AROUND THE NFL
Wild Card Weekend is over and we managed to go 0-for-4 with our picks. 3 of the 4 road teams won and the 4th covered the spread at the last minute.
Despite the Wild Card results, all 4 home teams are favored in the Divisional Playoffs.
Divisional Round lines, via @betonline_ag
Chiefs (-5.5) vs. Colts
Rams (-6.5) vs. Cowboys
Patriots (-4.5) vs. Chargers
Saints (-9.5) vs. Eagles
This from Clay Travis:
Underdogs in the NFL playoffs are now 14-1 against the spread in their last 15 playoff games. Amazing.
The DB feels that the Chargers hosting the Colts in the AFC Championship Game is very much in play.
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This from Scott Kacsmar (we bolded the three that won games this week, although Luck did not have a 4th quarter opportunity):
Only four active QBs are at least .500 in 4QC/GWD opportunities
Dak Prescott 15-9 (.625)
Tom Brady 56-42 (.571)
Andrew Luck 21-19 (.525)
Nick Foles 12-12 (.500)
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Peter King notes a playoff trend.
• Nice D. This was supposed to be the start of offenses gone wild. In the NFL this year, teams scored an average of 23.34 points per game. In the playoffs, that number fell to 18.13 points per game for the eight teams playing over the weekend. When’s the last time no team scored 25 on an NFL weekend? Red Grange days?
We accepted King’s challenge to research this and it took about a minute.
These were the scores from Wild Card Weekend in 2012:
Houston 19, Cincinnati 13
Baltimore 24, Indianapolis 9
Green Bay 24, Minnesota 10
Seattle 24, Washington 14
The kicker? In the Divisional Playoffs that year, 2012, all eight teams including the 4 losers scored 25 or more.
New England 41, Houston 28
Baltimore 38, Denver 35 (2 OT)
Atlanta 30, Seattle 28
San Francisco 45, Green Bay 31
Although King wouldn’t call them the Divisional Playoffs if he had his way:
I’ve always hated “the divisional round,” as a name for the second weekend of NFL playoffs. Doesn’t come much more boring than that. I christen this weekend the Conference Semis. The most compelling game, from my chair, looks like the first one.
Actually they are the Divisional Playoffs, not Divisional Round. That said, is “Conference Semis” less boring? Is Elite Eight too much of a steal from basketball?
A timely tweet:
Since the Bears cut him, Robbie Gould has made 82 of 85 field goals.
Cody Parkey was 11 of 12 (91.7 pct) on 4th quarter FG attempts before missing the potential game-winning field goal.
Todd Monken, OC on the fired Bucs staff, adds a third head coaching interview. Jim Owczarski in the Green Bay Press Gazette:
The Green Bay Packers expanded their head-coaching candidate list to 11 on Saturday, interviewing former Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Todd Monken.
Monken’s contract has expired, so the Packers did not have to request permission to speak to him.
The club was already headed to New Orleans to interview Saints assistant head coach/tight ends coach Dan Campbell and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, Jr.
Monken, 52, joins Carmichael, Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur and New England Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores as the only candidates to interview who do not have prior NFL head-coaching experience.
Monken was the head coach at the Southern Mississippi from 2013-15. He inherited an 0-12 program and built it to 9-5 before departing for Tampa Bay, where he served as the Buccaneers’ offensive coordinator from 2016-18. He also coached the wide receivers from 2016-17.
Monken didn’t always call plays in Tampa Bay, though he helped former head coach Dirk Koetter design the offense. The Buccaneers finished No. 3 in the NFL in total offense in 2018, No. 9 in 2017 and No. 18 in 2016 with Monken in the coordinator position. The points didn’t match the production, however, as the Buccaneers never finished better than 12th in scoring.
Monken has spent most of his coaching career in college, with his last stop in the NFL before Tampa Bay coming in Jacksonville from 2007-10 as Jack Del Rio’s wide receivers coach. He coached several young receivers on that team under Koetter, who was the offensive coordinator. In Tampa Bay, Mike Evans turned into a Pro Bowler in his first season with Monken as a receivers coach.
During his coaching career, Monken has made stops at Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, LSU and Oklahoma State, among others.
The Cowboys were 3-5 when they met the Eagles in Philadelphia on November 11. Starting with that 27-20 victory, they have a +14 point differential over 9 games (219-205). That’s about +1.6 points per game, an average score of 24-23. We note that Dallas won Saturday night’s game from Seattle, 24-22.
Yet in that span, the Cowboys are now 8-1. All 8 victories have been by 8 or fewer points. The loss was 23-0 at Indianapolis.
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The DB notes that the NFL must be happy that its glamor division, the NFC East of the Cowboys, has two teams in the Divisional Playoffs/Conference Semis for the first time since 2008.
In the next seven years, up through 2015, the NFC East put only three teams total in the Divisionals/CSemis. There has been one team in each of the last two seasons, including the Super Bowl champ Eagles last year.
WR GOLDEN TATE III on his big catch with Peter King:
A midseason acquisition, Tate scored one touchdown in eight very pedestrian games since his trade from Detroit. Still, Pederson put Tate in the slot to the right, had him run a very normal sprint-right option (sprinting ahead to the goal line, and immediately breaking right) while Foles rolled right. Great call, better execution. Tate was the first option, and, as it turned out, the only option.
“When I broke off the line, I felt good about winning the matchup, and I got between him and Nick, ran the best possible route I knew how, and Nick just dropped a dime. He put in a spot where only I could catch it. That says a lot about the coach, the offensive coordinator, the quarterback, showing faith in me on what could have been our last play. For them to put our season on me is pretty great.”
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The Eagles are “eying a solution” to get QB NICK FOLES his million dollar bonus per Adam Schefter:
Nick Foles fell four plays short of earning a $1 million incentive when he bruised his ribs and had to leave Philadelphia’s season finale against the Redskins last Sunday, but the Eagles intend to work on a solution to pay him the bonus, league sources told ESPN.
