And Career Day Pt. 2, The Rest of the League.
CB Brandon Carr handling the football, the sight that Jerry Jones was hoping to see more when he signed him away from KC.
In almost every aspect, Sunday's installment of the Dallas-Philly rivalry was the most satisfying game for the Cowboys. It's been a source of bafflement that only on the road has Dallas been able to pull off clutch wins. Their lone home victory up until now was against Tampa in an unnecessarily tight Week 3 game. Here are some of the encouraging signs from this victory:
- It was the first time their margin of victory was by more than one possession.
- Second consecutive game with no turnovers on offense.
- Special teams came up with a big play on the Dwayne Harris punt return, but just as important was the advantage in the field position battle. Brian Moorman was able to pin Eagles rookie Nick Foles near the 2 yard line on the Eagles' last drive setting up the kill shot sack fumble that ended the game.
- Tony Romo and the Dallas offense didn't let the Eagles pull away after a score on the opening drive and were able to march down the field to answer on their own first possession. This allowed the defense to regroup and keep the Eagles scoreless in the first half. Overall the Cowboys offense was not as productive in terms of yardage or points, at least they didn't give the Eagles short fields on turnovers.
After many (including the author) wrote him off, Jason Garrett gets to see the vultures fly off for a t least one more week.
The momentum from this win must not be squandered, especially as the next three weeks Dallas faces three opponents that it is entirely capable of beating, all at home. Their biggest challenges against each three are thus:
- Cleveland's physical offense including the pair of TJ Ward and Joe Haden who are the youngest and most aggressive secondary combination in their division (Lardarius Webb . and Troy Polamalu are out of the lineup currently for their respective clubs). Cleveland's offense is more run-oriented than the last three Dallas opponents, and rookie trio QB Brandon Weeden, HB Trent Richardson, and WR Josh Gordon may play better in domed Cowboys Stadium than in their windy home.
- RG3's Thanksgiving landing in Arlington. Let's hope the injury prone Washington defense will allow Dallas to maintain time of possession. Washington is without Brian Orakpo for the duration of the season, and Pierre Garcon is on the DL every other week. The Cowboys must maintain distance in the standings from Washington, as the season finale is in their stadium with a rejuvenated fan base.
- The Eagles on Dec. 2. Everybody's writing off Andy Reid's club now, but this date is three weeks from now, so until then Mike Vick could be brought back in if Nick Foles doesn't adjust well to the new responsibility of absorbing pass rushes. This opponent is looking completely weakened now, but the Cowboys will be coming off a nine-day break after Thanksgiving, so they'll have to consciously maintain their focus.
The embattled coaching staff can use these next three games to battle back into the public grace. Before the Philadelphia game I wrote that Garrett should be fired. The consensus was that the game would determine not which team would go to the play-offs, but rather which one would survive the season. Needless to say that the victory doesn't bring Garrett out of the woods yet, but he has every opportunity to do so going into December.
Now for the list of the other coaches besides Reid and Garrett who are still on the endangered list.
Rex Ryan, New York Jets
No team has regressed further than the Jets, and they are headed to oblivion given the awful situation since the injury of All-Pro CB Darrelle Revis and wideout Santonio Holmes. The growing chorus calling for the benching of Mark Sanchez is starting to gain momentum. Two years ago Ryan had led the Jets to their second consecutive AFC Championship appearance after knocking out the arch-rival Pats in the divisional round, Sanchez was considered an up-and-coming play caller, and the Giants, their stadium co-tentants, seemed to be the most disappointing team in all of NY-NJ sports following the Miracle at the New Meadowlands. So in two years a lot can change, but it's easy to blame such an easy target like Ryan for this. The real bungler here is GM Mike Tannenbaum who came up with the Ti Tebow trade that has been little more than a distraction. Tannenbaum has used the draft to bolster the defense for the future, but without Revis it doesn't have any fangs, whether in coverage or in the pass rush. They rank closer to the bottom in sacks and only the Saints and Bills give up more rushing yards.
