By HCR Staff | December 28, 2020
Hard to believe that we now only have one more week left in the regular season. In June, our assessment was that we’d be lucky to get 2 weeks in – the logistical challenge seemed overwhelming in the face of a pandemic.
As we do each week, huge credit and thanks to all the players, coaches and staffers who have made this season possible. Let’s also tip our cap to the NFL league office, led by Roger Goodell. He obviously gets a lot of grief by virtue of his position, but we’re sure he’s had to address challenges he never imagined, and he probably had to make a lot of difficult judgments.
Let’s get to it.
Kevin Stefanski’s Done A Great Job, But Finishing Is Tougher Than It Looks. Whether the Browns make the playoffs or not, Stefanski’s done a wonderful job. The Browns are developing an identity, and we especially like that they can be multiple on offense.
But yesterday’s loss to the Jets wasn’t handled as well as we think Stefanski will handle it in the future. Without a doubt, COVID ravaging their WR group had an impact – a big impact. But we expected a bigger shift in the game plan to compensate for the personnel losses, and we didn’t see it.
It appeared to us Stefanski tried to operate as if he had all of his personnel available. Now under certain circumstances, this is appropriate – you know, the Next Man Up mentality and challenging your backups to a higher standard. But this squad still is a bit green, and certainly green at winning.
We would have thought we would have seen a run-heavy approach from the first possession, but we didn’t. That’s ok; Stefanski will learn. He’s a bright, thoughtful head coach who will get better. But he learned yesterday that finishing is harder than it looks. The Jets might be a losing squad, and they may have a lot of young players, but they’re still an NFL team with guys trying to make a living.
Jon Gruden’s Got Some Tough Decisions To Make. With another loss this weekend, Jon Gruden now has a worse 3 year record than Jack Del Rio and Tom Cable, the last 2 Raider head coaches to finish out a 3rd season. Unlike Del Rio and Cable, however, Gruden won’t be going anywhere.
Given that he’ll be returning for 2021, what does Gruden need to do to get this squad back into the playoffs?
From where we sit, we see 2 big things. One, he’s got to dedicate their picks and any free agent money to the defense. The defense simply needs more assets, and Gruden may consider giving his GM Mike Mayock a bit more leash on these calls. After all, Mayock was a defensive player himself.
Second, Gruden has to find his counterpart on defense in a new defensive coordinator. Someone with the same level of passion and acumen for defense that Gruden has for offense. They’re out there, but some of these candidates may be first timers in the NFL or they may be very young NFL assistants who’ve never been a coordinator. When former Eagles head coach Ray Rhodes gave Gruden his first shot as an NFL coordinator, Gruden had never been a coordinator before. Gruden may have to consider extending the same opportunity to someone else.
Has Kliff Kingsbury Hit His Ceiling? The Cardinals still have a chance for the playoffs, but it’s increasingly clear to us that Kingsbury may have hit his ceiling as a head coach. On Saturday, he was thoroughly outclassed by Kyle Shanahan, as the 49ers outplayed the Cardinals – by a lot.
The 49ers have literally been on the road for weeks now, and their roster has been decimated by injury. They also were on their 3rd string QB, and already had been eliminated from playoff contention. In short, Shanahan was coaching a team that didn’t have much to play for.
Kingsbury, on the other hand, had every advantage going into this game. So how did he play his more advantageous hand? Terribly.
Set aside any discussion of execution. We just didn’t see a squad with the requisite energy. That’s an issue of leadership, which is far more paramount in the NFL before you even get to the X’s & O’s.
That’s our issue with Kingsbury – leadership. Is he an authentic and effective leader for an NFL squad? We’re leaning on the ‘No’ side of this equation. We hope we’re wrong as the game needs as many good head coaches as possible, but we’re just not seeing it.
Raheem Morris Is Our Choice For Falcons Head Coach. What we like about Falcons owner Arthur Blank is that he’s committed to winning, and winning for his community, Atlanta. He’s put his money where his mouth is with terrific facilities, and fan service – and prices – that’s a big hit.
He just has to find the right head coach.
Of course, Blank still has to find a GM, and generally speaking, the hiring order should be GM first, then head coach. Blank has longtime NFL executive Rich McKay at his side, so whatever decision is made, it’ll be made with a lot of thought.
When they do get to the head coach, we hope they keep Morris. Yes, we know that he’s been part of the ‘old’ regime. But if you’ve watched the Falcons since Morris has taken over on an interim basis, they’ve certainly improved, and keep in mind, Morris is doing this with people who aren’t his choices as coaches or players.
For us, Morris checks all the boxes. He’s passionate, has had head coaching reps, has coached on both sides of the ball, knows the current roster inside and out, and he’s just entering his prime years as an NFL coach – he’s just 44.
Since he’s taken over, the Falcons have played very, very hard. Yes, they’ve had some tough losses, but they’ve also had some nice wins too. Yesterday, they gave Andy Reid and the Chiefs everything they had. Outside of one questionable challenge, Morris managed the game perfectly.
Mike McCarthy’s Experience Is Starting To Show. Don’t look now, but McCarthy still has a chance to steal the NFC East. On the one hand, it’s surprising given all of the adversity McCarthy’s faced this season.
On another, however, it’s not. After all, McCarthy’s a Super Bowl winning head coach. He’s been to the top of the game. He’s won a lot, and he’s had a lot of reps. On top of that, McCarthy’s a proud guy – the early season shots he had to take had to hurt his pride. At the end of the day, Jerry Jones hired a head coach who knows what winning looks like and what it takes to get there.