Foles was on track to reach the incentive, which would’ve been triggered if the Eagles made the playoffs and Foles played 33 percent of the team’s offensive plays this season. But he bruised his ribs in the fourth quarter of the Eagles’ playoff-clinching victory over the Redskins. Foles had to leave the game, and he finished the season playing 357 of the Eagles’ 1,092 plays — four offensive snaps short of the 33 percent threshold.
It’s looking more and more like Bruce Arians will be the new head coach of the Buccaneers (with the idea that Todd Bowles could come aboard to run the defense). Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times:
Bruce Arians could fix quarterback Jameis Winston and would love to work with general manager Jason Licht.
For those reasons, the former Cardinals head coach has been the favorite to fill the Bucs’ vacancy and took a big step in that direction Saturday when he came into town and interviewed for the position.
Arians, 66, is the only known former NFL head coach to meet with the Bucs since they fired Dirk Koetter last Sunday after three seasons.
Licht interviewed Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy on Wednesday and Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards on Friday. The Bucs are scheduled to meet with Cowboys defensive backs coach Kris Richard today.
But none of those candidates have been head coaches, nor do they check as many boxes for the Bucs as Arians.
Start with the fact that Arians has known Winston since the Bucs quarterback attended his football camp in Birmingham, Ala., as a kid.
Also, Licht and Arians worked together at Arizona when Licht was the Cardinals’ vice president of player personnel.
And most important, Arians is a bit of a quarterback whisperer. He has worked with quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer.
Two of Winston’s worst defeats came against the Cardinals under Arians. In 2016, the Bucs lost at Arizona 40-7 as Winston went 27-of-52 for 243 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions.
Two years ago, the Bucs fell at Arizona 38-33. Winston went only 5-of-10 for 61 yards, but he left the game in the second quarter after injuring his right shoulder.
Arians retired as Cardinals coach after the 2017 season, finishing 49-30-1 in his five-year run that included a pair of playoff appearances. He worked as a broadcaster this season.
He had said recently that the only job he would consider was the Browns, but he amended that to say he would be open to talk to Licht about the Bucs position.
There is speculation that Arians, a two-time Associated Press coach of the year, would bring former Jets coach Todd Bowles as his defensive coordinator.
The Bucs also would likely retain defensive line coach Brentson Buckner, who is under contract for another year and worked with Arians in Arizona.
The Bucs will not owe the Cardinals compensation if they hire Arians. While he retired in 2018, the Cardinals chose not to exercise the club option on Arians’ contract for 2019.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
Peter King looks at the Cowboys-Rams primetime game on Saturday:
Let’s step back for a minute and think how interesting it is that two years ago, the two teams now in southern California, the Rams and Chargers, were a woebegone 9-23, and league owners were rolling their eyes at the possibility of the combo platter of two lousy teams owning this valuable piece of NFL property known as Los Angeles. Now they’re 26-7, and they’re legit members of the NFL’s elite eight. Nothing is forever in the NFL.
Other than Jerry Jones getting to take his entourage to Nobu in Malibu, the best thing for Dallas about this weekend is this matchup. In 2018, the Rams gave up 5.1 yards per rush, which is beyond an Achilles heel. It’s preposterous, and it’s the biggest reason why the Rams could be endangered species when Ezekiel Elliott rolls into the Coliseum on Saturday evening. Elsewhere in this column I write about how impressive a football player (not just a great back; I mean a complete player) Elliott is. And the more the Cowboys are able to ride Elliott, the less of a factor Aaron Donald will be in making Dak Prescott’s life miserable.
The tale of two backs in this game—which will be the ratings bonanza of the postseason—has one big mystery: How healthy is Todd Gurley, and how productive can he be? Gurley hasn’t been himself since he saved the Rams with a 155-yard performance (rushing and receiving) at Detroit, and regardless whether he practices this week or is listed on the injury report, I won’t trust him till I see if he can dominate a game the way he did in the first half of this season. This game’s going to be closer than it looks.
Why are the Broncos denying Gary Kubiak, their last Super Bowl winning coach, a chance to return to the sidelines? Adam Schefter of ESPN.com:
As they wait to fill their head-coaching vacancy, the Denver Broncos have blocked other teams from trying to hire away former head coach Gary Kubiak as an offensive coordinator, league sources told ESPN.
Both the Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals have requested permission to interview Kubiak, who currently works as a senior personnel adviser with the Broncos, for their offensive coordinator jobs.
But Denver plans to keep Kubiak, according to sources, and would like him to work with whomever the Broncos hire as their next head coach, if that hire is open to that arrangement.
Kubiak is considered one of the top offensive coordinator candidates around the league. He still is under contract with Denver, and the Broncos can deny him from leaving.
Kubiak would like to stay in Denver anyway, sources said.
Kubiak, 57, went 21-11 in two seasons as the Broncos’ head coach and guided Denver to a victory in Super Bowl 50. He stepped away from coaching after the 2016 season, citing health issues.
Peter King on the enduring nature of T MITCHELL SCHWARTZ:
Remember midway through last season, when Cleveland left tackle Joe Thomas suffered a torn triceps, which, as it turned out, ended his career? Thomas played 10,363 consecutive snaps as an NFL player, over 11 seasons. He played every snap of his professional life. The record seemed rock solid. Who would ever play every play for 10-plus seasons, or however long it took to play 10,363 straight snaps?
Not so fast for that unbreakable record.
“I still talk with Joe,” said Kansas City right tackle Mitchell Schwartz the other day. “I joke that I want to break it just to invalidate all the signatures he’s been signing with the 10,363 on it.”
Schwartz played the first four seasons of his career in Cleveland, on the same line with Thomas. He learned well the blue-collar ethos. Entering next week’s playoff game with Indianapolis, Schwartz has played every snap of his seven-year career: 7,397 offensive plays in 114 games. That leaves him 2,967 plays from breaking the Thomas record. That means Schwartz needs to stay pristinely healthy (and he has not had even a minor injury that’s been close to making him miss any time in seven years) for the next two-and-three-quarters years, or thereabouts, to break the record.
