Imagine for a moment you’re the owner. You think 2008 should have been so much better. You will insist that the next coach think in terms of contending for a playoff spot in 2009. Ridiculous?
Imagine for a moment you’re the owner.
Your head coach is going, going, gonzo after one more game.
You think 2008 should have been so much better.
You will insist that the next coach think in terms of contending for a playoff spot in 2009.
Not really. To the contrary, it’s the thought of the year in the NFL. It is supported by a quick review of the 2008 coach of the year ballot.
One view of the top five:
1. Mike Smith, Atlanta.
Mike Who? He was Captain Anonymous as Jacksonville’s defensive coordinator the previous five years. Now, he’s the answer to the question of what happened to the Jaguars.
Smith came off as a vanilla hire on Jan. 23. Somehow, behind a rookie quarterback, he took a team that went 4-12 last year to 10-5.
2. Jeff Fisher, Tennessee.
He’s the veteran head coach more than a few NFL owners would hire tomorrow if they could.
They can’t, so they simply admire a guy on the verge of finishing 14-2 with Kerry Collins at quarterback.
3. Tony Sparano, Miami.
Can you imagine the uproar in some towns if they made this announcement in mid-January: We couldn’t get Bill Cowher, so we’re giving you a pretty good offensive line coach instead?
Well, Sparano was offensive line coach at Dallas the previous three years. He comes with an asterisk, since he has Bill Parcells pulling strings behind him.
Still, the Dolphins’ ascent from 1-15 to 10-5 is quite a splash.
4. John Harbaugh, Baltimore.
Here’s another guy with an odd resume. He was a noted special teams coach for most of he decade in Philadelphia, but that seldom gets a guy a head coaching interview. He switched to coaching defensive backs for Andy Reid in 2007.
The Ravens were beyond bad last year, going 1-10 down the stretch. Yet, Harbaugh has these birds at 10-5 behind a quarterback who finished 2007 with the Delaware Blue Hens.
5. (tie) Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin and John Fox.
The Patriots’ head coach made due without the quarterback of the decade. The Giants’ head coach kept rolling without the best sack artists from his Super Bowl winner. The Panthers’ head coach is 11-4, just when it was thought he was going stale, coming off a 7-9 year.
The moral of the story: Some teams are very glad to have experienced head coaches in place. Others are newcomers who have made it hard for anyone to come into a new situation saying, “Bear with me. It’s gonna take three years.”
Sackin’ ’em silly
Sacks are one reason one can almost assume a Pittsburgh win is in the bag against Cleveland.
A review of Pittsburgh’s season-by-season sacks while the Steelers have gone 17-3 against their rival since the Browns came back in 1999:
1999: Steelers 39, Browns 25
2000: Browns 42, Steelers 39
2001: Steelers 55, Browns 43
2002: Steelers 50, Browns 28
2003: Steelers 35, Browns 35
2004: Steelers 41, Browns 32
2005: Steelers 47, Browns 23
2006: Steelers 39, Browns 28
2007: Steelers 36, Browns 28
2008: Steelers 48, Browns 17
For what it’s worth, Romeo Crennel was Cleveland’s defensive coordinator the only time in this period when the Browns had more sacks than the Steelers.
With Crennel as head coach, the Browns will set a 10-year low for sacks. The Steelers need seven sacks against replacement quarterback Bruce Gradkowski to match a 10-year high.
Palmer’s last stand
Chris Palmer was given the boot as Cleveland head coach after only two years with the start-up expansion team.
Yet, in his first three games against Pittsburgh, Palmer’s Browns won twice.
Since that time, the Browns are 1-16 against the Steelers.
Palmer is in his second year as Eli Manning’s position coach with the Giants. He has won a Super Bowl with Manning and could be in the hunt for another one.
Coming off the Super Bowl win, Eli hasn’t manage to supplant his big brother Peyton as a statistical entity.
Heading into Game 16, Peyton leads Eli:
- 3,907-3,119 in passing yards.
- 26-21 in touchdowns.
- 66.4-60.4 in completion percentage.
- 93.8-86.5 in passer rating.
Since Peyton Manning entered the NFL in 1998, the Colts have a 116-59 record and a league-best nine playoff appearances.
The league’s best regular-season records since Manning showed up:
1. New England, 118-57
2. Indianapolis, 116-59
3. Pittsburgh, 106-68
4. Denver, 105-70
5. Green Bay, 102-73
The list goes to the discussion of how the league has changed since Tom Brady showed up ... or Bill Belichick. This goes to the debate of who has had more to do with the Patriots’ success.
The “Brady-made-Belichick” argument, popular among national writers last Super Bowl week, has lost a lot of steam with Belichick on the verge of going 11-5 with Matt Cassel.
Pittsburgh is perpetually pounding running backs.
With just one game left, against a weak Cleveland offense, the 2008 Steelers rank second in the NFL in run defense, allowing 78.5 yards a game.
Five teams (Lions, Raiders, Browns, Rams, Chiefs) give up basically twice that many running yards per game.
The Steelers have ranked lower than third in run defense only once in the last eight years. Bill Cowher must not have liked it the one time it happened in 2003 because the next year he replaced Tim Lewis with Dick LeBeau as defensive coordinator.
LeBeau stayed on after Cowher bowed out after the 2006 season.
LeBeau is best known as the mastermind of the zone blitz, which works against both the run and the pass. His Steelers have allowed only three 100-yard rushing performances in the last 81 games, none this season.
The three were Edgerrin James in 2005, Thomas Jones in 2007 and Fred Taylor in 2007.
Cleveland’s Jamal Lewis needs 92 yards today to reach 1,000 for the season.
- Denver’s Jay Cutler vs. San Diego’s Philip Rivers is a delightful matchup between quarterbacks who are less than delighted with each other. “Philip didn’t make the Pro Bowl, and I guess a lot of people thought he should have made it over me or Brett (Favre),” Cutler said. If Cutler doesn’t beat San Diego today, he won’t be going to the playoffs. Rivers will be, and a lot of people will think Pro Bowl votes are cast two weeks too early.
- Since Dick LeBeau took over the Steelers defense in 2004, they have allowed the fewest points (1,093), fewest overall yards (17,745) and fewest rushing yards (5,525) in the NFL.
- The five leading sellers of team merchandise (all sports teams) according to ESPN: 1, Cowboys; 2, Steelers; 3, Packers; 4, Yankees; 5, Red Sox.