NFL morning after: Andy Reid’s amazing turnaround
Peyton Manning is on pace for a zillion touchdowns, and Jimmy Graham is playing tight end as well as anyone has ever played the position, and Robert Mathis is on pace to break the single-season sack record. But if I had to pick one person who has done his job the best so far this season, it wouldn’t be any of those players -- or any player. It would be Chiefs coach Andy Reid.
The job Reid has done, taking over a 2-14 team and getting off to a 5-0 start, is nothing short of remarkable. Last year’s Chiefs were a mess on offense, defense and special teams. This year’s Chiefs are playing outstanding football in all three phases of the game. If it wasn’t already clear before Sunday’s 26-17 win over a good Titans team in Tennessee, it’s clear now: The Chiefs are for real.
That’s a huge surprise, but maybe it shouldn’t be. After all, Reid -- despite the way it ended for him in Philadelphia -- has already shown with the Eagles that he’s one of the best coaches in the NFL.
There were fair criticisms of Reid during his Eagles tenure, and given the way things went south in Philadelphia last season, letting him go might have been the right move for the Eagles. But let’s not pretend Reid isn’t an outstanding coach. In 1999, the Eagles team Reid took over was terrible. A year later he had them in the playoffs, and Reid led the Eagles to the playoffs nine times from 2000 to 2010.
Yes, there are areas of coaching where Reid struggles, like managing the clock late in game. But the areas of coaching where Reid excels, like developing players, implementing an offensive system and devising weekly game plans, are the bulk of the work a coach does. That work might not be as visible as a clock-management miscue in crunch time, but it’s more important to building a good football team.
And building a good football team is exactly what Reid is doing in Kansas City. Reid’s offense is a good system for Alex Smith to do his usual unspectacular-but-efficient thing at quarterback, and for Jamaal Charles to show that he’s one of the best running backs in the NFL. But what I really like is what Reid did on defense, hiring Bob Sutton -- a longtime college and pro coach who had never worked with Reid before -- as his defensive coordinator. Reid took some criticism in Philadelphia for hiring and promoting his buddies (most notably former Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo) as assistant coaches. He wisely looked beyond his inner circle for his defensive staff, and it has worked. The Chiefs’ defense has been great against the pass all season, and on Sunday they also held Titans running back Chris Johnson to just 17 yards on 10 carries.
I don’t think the Chiefs are going to beat out the Broncos in the AFC West. But I do think they’re going to be a wild card team, and a tough team to beat in January. Andy Reid will have another Coach of the Year award to put on his mantel at the end of this season.
Reid’s coaching impressed me the most about Sunday’s games. Here are my other thoughts:
Seattle’s Jon Ryan may be the NFL’s fastest punter and worst tackler. Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka had a field goal blocked on Sunday in Indianapolis, and Colts defensive back Delano Howell picked up the ball and raced toward the end zone. Amazingly, Ryan, the Seahawks’ punter and holder, gave chase and actually caught Howell -- yes, a punter ran down a defensive back. Unfortunately, Ryan totally whiffed on the tackle, and Howell went the rest of the way to the end zone, completing a 61-yard return for a touchdown. Ryan will probably take some ribbing from teammates this week for his pathetic excuse for a tackle, but no one expects kickers to be able to tackle. Howell will take more ribbing for letting a punter catch him from behind.
Lance Briggs, what are you thinking? On fourth-and-1 late in the game, the Saints lined up to go for it in one of those situations where everyone watching is saying the same thing: “The Saints are just trying to draw the Bears offside.” So what happens? Saints quarterback Drew Brees uses a hard count, Briggs jumps offside, and the Saints are gifted a first down. Briggs is supposed to be the veteran leader of the Bears’ defense, but he committed one of the bonehead plays of the day. You just can’t jump offside on fourth-and-short.
The Broncos are ridiculous. No team in NFL history has ever scored even 600 points in a season. The all-time record is 589, by the 16-0 Patriots of 2007. The Broncos scored 51 points in Sunday’s win over the Cowboys to improve their total on the season to 230, putting them on pace to score 736 this season. The Broncos’ 230 points are the most for any team through five games in NFL history. If the Broncos average 33 points a game the rest of the way, they’ll break the Patriots’ record.
Maybe Trent Richardson just isn’t very good. When the Browns traded Richardson to the Colts for a first-round draft pick, most people thought it was a bold move by the Colts and a wave of the white flag by the Browns. Instead, Cleveland has gone 3-0 since allegedly giving up on the season by shipping Richardson to Indianapolis, and Richardson hasn’t done much of anything for the Colts. Yes, the Colts are 3-0 with Richardson, but his impact on their offense has been negligible. On Sunday, Richardson carried 18 times for 56 yards, and 11 of his 16 carries gained two yards or less. As a rookie in Cleveland Richardson averaged 3.6 yards a carry, and in five games this season, Richardson has averaged 3.6, 3.2, 2.7, 3.0 and 3.1 yards a carry. Despite the talent he showed at Alabama, maybe Richardson just isn’t a good enough runner to consistently make plays at the professional level.
Johnny Unitas was amazing. Why was I thinking about Johnny Unitas on Sunday? Because Tom Brady’s streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass ended at 52, and that got me to thinking about the all-time record for consecutive touchdown games with a touchdown pass, which Johnny Unitas owned from 1960 (when he set the old record of 47) until both Brady and Drew Brees passed Unitas last year. Just think how different the NFL passing environment was when Johnny Unitas was playing in the 1950s and 1960s. The officials weren’t protecting quarterbacks and receivers from hits on defenseless players, and defenders had far more leeway to rough up receivers downfield. In those days, you could lead the league with only 20 touchdown passes. And yet Unitas set a passing record that didn’t get broken until 2012. Amazing.
If the Jaguars didn’t have bad luck, they’d have no luck at all. When Jacksonville traded offensive tackle Eugene Monroe last week, I thought it made sense: The Jaguars aren’t going anywhere this season, and they might as well pick up a fourth-round pick and a fifth-round pick for Monroe now, rather than let Monroe leave in free agency for nothing after the season. But then came Sunday, when rookie left tackle Luke Joeckel was carted off the field with a leg injury. Losing Joeckel and not having Monroe anymore means the offensive line that will protect quarterback Blaine Gabbert the rest of this season will be brutally bad. I don’t know if the Jaguars will match the 0-16 Lions of 2008, but it’s hard for me to figure out when the Jaguars are going to win a game.
We may be witnessing the end of Tom Coughlin. I have a lot of respect for what Coughlin has done in his NFL coaching career, both his two Super Bowls with the Giants and the way he built the expansion Jaguars into contenders in the 1990s. But sometimes a coach just reaches a point where he can’t take his team any further, and Coughlin looks like he has reached that point with the Giants. Coughlin made some weird game management decisions in Sunday’s loss to the Eagles, including a bizarre decision not to decline a penalty after the Giants made a stop on third down (the Eagles converted on the ensuing play) and burning two timeouts in a row, first by calling one and then by getting a challenge wrong during that timeout. I’m not going to say the Giants should fire Coughlin and I’m not going to say he needs to retire. But I do think he looks like he could use a fresh start. Kind of like Andy Reid.