So can Schwartz stay upright for the next 46 games, approximately? If so, around Thanksgiving 2021, Thomas is going to have some company in ironman land.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
A couple of Chargers tidbits:
The Chargers will be the first road team in the Divisional Round to have a better record than their opponent since the 1993 season (11-5 Giants at 10-6 49ers).
Chargers now 8-0 this season when getting on a plane for a game. Only “away” defeat was to Rams. Next up: Patriots next Sunday in Foxborough.
The DB has them at 4-0 in the Eastern Time Zone, plus 1-0 in London.
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Peter King does his postgame thing in the Chargers locker room, starting with the defense that used seven defensive backs the whole game:
Lots to unpack after this game. It starts with that defensive plan. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley threw the changeup of the NFL season at Baltimore, making a dominant run game feeble with a seven-defensive-back alignment from the first snap of the game to the last. When Bradley first discussed it with coach Anthony Lynn early in the week, Lynn said, “Are we insane, or what?” Nope. It worked. The Chargers (13-4) flummoxed Baltimore with 58 snaps (out of 59) of seven-DB defense.
The Chargers did this for health reasons—they’re beat-up at linebacker—but also for strategic ones. Instead of playing 240 pounds-250-251 across as their three ‘backers, Bradley wanted to go 195 (Jahleel Addae), 210 (Adrian Phillips), with rookie all-pro safety Derwin James (215) coming into the box at times—like the first defensive snap of the game. Lamar Jackson, the biggest running threat in the league at quarterback right now, broke for the right end on the first play from scrimmage in front of a jacked-up crowd.
Loss of one. James stoned him.
“The momentum of the defense rose from there,” James told me afterward. “When that play happened, we just got so jacked.”
Midway through the first quarter, an NFL GM acquaintance of mine texted me: “Chargers playing with 7 DBs. What’s this all about?” Speed. Quickness. Playing Lamar Jackson. That’s what it was about. “I wasn’t sure how this was gonna hold up,” Lynn said afterward. “They were running for 300 yards lots of games with Lamar playing. Gus felt like getting speed on the field could help contain Lamar. It could help in the passing game, dropping back and taking over routes that our linebackers usually cover. It worked. Our guys, they embraced it. It was risky, but it paid off. We’re talking about going up against a rushing attack that no one can stop right now. And we’re gonna do it with two 200-pound guys?
“What was cool,” said James, “is our DB room, we got seven or eight guys in there everyday. And today, every one of them started and played the whole way, basically.”
It’s infectious being around James, who will compete with Indianapolis linebacker and NFL tackles leader Darius Leonard for Defensive Rookie of the Year. You can tell he loves his space in life. He talked to every media member for as long as he could Sunday, punctuating it with talking on FaceTime to a slew of friends, at one point introducing one to Melvin Ingram. It’s cool to see someone who loves the game and wants to be great acting out his dreams.
“So you guys haven’t lost all year outside L.A.,” I told James. “Why are you so good away from home?”
“It’s fun being around guys who love being into football 24/7,” he said. “We love football. We love it, we love it, we love it. When we get on the road, we get to spend more time together talking football, being together.”
James, Desmond King, Ingram, Michael Davis … The Chargers have picked a bunch of players recently who love football the way Philip Rivers does. That showed up play after play Sunday. Did you notice Rivers acting out Sunday? He got whacked hard by Ravens linebacker Matthew Judon twice in the second half—and Rivers thought both hits came a little late, after he’d released the ball on a pass. So Rivers got fired up at Judon, and they jawed, and Judon at one point looked hurt and struggled to get up. “That’s what you get!” Rivers hollered at him.
And so on the Chargers’ last scoring drive of the game, early in the fourth quarter, Rivers, a plodder, escaped trouble and lumbered nine yards for a first down on third-and-eight. When he got up, Rivers looked like Steve Smith. He thrust his chest out for the 45 Ravens and 70,432 fans to see.
By his locker afterward, no longer grass-stained but still filthy (and deliriously happy), Rivers did his best to dissect how it happened. He did a terrific job of dumping off passes milliseconds before a cover-zero rush would get to him. “They brought cover-zero again on us some, and we took advantage when we got an opportunity for big plays. I told [friend and Baltimore safety Eric] Weddle and [defensive coordinator] Wink Martindale after the game they did a heckuva job. What did we have? A little over 200 yards of offense.”
This from King:
• 16 days ago in California, when Baltimore beat the Chargers 22-10:
Ravens rushing yards, 159. Passing yards, 202.
• Sunday in Baltimore, through 50 minutes of a 23-17 Chargers’ win:
Ravens rushing yards, 76. Passing yards, 44.
In his final losing locker room, QB JOE FLACCO goes out with class. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
There will be plenty of talk in the days ahead about whether Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson should have been benched in favor of Joe Flacco during today’s loss to the Chargers. But Flacco is refusing to fuel such talk.
When a reporter suggested to Flacco after the game that perhaps he should have gone in to replace Jackson, Flacco quickly shut it down and praised Jackson for his big fourth quarter, which gave the Ravens a chance at a dramatic comeback.
“You can’t even go there, man,” Flacco said. “I thought Lamar did a great job of hanging in there and giving us a chance at the end.”
That’s a classy answer from Flacco, who also acknowledged after the game that he doesn’t have much say in where he’ll end up next season, with the Ravens ready to move on from him and make Jackson their franchise quarterback. Flacco didn’t want to leave Baltimore this way, having been benched for a younger quarterback, but he’s still leaving Baltimore with his status as a good teammate and consummate professional intact.
Longtime Baltimore Sun writer Mike Preston ponders what the Ravens have with LAMAR JACKSON as they move forward:
The same questions that were asked about rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson eight weeks ago are being asked again.
Can the Ravens improve his accuracy? Can he perform at a high level in an NFL passing offense? Can he win games and lead comebacks from the pocket?
Actually, there is another one: Is he another Kyle Boller?
