Hard to believe there are only four weeks left in this NFL season…
• If Doug Pederson sounded a little furious over the Eagles’ play on WIP radio on Monday morning, he didn’t leave much doubt as to why he’d feel that way.
“I’m disgusted, I’m mad, I’m angry, and I’m probably more so mad at myself,” the Philly coach said. “They wanted this a little more than we did and they made the plays and we didn’t.”
That’s as strong a public indictment as you’ll hear from a coach on his team, and it’s well-placed, given the situation the Eagles are in now. So what tangible change will it lead to moving forward? That remains to be seen. I’m told in the short term, there won’t be staff changes, but the longer term could be a different story. Rumblings in midseason in 2018 held that the Eagles weren’t happy with the offensive staff following the departures of Frank Reich and John DeFilippo, and that changes could come. Then, Philly won five of six, and advanced a round in the playoffs, and coordinator Mike Groh and the rest of the offensive coaches made it through, in part, thanks to Nick Foles helping to rally the team again. We’ll see if the idea of change is revisited at the end of this year. Obviously, much will ride on how the next four weeks play out.
• If you want to know why the Jaguars are benching Foles and going to Gardner Minshew now, look at what’s in front of them. The offensive line has allowed a ton of pressure lately, and I’m told that when making this decision, the staff factored in Minshew’s mobility, which can mitigate that issue to a degree. A side benefit is the organization getting a longer look at him before doing its 2020 quarterback planning. But with few in football operations assured of being part of that planning, what’s happening now is most important.
• Why did the Colts collapse in November? The easiest thing to point to is the lack of big plays on offense, and a sudden propensity for allowing them on defense. It was stark in the Thursday night loss a couple weeks back to Houston, highlighting the team’s injury woes at receiver (T.Y. Hilton, Parris Campbell, Devin Funchess, and now Chester Rogers all have had significant nicks) and holes in the pass defense. Add Jacoby Brissett’s two-game absence, and his sluggish performance Sunday against the Titans, and there’s the slump.
• I loved the story that Bill O’Brien offered up after his Texans beat the Patriots. He revealed that the reverse speed-option play (I think that’s what he termed it), on which DeAndre Hopkins served as the option QB and Deshaun Watson scores as the pitch man, was drawn up during the bye week by the players themselves.
“I think they drew it up in the dirt over the bye week,” O’Brien said. “They brought it in, had it on a piece of notebook paper, handed it to me. We’ve been working on that for a while. The timing was right. Wasn’t the exact look we thought we were going to get, and they made it work.”
Watson later explained that he and backup quarterback A.J. McCarron saw the Bears run the play, showed it to Hopkins, and took it to coordinator Tim Kelly. From there, the group spent a month working on it, then put it into action Sunday night. This gives the players some investment in designing the offense, and adds some fun things to what can be monotonous work during the season. Of course, it wouldn’t be so cool if it hadn’t worked—so making that happen, it’s fair to say, is the real key here.
• Washington head coach Chris Petersen announced that he will step down at the end of the season, and this is interesting from a few NFL angles. NFL teams have tried (and failed) to interview him for openings in the past—his ability to win with less (especially at Boise), his offensive innovation, his ability to build a staff with future head coaches and, most of all, his program-building acumen were all appealing to the NFL.
If this is truly Petersen taking a chance to recharge, at 55 years old, it hardly seems far-fetched that he could look at going to the pros in a year or two. He’s actually three years younger now than Pete Carroll was when he took the Seahawks job. Petersen’s replacement, Jimmy Lake, is very well-respected in pro circles, particularly for his ability to develop defensive backs (Marcus Peters, Sidney Jones, Kevin King, Byron Murphy, Taylor Rapp, Budda Baker, etc.)
• Two more college coaches who might be targeted by NFL teams during this hiring cycle: Iowa State’s Matt Campbell and Florida’s Dan Mullen. Campbell is a favorite of front-office types with experience on the college circuit—a program-builder who’s proven capable of winning with less. And Mullen’s calling card is with the quarterbacks he’s developed at Utah (Alex Smith), Florida (Tim Tebow) and Mississippi State (Dak Prescott). I don’t know that either will get a job—Campbell actually turned down a shot to interview with the Jets last winter—but I do think both are worth a look.
• On the radar for this week: College players declaring for the NFL draft. Alabama, in particular, should be interesting. This will be the first time in six years that the team isn’t heading to the playoffs, and they have, as usual, a boatload of draft-eligible guys who could bolt. Receivers Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs and Devonta Smith, tackles Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Willis, running back Najee Harris and safety Xavier McKinney, and even some senior prospects like corner Trevon Diggs and defensive lineman Raekwon Davis may declare sooner than later. It’d also be interesting to see how Nick Saban would handle that sort of exodus.
• The Dolphins gave Eric Rowe—a corner-turned safety who Brian Flores brought with him from New England—a three-year, $18 million extension on Monday, and it’s another sign, in my mind, of the first-year brass giving the locker room an example of the kind of player they want to reward. Rowe (smart, versatile, hard-working) is all of that.
• It’s interesting to see Amari Cooper publicly display his affection for the Cowboys, because he may have as much leverage right now as any pending 2020 free agent. His current team gave up a first-round pick to get him, which would be a motivator for any team to do what needs to be done to retain a player. Also, as long as Dak Prescott remains unsigned, Cooper knows the Cowboys can’t franchise him—there’s no way a team in Dallas’ spot can’t use it on its quarterback. Add that to Michael Thomas and Julio Jones taking the receiver position to and now over the $20 million per threshold, and really all Cooper has to do is stay healthy for the next month or so, and he’ll have a very fruitful offseason, one way or the other.
• Josh Shaw being suspended for gambling is simple—any indication that any game isn’t level damages the public trust, and no sports league can allow that. I know in these cases, there’s a tendency to compare punishment to how the league might’ve come down on far more heinous offenses. And if you’re doing that, you’re comparing apples to oranges. One is about morality and doing the right thing. The other is about the viability of the business itself.
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