By HCR Staff | October 12, 2020
As we thought at the season’s eve, 2020 was going to be the most interesting season in a long time. Let’s get to it.
The Steelers Have Super Bowl Ingredients, But Can Mike Tomlin Gain More Consistency With His Own Decision-Making? Steelers GM Kevin Colbert has successfully re-stocked the talent cupboard, and the team is poised for a deep playoff run. They’ve got the ability – on both sides of the ball – to step on the gas at a moment’s notice. There’s speed and physicality, and there’s more cohesiveness.
Mike Tomlin deserves credit for both, particularly after all of the drama with former WR Antonio Brown. When some head coaches lose the locker room, they can never get it back. We’re not saying Tomlin lost it, but surely he was close, based on all the stories that emanated from there. All of that is the rear view mirror now, and Tomlin is in position to eye a 2nd Super Bowl victory for himself.
Tomlin, however, still needs button up his own in-game decision-making. In the win over the Eagles yesterday, the Steelers held a comfortable 31-14 lead at 10:32 in the third quarter. The Eagles were going nowhere momentum-wise, and came into this game with a significant talent deficit vis-à-vis the Steelers. In short, the Steelers were in a strong position to fully control their 17-point lead to game’s end, and that’s what we were looking for. Unfortunately, they didn’t, and that’s a reflection on Tomlin.
The Steelers didn’t exhibit the control we wanted to see; instead, we saw decision-making that wasn’t Super Bowl quality, and the Eagles clawed their way back into the game and put it into jeopardy. The Steelers ultimately won, but how the game ended showed us that Tomlin still has a ways to go – at least this season – in strategizing with a lead. Tomlin has never threatened the top of our HCR rankings, and this is why.
We Watched The Jets And Adam Gase With The Intention Of Giving Him The Benefit Of The Doubt, But We Were Disappointed Again. Gase has been beaten up by the national media – justifiably so – but coming into this game, we wanted to try analyzing what he’s doing with the most favorable lens possible. Why? Well, maybe we’ve all missed something about Gase, so we wanted a game where we gave him every benefit of the doubt. What did we see?
First, and as we all know, there is a significant talent deficit here, so Gase doesn’t have much to work with. The WR group is a disaster. For example, undrafted free agent WR Jeff Smith had at least 5 targets. On an important 3rd– and-1 early in the game, Gase did dial up a good play for a throw to Smith. Smith got open, the ball was on the money, but Smith dropped the ball. That’s not on Gase.
On the first drive of the game, Gase dialed up an easy throw to Smith in the right flat; a completion would allow Smith a lot of room to run. Smith was wide open, but backup quarterback Joe Flacco way overthrew him. Clearly, this Flacco – Smith ‘combo’ wasn’t working.
Notwithstanding this, and as a head coach, you have complete power over how to script the game, so there are other ways to keep your team competitive. In this game, the Jets players did fight hard, but did Gase always make the best decisions to keep his team competitive? Generally speaking, no. Here’s one example.
Trailing 7-0 early in the game (9:49 in the second quarter), the Jets faced a 3rd-and-1 at the Cardinals 13. The Jets were on their best drive of the day, with Flacco finally finding a rhythm. There is one position group where the Jets do have some talent, and that’s at running back, with Frank Gore and Le’Veon Bell – 2 players who will get Hall of Fame votes. On this 3rd-and-1 play, it was reasonable to expect that Gore or Bell would touch the ball. What did Gase do? He gave it to TE/FB Trevon Wesco…who had 1 career carry. Of course, he was stuffed.
Now it is 4th-and-1. We would have expected a 31-yard field goal attempt kick; not a hard kick, and a reward for a nice drive that would close the score to 7-3. What did Gase do? He chose to go for it, and at 4th-and-1, brought in Bell, and predictably gave it to him, and Bell was stuffed.
Outcome: an excited Cardinals defense, and more psychological damage for the Jets offense.
If Gase wants to win, he’s got to show he can accept the small victories in a game first, but he’s not showing that at all.
Bengals Head Coach Zac Taylor Had A Very Bad Day, Hopefully It’s Not A Pattern. Taylor is another young head coach we want to like, but in an ugly loss to the Ravens, he really regressed. Look, we get that on “any given Sunday” any team can win, but what that cliché does is equate a 1% chance to win with a 50% chance to win. Yesterday, going into this game, the Bengals did not have a 50% chance to win, but Taylor chose to coach that way.
The Bengals got down 17-0 quickly, and what we wanted to see is Taylor deliberately slow down the game, run the ball, and most importantly, preserve quarterback Joe Burrow’s health. Burrow’s been taking a vicious beating all season, and he’s the future of the Bengals, more so than Taylor. Taylor didn’t do what we wanted to see, unfortunately. He kept coaching as if it was a one-score game. He had Burrow keep slinging the ball out of formations that offered no protection advantage, and the quick possessions kept his defense – which actually fought valiantly – out on the field all game long. Burrow was beaten up badly again, and it didn’t have to happen.
We Will Keep Banging The Matt Rhule Drum. Early on, we saw the quality in rookie Panthers head coach Matt Rhule, and now the rest of the league is seeing it. The Panthers got down early in this road game against the Falcons, who came out with good energy. But Rhule has instilled poise into his squad, and they didn’t panic. Instead, they slowly took control of this game like a patient python swallowing a large pig. Rhule is a clinical decision-maker; he’s very impressive in this department. We also like that he never asks his players to do something they physically can’t do – they’re not widgets to him. He’s very disciplined about this. The Panthers are going to be a very tough out for every team this year and into the future.
Brian Flores Registers An Impressive Performance, And Kyle Shanahan Got Humbled. The Dolphins have had a tough early season schedule, but they’re handling it well and with poise, and that’s a reflection on Flores. The Dolphins play hard, physically, and with explosion. One other thing stands out to us: if a player makes a mistake, it matters to him. That kind of accountability is also a direct reflection on the head coach. All of this resulted in a dominant performance for Flores against a tough opponent in a distant road game. The Dolphins also show excellent unit cohesion. Flores hasn’t won anything yet, but the way he manages a game reminds of us…Bill Parcells.
On the flip side, this was a bad performance for the 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan. We rarely see him out-game planned, but he was this game. We also rarely see Shanahan mis-gauge the ability of his players, and he did in this game. For example, the 49ers are playing short-handed at cornerback; they had to start journeyman Brian Allen. Did their defensive scheme account for this? No. The result was predictable – an early game torching of Allen that led to a quick deficit. 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh didn’t help Shanahan here as he took far too long to adjust. Shanahan simply was surprised by the Dolphins’ aggressiveness and tempo, and he was slow to adjust. Just goes to show that even the very best can have a bad game here and there.