Boller never had a run of success like Jackson, who won six of seven games before the Ravens lost, 23-17, to the Los Angeles Chargers in an AFC wild-card-round game Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
Boller was also more of a pocket passer, and Jackson is a runner first and thrower second. Both were first-round draft picks. Boller was taken 19th overall in 2003 out of California, and Jackson was the No. 32 overall pick last April from Louisville.
And, as Boller did, Jackson wears No. 8.
But the biggest similarity is that the Ravens mortgaged their future with Boller and it didn’t work out. They’ve also done that with Jackson, whom coach John Harbaugh called the team’s quarterback of the future Sunday.
They both made favorable impressions during their rookie seasons, and Boller got confirmation of being the team’s franchise quarterback from former coach Brian Billick. Jackson has gotten it formally from Harbaugh and informally from team owner Steve Bisciotti.
Now, it’s just wait and see.
“I mean Lamar played really well” in the final two minutes, Harbaugh said of Jackson’s failed fourth-quarter comeback attempt. “I mean Lamar is our quarterback of the future, no question about that.”
When a team drafts a quarterback or any other player in the first round, it is inevitable that one day he will be the starter. Just ask Boller.
He started in Baltimore for five seasons and the Ravens were 29-34 during that experiment. The Ravens are 6-2 with Jackson as a starter in one season.
Jackson has proved he is the player most of us thought he would be, but faster. When he turns a corner and his shoulder pads are square, there are few in the NFL who can run with him. He can scramble and is elusive. He can make something out of nothing with his ability to improvise and at times has thrown some passes into tight windows in the middle of the field.
But on Sunday, the Chargers had the perfect game plan. They were conservative on offense with quarterback Philip Rivers steadily handing the ball off and not throwing much downfield.
On defense the Chargers stacked seven or eight players near the line of scrimmage and brought down safety Jahleel Addae as an inside linebacker to help squash some of the Ravens’ gut running. They dared Jackson to beat them.
But he couldn’t.
Mike Preston’s report card from the Ravens’ 23-17 wild-card-round loss to the Chargers
There were overthrows and underthrows. There were fumbles and a lack of pocket awareness when pressured. He looked lost at times, and the same questions that haunted him in the preseason were back on a lot of fans’ minds.
Until proved otherwise, the theory about being unable to coach accuracy is still prevailing: Either you have it or you don’t. Boller didn’t have accuracy, and so far neither does Jackson.
“I feel like I played poorly,” Jackson said. “I feel like there were a lot of things we could have done, I could have done. I didn’t play my game … only towards the end. There are a lot of things I need to work on.”
Jackson’s performance drew some boos from fans Sunday and chants for him to be replaced by veteran Joe Flacco. Fans probably were booing the play-calling as much as they were Jackson.
The Ravens didn’t run many quick hitches or slant-in patterns to back the Chargers off the line of scrimmage.
You expect a rookie to have problems with his mechanics, but Jackson showed only moderate improvement from the beginning of the season. He still throws flat-footed and doesn’t consistently step into his throws.
His delivery can be from anywhere at anytime. The Ravens should have been prepared to open up the offense with Jackson or at least ready to bring in Flacco, but that was a no-no.
““We made those decisions already weeks ago. So no, not at all,” said Flacco when asked whether he was surprised he didn’t replace Jackson.
I would have played Flacco. Jackson has a fragile ego and the Ravens guarded him against a lot of criticism early in the preseason, but this was the playoffs. There is no tomorrow.
But the Ravens stayed the course. And Jackson and the Ravens came back when the Chargers went soft on defense with the big lead in the fourth quarter, but Harbaugh didn’t give his team the best chance of winning.
Flacco’s absence might have also been a business decision. He is under contract next season and set to make $18.5 million in base salary. If he got hurt, the Ravens couldn’t use him as trade bait or might have had to pay him until he were fully recovered.
Ravens notes: Running game is grounded to halt in playoff loss to Chargers
Flacco might not have played any better than Jackson, especially with the Ravens allowing seven sacks, but the Ravens had nothing to lose.
Instead, the 2018 season ended. Harbaugh got as much out of this team as possible, especially considering the injury to Flacco midway through the season.
The Ravens revamped the offense to fit Jackson’s abilities, but it isn’t good enough to get them where they need to go. The kid showed some promise, and his teammates played hard and respected him.
But the questions still exist. The answers might not come for two or three more seasons, and hopefully they are better than the results produced by Boller.
Josh McDaniels, who spurned the Colts to their current delight, may want some BAKER MAYFIELD to play with. Steve Doerschuk of the Canton Repository on why Cleveland might be home for McDaniels:
Bill Belichick used Cleveland as a priceless training ground to build an NFL empire in New England.
The prospect of Josh McDaniels leveraging Belichick’s school of schools to land in Cleveland is more intriguing than ever.
McDaniels is enthusiastically interested in the Cleveland opening. The Browns have used back channels to indicate a mutual preliminary interest, but they have not invited him to an early interview. The Green Bay Packers did, and he said yes.
Browns General Manager John Dorsey has been good at cloaking what he is up to, including in the eyes of some obvious candidates. However, indications are that McDaniels is a very serious candidate.
There have been times the Browns had to pull teeth to interest coaches and free agents. This is different.
The team went 0-16 in 2017. In the wake of improving to 7-8-1 in Dorsey’s first year as GM, their situation is viewed as the best among teams with openings. Pro Football Talk, for example, opined that second place isn’t close, but the perception exists among plenty of coaches, not just media analysts.
Baker Mayfield, an emerging roster, salary cap room galore, Dorsey, and an improving view of ownership are among Cleveland’s assets.
In his capacity of Patriots offensive coordinator, McDaniels had a substantial visit with Mayfield in advance of the 2018 draft. They hit it off.
McDaniels has imagined a chance to succeed Belichick as head coach, but no one presses THAT issue. Belichick gives no clues about when he might retire.
Belichick, also 66, has reached more Super Bowls (eight) than any head coach in history. McDaniels, 42, has been at his side for all eight.
