, anyway, let’s say Brees ranks #3, the point is that this is the level he’s on; he belongs in this conversation, with probably the two best QBs ever. Because of his height and because he plays for a franchise in a small southern market that thought it was a good idea to have Rob Ryan running its defense for multiple seasons, he doesn’t get nearly enough attention. He’s a great player. Brett Favre is a much bigger star, but Brees is better, by a substantial margin. Eli Manning is star of similar magnitude and may not have to wait much longer to get into Canton, and while he’s had a good career he can’t carry Brees’s jock. He’s the hidden all-time great.
I say this in part to say that this is not an anti-Vikings pick. They’re a superbly coached team, outstanding defensively and surprisingly efficient offensively. I don’t fully trust Case Keenum either, but he’s had a flat out excellent year, and again coaching matters; he’s probably a little over his head, but there’s no reason to think he’ll revert back to what he was when he was trying to execute Jeff Fisher’s tribute to the Ford administration either. I don’t believe in this “Franchise DNA” bullshit — the Purple People Eaters disappointing in the Super Bowl is irrelevant to the 2017 Vikings, and Blair Walsh is busy eliminating the Seahawks now. “Curses” are things until they’re not. They could absolutely win the Super Bowl. But give me an all-time great QB, indoors, with an actual defense against a well-deployed journeyman, and even on the road I’m taking the points.