Welcome to the latest edition of The Sunday Recap, a weekly column dedicated to thoughts on the previous day’s NFL action!
Should he stay or should he go? Assessing all the coaches on the hot seat
With only a week remaining in the 2017 regular season, plenty of teams have already been eliminated from playoff contention, meaning it’s time for many front offices to start looking ahead to next season.
The Dallas Cowboys are one of those teams. Even with Ezekiel Elliott returning from a six-game suspension, Dallas’ offense was listless and self-destructive in a 12-point, three turnover performance against the struggling Seahawks. And though two missed field goals in the fourth quarter from the normally reliable Dan Bailey didn’t help their chances, the Cowboys wasted a terrific performance from their defense — they allowed only 136 yards to Russell Wilson and company — in a dispiriting loss that officially eliminated them from the playoffs.
Many people deserve blame. Elliott certainly did the Cowboys no favors by missing six games. Dak Prescott, whose interception total increased from 4 in 2016 to 13 this past season, clearly suffered the dreaded sophomore slump. And as Skip Bayless’ Twitter feed constantly reminds us, Dez Bryant’s days as an elite receiver are over.
However, Jason Garrett needs to be the man who takes the blame for Dallas’ failed season. Personnel losses are the nature of the NFL, so the fact that the Cowboys were not able to overcome the brief absences of guys like Elliott and linebacker Sean Lee shows that Dallas is overly reliant on a small handful of players.
Then there’s this fact: the Cowboys have just one playoff victory in Garrett’s seven seasons at the helm. Just one. On top of that, this season will mark the fifth time in seven years that Garrett’s Cowboys have failed to finish above .500. That’s obviously not a favorable stat, either.
And you want to know what makes Dallas’ mediocrity during Garrett’s tenure even more disappointing? The Cowboys have almost always had a Pro Bowl quarterback under center, be it Tony Romo or Dak Prescott. Teams with above-average QB’s routinely make the postseason, even those with normally shaky defenses like New Orleans and Atlanta. But Dallas seems to be the only exception. I blame that on Garrett, whose overly-optimistic coaching style clearly hasn’t worked. My advice to Jerry Jones: move on from Garrett and ask Jim Harbaugh to name his price.
Jason Garrett isn’t the only coach who could (and should) be in danger of losing his job. Here are a number of others who are also on the hot seat, along with my thoughts on whether they should ultimately be fired.
Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis
In fairness to Pagano, it’s not his fault that Andrew Luck still hasn’t recovered from offseason surgery. Nonetheless, this is the third consecutive season in which the Colts will miss the playoffs. Clearly this franchise could use a change of scenery.
Verdict: Get rid of him!
Bill O’Brien, Houston
In what was “the year of the injury,” no team was hit harder than the Texans, who lost their star rookie quarterback, Deshaun Watson, and arguably the best defensive player in football, J.J. Watt, to season-ending injuries. So it’s harsh to blame O’Brien for the Texans’ four-win season, especially since they were firmly in the playoff hunt before Watson went down. Plus, let’s not forget how O’Brien has won two division titles with Brian Hoyer and Brock Osweiler at quarterback.
O’Brien may ultimately be dismissed because he has a frosty relationship with the front office, but it shouldn’t be because he has done a poor job during his tenure.
Verdict: Keep him!
Jack del Rio, Oakland
The Raiders have undoubtedly been one of this season’s most disappointing teams. However, I’m a believer in organizational stability. Just look at teams like the Browns and Bills: it doesn’t help to routinely cycle through coaching staffs. Considering that only a year ago del Rio had a case to be Coach of the Year, I don’t think the Raiders should be too quick to fire him.
Verdict: Give him another year
Vance Joseph, Denver
It’s shocking how the Broncos, just two years removed from a Super Bowl title, could be so irrelevant. And I think a lot of that has to do with their first-year head coach, who looked lost on the sidelines as teams like the Patriots, Eagles, and even the Dolphins outclassed Denver in every phase of the game. John Elway should look to find someone more experienced.
Verdict: Sorry Vance, but we’ve seen enough after one year
Jay Gruden, Washington
Gruden has now had four years to prove his worth, but he has only guided the Redskins to one playoff appearance. However, with respect to this season, I hardly think it is his fault that a) Washington was so depleted from an injury standpoint or b) that it played the NFL’s hardest slate of opponents. It wouldn’t hurt for the front office to see if there was a high-caliber coach available on the market, but the Redskins would still be in fine shape if they stayed with Gruden (and resigned Kirk Cousins).
Verdict: Tough call, but I’d keep him
Jim Caldwell, Detroit
Similar to the Redskins, Detroit has a difficult decision to make. Do you bring back a coach who is merely competent? Well, competence isn’t always easy to find. So I think the fact that Caldwell has made the playoffs twice in four years with the Lions helps his case.
Verdict: Eh…there’s really not much Detroit can do with Minnesota and Green Bay in its division anyway — Keep Caldwell
John Fox, Chicago
Chicago has hope thanks to rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky and a steady defense. But I don’t think Fox is the coach to usher in a new era of Bears football. He’s just 14-33 (.298) in three seasons with Chicago. The Bears would benefit from bringing in an offensive-minded head coach to expedite Trubisky’s development.