In public, McDaniels talks rather like Belichick. Deliberately. Methodically. He was asked before a recent game against the Steelers about other teams adopting some of New England’s plays, and vice versa.
“There’s a lot of really good coaches and a lot of unique designs. People are always creating new things to try to give themselves an advantage. We’re all football coaches. We all see different games when we’re looking at tape of an opponent, like Pittsburgh.
“You’re trying to make decisions on what works for your team, because none of us have the same players. If our guys can do something well that somebody else might have done and it fits who we are, great.
“The most important thing is you have to play with good fundamentals. You have to block, you have to run, you have to throw and catch, you have to pick up blitzes. It’s not a play call or scheme or some design. It’s playing good solid football.”
McDaniels doesn’t joke around in press conferences like, say, Freddie Kitchens, but he is a bright fellow (A-plus student at McKinley High School) with a sense of humor.
When he landed the Broncos head coaching job in 2009, he gleefully went on the Jim Rome show and admitted he was a fan. Rome’s shtick is sarcastic comedy.
By McDaniels’ second year with the Broncos, Denver was burning. Getting fired was painful then, but McDaniels now regards it as a tremendous learning experience, along the lines of Belichick’s in his early years as Cleveland’s head coach.
Peripheral considerations work both for and against McDaniels.
Belonging to the Belichick tree invites the observation that none of his eight assistants who went on to be NFL head coaches enjoyed more than spotty pro success. The group includes McDaniels himself. Hired at age 32 in Denver, he got off to a 6-0 start in 2009 before things came apart. He was dismissed with four games left in his second season.
The tree also includes Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini, who became fired Browns head coaches with a combined record of 34-62.
Yet, there are multiple branches in the B-Tree discussion. Crennel’s 2007 Browns set an expansion-era record by going 10-6. Nick Saban went just 15-17 with the Dolphins but is doing all right in college. Mangini (Jets) and Jim Schwartz (Lions) took teams to the playoffs.
Bill O’Brien is emerging as a successful B-Tree guy, having piloted the Houston Texans to their third AFC South title in three of the last four years. Worth noting: McDaniels was O’Brien’s boss in New England in 2007 and ’08 (McDaniels was offensive coordinator; O’Brien was an offensive assistant).
After McDaniels left for Denver, O’Brien was Tom Brady’s position coach in 2009 and ’10 and offensive coordinator in 2011. The 2011 regular season ended with the Rams firing head coach Steve Spagnuolo, whose offensive coordinator was McDaniels. The Patriots were 13-3. Suddenly free, McDaniels was hired by Belichick as a special assistant for what became a run to the Super Bowl.
O’Brien finished that postseason as offensive coordinator, knowing he was on his way to be head coach at Penn State. McDaniels regained his old job as offensive coordinator in 2012 and has had it ever since.
The Patriots’ regular-season records with McDaniels as coordinator were 12-4, 16-0 and 11-5 from 2006-08. From 2012-18, the records have been 12-4, 12-4, 12-4, 12-4, 14-2, 13-3 and 11-5.
McDaniels has been a Browns head coaching candidate multiple times, first in 2009 when then-owner Randy Lerner interviewed him. Lerner deemed that the youth-inexperience factor was too evident and hired Mangini.
Yet, McDaniels impressed Denver owner Pat Bowlen and got that job. His home opener, against Mangini’s Browns, produced a 27-6 win. He improved to 5-0 by beating his old boss, Belichick, 20-17. His record the rest of the way was 6-17.
McDaniels was on the verge of becoming the Colts’ head coach last January. New England had a first-round playoff bye, freeing him to accept Indy’s request for an early interview, which went well.
What appeared to be a sure hire unraveled.
McDaniels got close enough to taking the job that he was well into lining up a coaching staff. His defensive coordinator was Matt Eberflus, who stayed even after McDaniels pulled out and Frank Reich became head coach. Worth noting: The Browns plan to interview Eberflus.
McDaniels has prepared to explain his side of the Colts story to the Packers, Browns and anyone else who might interview him.
The Packers, still banking on 35-year-old Aaron Rodgers, want someone who knows how to work with a superstar quarterback. McDaniels joined the Patriots during Tom Brady’s second season and soon became his position coach. Between McDaniels’ first and second shifts in New England, he has been Brady’s offensive coordinator for 10 years.
Naturally, the question arises: How good can McDaniels be without Belichick and Brady nearby?
His quick answers might be that Belichick has given him substantial autonomy to construct the offense and call plays, and that when Brady was injured in 2008, the Patriots went 10-5 with Matt Cassel as the starter.
Relocating to Ohio would be a homecoming for both McDaniels and his wife of 16 years. She was Laura Johncock when she grew up in Parma and attended Valley Forge High School. For a while, she lived in Westlake, a popular settling spot for Browns players and coaches.
Josh and Laura met in 2000 as coworkers for a Cleveland plastics company, FiberTech. That was when Josh began applying his John Carroll education toward a career in the business world, only to realize his real ambition was to coach football.
He landed a graduate assistant job at Michigan State under Saban, who had been Belichick’s defensive coordinator with the Browns. The connection led to an offer to work with Belichick’s Patriots in 2001, coinciding with Belichick’s first run to a Super Bowl.
McDaniels went to John Carroll as a quarterback but became a wide receiver after Nick Caserio (now a Patriots executive) won the job. John Carroll’s stadium is named after a former player, Don Shula, the all-time NFL wins leader with 347 (Belichick heads for the playoffs in third place with 289, counting his all-time best 28 postseason wins).
The all-time record for wins at McKinley is held by Josh’s father, Thom, with whom Josh spent his high school career. Josh started at quarterback for two seasons, including the epic ’94 campaign that included a 42-41 loss at Massillon in the 100th game in the great rivalry, a playoff win over Massillon in a packed Rubber Bowl, and a loss in the state semifinals to Cleveland St. Ignatius.
John “Spider” Miller, now the head coach at East Canton, was a veteran member of McKinley’s staff when Josh played.
