By HCR Staff | Oct. 28, 2019
Here are some observations of head coaches from around the NFL prior to HCR’s Week 8 rankings.
Mike Zimmer, Mike Vrabel, Kliff Kingsbury and Bruce Arians break the first rule of head coaching. This might seem obvious, but the first rule of head coaching is: Do Not Harm Your Own Team. Every week, however, NFL head coaches run right through this stoplight. This week, Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer attempted a fourth down deep in his own end of the field on Thursday night. To his credit, he admitted it in the postgame press conference it was the dumbest decision he’s made there. On Sunday, it was Mike Vrabel’s, Bruce Arians’ and Kliff Kingsbury’s turn. All three committed serious mistakes. In Vrabel’s case, he and the Tennessee Titans attempted a fake field goal and bypassed a good opportunity to take a seven-point lead. In the case of Arians, he went for a two-point conversion in the first half (way too early in the game) which ultimately caused his Tampa Bay Buccaneers to have to drive for a winning touchdown drive, instead of potentially settling for a game-tying field goal drive. As for Kingsbury, he went for an ill-advised 4th and 1 deep in his own end, when his Arizona Cardinals team was fully in the game and making things difficult for the New Orleans Saints. The failure to make that fourth down caused the game to completely flip in favor of the Saints, and the Cardinals could never recover. If a head coach is going to harm his team on Sunday–when it matters most–what difference does it make how good the coach is at organizational details and the rest?
Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur had his best outing yet. Every rookie head coach will hit bumps now and then, and that has been the case for Packers rookie head coach Matt LaFleur as well. However, he has overcome some early rough patches, and he has done an excellent job slowly molding the team into his own image. First, the best thing that LaFleur did was to retain pre-existing defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. The organization has done a great job of providing Pettine more talent that fits his particular style of defense, and that has yielded tremendous results. Second, LaFleur deserves much credit for sublimating his ego to that of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers currently is playing some of the best football he has played in years, and much of that credit goes to LaFleur.
Under the radar, Doug Marrone has done a good job keeping the Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional race. He’s pretty up and down on Sundays with his in-game decision-making, but Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone has done an excellent job keeping his team in the AFC South race with a rookie quarterback. Saints head coach Sean Payton has stolen a lot of the “winning with a backup quarterback” headlines, but we believe Marrone also deserves some attention. He and his offensive coordinator John DeFilippo have done a remarkable job preparing QB Gardner Minshew each week, and even though they may re-install QB Nick Foles, Marrone has, at a minimum, develop a solid backup quarterback, and a potential trade chip in the future.
Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio isn’t that far away from success, but much will depend on whether he keeps rookie offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello. The Broncos are competing, but the team clearly is being held back by its offense. On the one hand, they don’t have a quarterback that fits the style of offense they want to play, and that does not appear to be the fault of head coach Vic Fangio or offfensive coordinator Rich Scangarello. On the other hand, it could be argued that the coaching staff should come up with a scheme that fits the existing personnel. Quarterback Joe Flacco’s postgame press conference was a direct slam against the staff, and it was highly unusual. It’s pretty clear to us that the organization will move on from Flacco in 2020, but will it also move on from its offensive coordinator?
The Oakland Raiders are not far away. It’ll be interesting to see what Vegas has for the Raiders over-under win total next season, because whatever it is, it should be carefully scrutinized since the Raiders are a team that is not far away. The NFL didn’t do the Raiders any justice with the scheduling this year, and they have had a number of injuries across an offensive line that looks very promising if they can all play together. Head coach Jon Gruden’s game planning and play calling is getting sharper every week–just like a player that has been sitting out some time due to injury, he needed more reps to get into a rhythm. He now is hitting that rhythm, and we expect the Raiders to be a contending team next year, and frankly, if they get a few more breaks going their way, they could be contending for their division this year.
Sean McDermott, unfortunately, falls flat in a big spot against the NFC East Philadelphia Eagles. The Buffalo Bills had one of their biggest home games in years, but the Bills’ coaching staff was not up to the challenge this week. The organization had a golden opportunity to drive their record to 6-1, but just got out-coached. One key metric for us at HCR in evaluating the relative skills of head coaches is how a coach performs against teams that they do not see often. It’s one thing to compete well against division opponents–theoretically, familiarity should make one better–but it’s quite another to game plan against teams that you rarely play. This was the case for Sean McDermott and the Bills, and they did not perform well. Interestingly, McDermott spent a great portion of his early NFL career with the Eagles in the NFC East, but that didn’t help because it was so long ago. McDermott has the Bills going in the right direction, but still has some work to do on his game planning.