Verdict: So long, John
Dirk Koetter, Tampa Bay
The Buccaneers have underachieved greatly this season after entering the year with playoff aspirations. Based on how Tampa let go of its previous coach, Lovie Smith, after two unremarkable seasons, they could — and should — do the same with Koetter. Although in fairness to Koetter, I think the Buccaneers’ poor season can be largely attributed to bad luck (they’re 2-7 in one-score games) and poor field goal kicking.
Verdict: Fire him anyway
Mike Mularkey, Tennessee
No team has fallen harder over the last month than the Titans, who are in danger of missing the playoffs after entering December with both a division lead and a two-game bulge over the nearest Wild Card contenders. Unlike the other coaches on this list, though, Mularkey’s fate depends entirely on next week’s game. Beat Jacksonville and make the playoffs: he should stay. Lose: he should go.
Verdict: To be determined
Other Sunday Storylines: Gurley for OPOY, Garoppolo for 4th Quarter MVP, and a Word on This Season’s Unluckiest Teams
Todd Gurley proved Sunday why he is the Offensive Player of the Year
It bothers me when a quarterback wins Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year. Why can’t there be a common understanding that the most outstanding non-QB should win OPOY, if only to avoid redundancy?
Nonetheless, even though I think a certain quarterback in New England has clearly been worthy enough to claim this year’s MVP award, Rams running back Todd Gurley has been the most outstanding player in football this year, and therefore should win OPOY. Yesterday was one of many sensational performances that Gurley has had in 2017; but with 22 carries for 118 yards on the ground, as well as 10 receptions for a staggering 158 yards and two touchdowns through the air in Los Angeles’ win over Tennessee, it was arguably his best.
Simply put, has there been an offensive player more dynamic than Gurley this season? The 23-year-old’s 1,305 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns are the most in the NFL (pending Le’Veon Bell’s performance against Houston). His six receiving touchdowns are the most among all running backs, too. These totals are reminiscent of the numbers Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson used to post in his prime, so I’d expect Gurley, whose efforts have been vital throughout LA’s resurgence, to receive the recognition he deserves.
Jimmy G is the late-season MVP
The 49ers may look back on their November 1st trade with New England the same way the Packers remember Aaron Rodgers sliding down the draft board in 2005. What a steal!
Granted, it still may be too early to put Garoppolo in the same context as a future Hall of Famer like Rodgers. But based on his play over the past month (69% completion percentage, 83.7 Total QBR), and particularly his latest performance against Jacksonville, which boasts arguably the league’s best defense, it looks at the very least like San Francisco has secured a quarterback for the future.
Think about how remarkable Garoppolo’s play over the last month has been. Not only do his stats look great, but he’s led a 49ers team that started the season 0-9 (!) to four consecutive victories, two of which have come over potentially playoff-bound opponents. For that reason, Garoppolo earns the fictitious honor of being the league’s MVP for the final quarter of the regular season. And who knows: given the way other young quarterbacks like Carson Wentz and Jared Goff burst onto the scene, it’s no stretch to think Garoppolo won’t leap into the actual MVP discussion as early as next year.
Tampa Bay and this season’s worst performers in close games
With their heartbreaking loss yesterday to Carolina, the Buccaneers dropped to 2-7 in one-score games. This not only explains why Tampa has been such a disappointment this season, but it also offers hope for ‘Bucs fans in 2018, as particularly poor performance in one-score games rarely carries over to the following season.
But for those of you who think that the law of averages plays absolutely no role in these 50-50 situations, know this: the three teams with the worst records in one-score games last season were the Chargers (1-8), Eagles (1-8), and Jaguars (2-8). Not only have these teams combined to go 9-7 in one-score games so far in 2017, but they all could be on the cusp of playoff berths after improving by three, five, and seven wins respectively. And with respect to Philadelphia (4-1 in one-score games) and Jacksonville (2-2), these win total changes represent two of the three largest increases in the NFL this season, along with the LA Rams.
While improved success in close games doesn’t automatically translate to a dramatic turnaround, it does help explain how a team like the Jaguars can miraculously go from winning three games in one season to making the playoffs just a year later.
So who might be next year’s Jacksonville or Philadelphia? This list of teams with particularly poor records in one-score games might be a good place to start.
- Cleveland Browns: 0-5 (.000) in one-score games
- New York Giants: 1-5 (.167)
- Kansas City Chiefs: 1-5 (.167)
- Houston Texans: 1-4 (.200)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2-7 (.222)
- San Francisco 49ers: 2-5 (.285)
- Chicago Bears: 2-5 (.285)
Monday Night Predictions: Christmas Edition!
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3) vs Houston Texans (4-10)
Spread: PIT -9 Over/Under: 45
DVOA: PIT (9) > HOU (31)
The Steelers tend to lay eggs against inferior opponents. Maybe Houston will keep it close.
Pittsburgh 24, HOUSTON 17
Oakland Raiders (6-8) vs Philadelphia Eagles (12-2)
Spread: PHI -10 Over/Under: 46.5
DVOA: OAK (17) < PHI (3)
Now that they have been eliminated from the playoffs, I doubt that the Raiders will provide much resistance against an Eagles team that looked good offensively last week even without Carson Wentz.