“Josh had great character and integrity and was a leader among his peers,” Miller said Thursday. “He got along with teachers, teammates and everyone else. Football-wise, the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree with his mom and dad.
“He was a student of the game. He put us in great position to win games and was just a great young man who wanted to learn, listen and get better.
“His work ethic is second to none. The coaches he has been with have noticed that. He just worked hard at everything he did.”
McDaniels has been happy working in New England. He and Laura have four children (the oldest in eighth grade) who have settled into their Boston-area schools.
Coaches move. McDaniels’ 15 years with Belichick in New England is an NFL eternity. If the Browns are interested, he’s all ears. Behind the scenes, the Browns are interested.
Peter King explains his position on WR ANTONIO BROWN:
Last Monday, when I sat down to finalize my all-pro team for the Associated Press (I am one of the 50 media voters for the annual team), I typed in DeAndre Hopkins and Antonio Brown as my two wide receivers, with Tyreek Hill as my “flex” player. (Because so many teams now play more than two receivers on the majority of plays, or maybe an all-purpose player like Tarik Cohen, the AP gives voters a chance to pick a third offensive skill player.) The receiver position was exceedingly hard, with Michael Thomas (league-high 125 catches), Julio Jones (league-high 1,677 yards), Adam Thielen (eight straight 100-yard receiving games), Davante Adams and several others in the running. There is no position on the field with such depth today. Ballots were due Wednesday at noon. I emailed mine Monday evening.
On Monday night, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story of Brown missing Sunday’s regular-season finale against Cincinnati NOT because of an injury was gaining steam. As the newspaper reported, it was apparent that Brown was not injured—at least not to the point where it would have kept him from playing. He went AWOL, apparently, because of a snit. He didn’t practice Wednesday (getting a so-called vets’ day off), didn’t practice Thursday or Friday, couldn’t be reached by coach Mike Tomlin (according to Tomlin), skipped Saturday’s walk-through and Saturday night meetings. Tomlin said Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, called Sunday morning to say Brown would be there for the game and ready to play. Tomlin said he told Rosenhaus that Brown wouldn’t be playing. The agent called the coach. Not Brown.
The Steelers had to win and Baltimore had to lose Sunday to have a chance to make the playoffs. As it turned out, the Steelers barely had enough offense to win, 16-13. Baltimore won narrowly. Then Brown skipped end-of-season meetings Monday.
The more I thought about it, the more disgusted I got. There might be some slightly contrarian evidence, but there’s not much debate that Brown petulantly missed multiple practices prior to a game with major playoff implications, a game he could have and almost certainly would have influenced. I could not in good conscience vote for a person who went AWOL for a game of such magnitude. So I erased Brown, typed in Thomas of the Saints, and re-filed my ballot to the AP.
Some of you may think that it’s just one of 16 games, and he did enough in 15 games (a league-best 15 touchdowns, with just one drop in 164 targets) to be all-pro. That’s not how I see it. Brown’s actions sidelined him for 6.25 percent of the Steelers’ season. While guys like T.Y. Hilton and Tyreek Hill played through significant pain in games with major playoff implications down the stretch, Brown went AWOL. Someone else can vote for him. I’m not. I wouldn’t vote for him if the all-pro team were 20 receivers deep this year, though clearly he’s a top-five receiver. He disqualified himself for consideration for anything this year by his actions of Week 17.
Compare this to Kyrie Irving disappearing for five games without telling his team anything; that’s 6 percent of an NBA season. Or Sidney Crosby disappearing for five games of the NHL season. Or Mike Trout taking off, unannounced, for 10 games of the baseball season. Those are all 6 percent of their teams’ seasons. That would be unacceptable. At least it would be to me. I wouldn’t pick any of those players, under those circumstances, for all-league honors or for any honor, no matter how great they had been in the other 94 percent of their season, if they went AWOL the way Brown did.
As for the future, the Steelers have time to let the situation cool off. The start of the 2019 league year is nine weeks away (March 13). I’d let this thing simmer down. In mid-February, Mike Tomlin could quietly meet Brown in some private place in Florida and they could have the face-to-face they’re going to need to have if this relationship can be salvaged. It’s worth salvaging; Brown, 30, is a dominant and affordable player, at $38.9 million over the next three years. But if he won’t agree to Tomlin’s way, all the way, Brown should be traded.
Who would trade for him? I’ll give you possibilities: Oakland (with four first-round picks in the next two drafts and a coach who won’t fear the distraction), Carolina (though the Panthers have spent profusely on Cam Newton weapons, here’s one that could make the Panthers two or three wins better); San Francisco (all-world young tight end, but just an okay receiving corps); and the Jets. An idea? Jets trade Robbie Anderson and a second-round pick to the Steelers for Brown. Jets sign Le’Veon Bell. And the (Steelers East) Jets finally have the weapons to be a potent NFL offense for the next two or three years.
But there’s no hurry. This should simmer for six weeks. Heads should cool. If Brown can be salvaged, and he can be a team guy in 2019, that gives next year’s Steelers the best chance to play deep into the postseason. If not, he’s got to go.
Finally, after I made my views public Friday, some conflated my view on Brown with my view from four years ago of the right of Darren Sharper, a member of the 2000s NFL all-decade team now imprisoned for multiple sexual assaults, to be considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I never voted for Sharper to be enshrined. (I have said this 67 times over the past four years, but it continues to have life from people who either can’t read or who have some other motive for purposely misstating what I’ve said on Sharper.) My view on this remains that every player has the right to be considered for the Hall, because the criteria for enshrinement mandate that voters consider only a player’s career on the field, and what impacts that career on the field.
I told the Brown/AP story to Mike Florio on his “PFT Live” show on NBC Sports Network on Friday morning—not to puff my chest out and say, “See what I did to Antonio Brown?” I’ve been transparent on things like all-pro voting and the Pro Football Hall of Fame voting, and this was such a unique story that I felt I should tell it.
Here is the rebuttal from Brown, in response to another snubbed WR, MIKE EVANS of the Buccaneers:
they give all these people power without no substance or no clue about anything just so they can flex some power or feel empowered by their opinion! no title can define me no man own me; only God!! Funny how they missed your great season as well just went unmentioned right smh
Don’t care how long somebody has been a writer or in media. Saying shit like this has to get you removed from being an All Pro voter. Man said AB wasn’t a top 20 WR 😂 https://twitter.com/sportingnews/status/1081214514375335937 …
King lets former NFL DB Ryan Clark provide his re-rebuttal:
“This is about the fabric of the team. This is about the guy that goes on Facebook Live as your coach is talking and leaks information out of the locker room that never should be there. This is about the guy that publicly talks about not getting the ball or issues with the offensive coordinator, knocks over garbage cans or knocks over Gatorade bottles and cans because he doesn’t get the rock. At some point, when you’re an organization that’s built on team, an organization that’s built on integrity, you have to show the rest of the locker room … It’s time to go.”
—ESPN’s Ryan Clark, the former Steelers safety, on Antonio Brown, telling saying he thinks the Steelers should part ways with Antonio Brown.
“Right from the beginning, we’ve said all year, word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, we were writing our own story. It’s an autobiography. No one’s got the pen in their hands. We got the pen in our hands! We’re not done yet. We ensured ourselves at least one more chapter.” – Frank Reich
Peter King on Sunday’s Chargers-Patriots game:
For the NFL-record 10th straight year, the Patriots open the AFC playoffs at home. New England’s edges entering this game: 13 days between games … Rob Gronkowski can always use the rest … Bill Belichick is pretty smart, and smarter when he’s got two weeks to prepare … The Chargers could be weary, with L.A.-to-Baltimore, Baltimore-to-L.A, and Baltimore-to-Providence flights, 17 hours in the air in all, in a nine-day span prior to the game.
Now to the football: The Chargers have multiple pass-rush threats that bedeviled a mobile quarterback, Lamar Jackson, in a seven-sack whipping of the Ravens. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are the major threats, but Justin Jones and Isaac Rochell are big and quick too, and they both got to Jackson in Baltimore. So it’s a big, athletic defense that will be the challenge for Tom Brady, with the Chargers’ weakness their injuries at linebacker. This is not a game the Chargers will want to play seven defensive backs. New England’s strength will be the ability to play an unpredictable offensive game, as coordinator Josh McDaniels has designed run-heavy, swing-pass-heavy, pass-heavy, and Gronk-light plans during the course of a malleable season—so the Chargers won’t have much of an idea what they’ll see until a little after 1 p.m. Sunday.
The Chargers won’t be cowed by much of anything. They’ve won in four times zones this year, including Greenwich Mean Time. That’s London. “We love the road,” Derwin James told me. “Maybe a lot of teams don’t, but we’re young, we’re all good with each other, and we love spending time together. The road’s good for that.” Well, whatever works. The Chargers are 8-0 outside of Los Angeles this year. Then again, New England is 8-0 at Gillette this year. Something’s got to give.
NEW YORK JETS
Mike McCarthy grants his first interview to the Jets. This from Peter King, quoting Chris Simms, on why McCarthy flamed out in Green Bay:
His take: The Green Bay offense is just too vanilla. Said Simms:
“I think he [McCarthy] is too regular. It’s just basic West Coast offense. I can promise you guys like Bill Belichick, Mike Zimmer, those guys? They’ve been around it for so long and they had to face Bill Walsh. They know that offense just as good as Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers. They know the rules. Other west coast guys who’ve been successful, let’s say Sean Payton or Kyle Shanahan or Sean McVay, it’s West Coast-based, but they’ve added their own footprint to it to go, ‘I do this along with it, to make it not the West Coast. But I have my own wrinkles.’ And Green Bay is as basic as it gets. It is what we could call in the NFL Day 1, Day 2 installation, your basic plays you put in the first day the rookies are in. Aaron Rodgers, who, you know, I think is the greatest quarterback of all time … We see him dance around and sit there in the pocket … He’s not doing that because he wants to look cool. He’s doing that because nobody’s open a lot of the time. I also think that he’s been scarred by people not being open so much of the time. Troy Aikman, early in the year, made comments … ‘There’s nobody open.’ I remember my dad [former CBS game analyst Phil Simms] doing it two years ago: ‘There’s no separation.’ “
I think that’s an interesting reason—if true—why evidence is now coming out that Rodgers audibled so much, and why he appeared either laconic or disinterested at times. I’ve wondered whether he looked around the league and saw all this imagination—including, this year, in Chicago with rookie coach Matt Nagy—and then looked at his own team and saw the same old thing.
THIS AND THAT
One of the good guys is gone too early. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
Former Cardinals safety Kwamie Lassiter died on Sunday after having a heart attack.
Lassiter, who was 49 years old, joined the Cardinals after going undrafted out of Kansas in 1995 and developed into a starter for Arizona over the course of his eight seasons in the desert. He may be best remembered for his four interceptions against the Chargers in the final week of the 1998 season as they helped the Cardinals win a game that clinched a playoff berth.
“We were all devastated to learn of Kwamie’s passing today and our hearts go out to all of his family and friends,” Cardinals team president Michael Bidwill said in a statement. “Kwamie came to the Cardinals as an undrafted rookie free agent. He not only became a key contributor to our team for eight seasons but continued to make an impact on this community after his playing days ended. He will be missed greatly.”
Lassiter closed out his career by playing one season for the Chargers and one season with the Rams. He appeared in 129 games overall and finished his NFL career with 25 interceptions.
Our condolences go out to his family and loved ones.
More from Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic:
Lassiter remained involved with the Cardinals in many capacities, working with the team’s alumni group and being a frequent contributor to the club’s broadcast team. He also created the Kwamie Lassiter Foundation to help raise awareness for children dealing with health issues.
His son, Kwamie Lassiter II, is a wide receiver at Kansas.
Apparently, he had eight children.
This from Jay Feely:
If you lived in the valley, you ran into @KwamieLassiter often
Always had a smile on his face, truly cared about former players and their families as well as his community. He always said yes when you needed him for an event. I’m gonna miss him
After Wild Card Weekend, the Draft Order is set from 1 to 24. This at ESPN.com:
1. Arizona Cardinals (3-13)
The last time the Cardinals picked No. 1? It was 1958, when they were the Chicago Cardinals. That pick — Rice quarterback King Hill — started just 11 games for the franchise, going 3-8. This time around, Arizona has several needs but not at quarterback.
2. San Francisco 49ers (4-12)
The 49ers’ lost season ends with the No. 2 pick instead of a playoff spot. And with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo expected back in 2019, this team has talent. San Francisco took defensive linemen with its first-round picks from 2015-17. Could the 49ers make it four in five drafts?
3. New York Jets (4-12)
The Jets picked third in 2018, too, after trading up with the Colts to take quarterback Sam Darnold. New York is without its second-round pick because of that deal, but it gained an extra third-round pick by trading Teddy Bridgewater before the season.
4. Oakland Raiders (4-12)
After trading pass-rusher Khalil Mack and wide receiver Amari Cooper, this is the first of three Oakland first-round picks in the 2019 draft. The Bears and Cowboys made the playoffs, however, so those picks will fall somewhere in the 20s.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11)
The Bucs had one of the league’s worst defenses this season, and fired Dirk Koetter shortly after the final whistle of Week 17. Quarterback Jameis Winston will be in the last year of his rookie deal in 2019, and there are questions about his future with the organization as well.
6. New York Giants (5-11)
The Giants passed on taking a quarterback at No. 2 in 2018, opting instead for running back Saquon Barkley, who had a stellar rookie season. Could they get the draft’s top signal-caller in 2019?
7. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)
Did quarterback Blake Bortles, the No. 3 pick in 2014, make his final start in Jacksonville? If so, it didn’t go well. The Jaguars are another candidate to add a quarterback — in the draft or through free agency.
8. Detroit Lions (6-10)
Matt Patricia’s first season in charge didn’t go as planned, as the Lions went from 9-7 in 2017 to 5-11 in 2018. Ezekiel Ansah is poised to hit free agency in 2019. Could the Lions take his replacement in April?
9. Buffalo Bills (6-10)
Rookie quarterback Josh Allen led the Bills in passing yards and rushing yards this season, though he was up and down overall. Could Buffalo get him some weapons this offseason?
10. Denver Broncos (6-10)
Denver hasn’t made the playoffs since it won Super Bowl 50 (and Peyton Manning retired), but its 2018 draft class had a great season. The Broncos’ best rookie, however, was undrafted running back Phillip Lindsay.
11. Cincinnati Bengals (6-10)
Injuries to quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green stalled the Bengals’ season, as they lost seven of eight down the stretch after starting 4-1. Cincinnati’s defense allowed the most points per game in the league.
12. Green Bay Packers (6-9-1)
This is the first of two first-round picks for the Packers, who get the Saints’ top pick after New Orleans traded up for pass-rusher Marcus Davenport in April.
13. Miami Dolphins (7-9)
The Dolphins have limited cap space this offseason, and decisions to make on the futures of coach Adam Gase and quarterback Ryan Tannehill, among others. Could the front office get an overhaul, too?
14. Atlanta Falcons (7-9)
Atlanta was hurt by injuries in 2018, and coach Dan Quinn could overhaul his staff this offseason. Expect the Falcons to pay close attention to their offensive and defensive lines when looking for upgrades.
15. Washington Redskins (7-9)
Quarterback Alex Smith spent nearly a month in the hospital after breaking his right leg on Nov. 18, and his NFL future is up in the air. Could Washington try to draft its quarterback of the future here?
16. Carolina Panthers (7-9)
The Panthers lost seven of eight games to end the season, but coach Ron Rivera is expected to return in 2019. Quarterback Cam Newton missed the final two games with a troubling shoulder injury.
17. Cleveland Browns (7-8-1)
The Browns had one of the league’s best rookie draft classes, led by quarterback Baker Mayfield, cornerback Denzel Ward and running back Nick Chubb. They have an extra third-round pick after trading Danny Shelton to the Patriots before the season.
18. Minnesota Vikings (8-7-1)
All the Vikings needed to make the playoffs was a win in Week 17 against the Bears; FPI gave Minnesota a 76 percent chance of doing so and being the No. 6 seed. Instead, Chicago won on the road, and the Eagles got the final postseason spot.
19. Tennessee Titans (9-7)
Tennessee lost the play-in game to Indianapolis on Sunday night. Quarterback Marcus Mariota missed another game, and he’s entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2019.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6-1)
The Steelers faded down the stretch, losing four of their last six games. It’s the first time they haven’t made the playoffs since 2013.
21. Seattle Seahawks (10-6)
Seattle got a wild-card spot on the strength of an improved run game, so Pete Carroll & Co. probably aren’t upset about giving up their 2019 second-round pick for left tackle Duane Brown.
22. Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
The Ravens could part ways this offseason with veteran quarterback Joe Flacco. They don’t have a second-round pick after moving up for Lamar Jackson in the 2018 draft, and they have a new GM in Eric DeCosta after longtime boss Ozzie Newsome retired.
23. Houston Texans (11-5)
Houston had one of the league’s worst offensive lines in 2018, and it has an extra second-round pick from the Duane Brown trade to try to get more help.
24. Oakland Raiders (4-12) (from Chicago Bears)
The 3-seed Bears lost in the wild-card round, which helps out the Raiders’ pick they obtained in the trade for Khalil Mack.
Projected pick Nos. 25-32, from FPI:
25. Philadelphia Eagles
26. Indianapolis Colts
27. Oakland Raiders (via Dallas Cowboys)
28. Los Angeles Chargers
29. New England Patriots
30. Los Angeles Rams
31. Kansas City Chiefs
32. Green Bay Packers (via New Orleans Saints)