The Verdict: Fire Extinguisher. It seems contradictory to advocate Reid and Garrett's firing while keeping Ryan. But history has shown that when the Jets clean house it doesn't really lead to rebuilding, it ushers in a dark age. Ryan's predecessor, Eric Mangini, was plagued by instability in the quarterback position, and the epic collapse it brought on in 2009. Firing Ryan would bring the Jets straight back to that position. What then; draft Matt Barkley? Another USC rookie to be devoured by the NY media along with a new coach?
Romeo Crennel, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are currently neck 'n neck with Jacksonville in the race for the no. 1 draft pick, which begs the question: will that player end up being the person with the most secure roster spot next year? OK, maybe that's a little exaggerated, Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe are both pretty well anchored at Arrowhead. Not so with Matt Cassel, who made a strong case on MNF for being benched in favour of Brady Quinn. It is baffling that Crennel, who worked with Quinn in Cleveland, would sign him in his first year in KC and then choose not to play him while Matt Cassel is doing so poorly. Another head-scratcher was the decision to bring in Brian Daboll as offensive coordinator, another import from Cleveland who led them to last place in total offense in 2009. The Chiefs are currently 30th in offense.
Verdict: Toss-up. I expect to be heavily trashed for letting Romeo of the hook. It is undeniable that Crennel has the KC defense fired up, as shown on Sunday in Pittsburgh. But their offense sometimes looks like a practice squad team. Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that they'll be be able to land a quality replacement given the noxious fallout of the Todd Haley firing. Maybe the best decision after that would have been the decision NOT to hire Brian Daboll.
Ken Wisenhunt, Arizona Cardinals
Good coaches sometimes end up in a bad place.
In this case, the decision is just as much in the coach's hands as it is in the team's. Ken Whisenhunt is in the final year of his contract and if turned loose could be the most pursued skipper in the NFL not named Sean Payton. I would say that Whisenhunt should be even more pursued than Payton. Whisenhunt also has the distinction of being the only coach in Cardinals history to have his contract renewed since they arrived in the Arizona.
Q: So why is he even on this list? A: The AZ front office has an awful track record when it comes to signing good talent or keeping them in Tempe. Since Arizona's near miss in Super Bowl XLIII four years ago, they've basically allowed the crop to spoil each year, except in Larry Fitzgerald's case. Beanie Wells was a reliable running back until his injury, but don't expect John Skelton to remain under center for long, especially given their current five game losing streak. The 4-0 start is a distant memory as the Cards are looking like a West Coast version of the Eagles. Objectively it looks like it should be Whisenhunt ditching Arizona. In order for there to be a real prospect of a future for this team, they'll have to find a permanent quarterback, and an O-Line that can keep him uninjured. Both Skelton and Kevin Kolb were sidelined this season by injuries. Any QB drafted in the Spring may pull an Eli Manning and ask to be traded to a more amenable team, like Pittsburgh (who have a great QB who seems to be physically crumbling). Allowing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to bolt for the Eagles was a huge mistake.
Verdict: If you're Arizona GM Rod Graves there's no future without Whisenhunt. If you're Whisenhunt,it's hard to see a rosy future in Arizona. So show him the money.Then make some acquisitions.
Norv Turner, San Diego Chargers
Even if the atrocious events of the past few weeks aren't totally his fault, the reign of Turner has run its course, and somebody else should get a shot at running this team that's still got the talent to be an elite franchise. The Chargers with their erratic QB and flustered offensive oriented head coach are the most similar to our own Cowboys. But Turner has been in his position for so long, and has disappointed so many times, that every year he has remained since 2010 could be considered a miracle. The Sunday press conference following Phil Rivers' self-destruction against Tampa clearly showed that Turner is feeling the heat and can't hide it anymore.
Verdict: Torch. Turner was once HC of the Redskins during their descent into mediocrity in the mid-to-late '90s. He had to wait seven more years and three more stints as an OC with other teams before getting a second chance with the Bolts. Expect to see him as an Offensive Coordinator next year in some place like Kansas City.
Pat Shurmer, Cleveland Browns
"Nice to meet you! Oh no, I can find the door myself."
Pat Shurmur had a great opportunity to make the most of his first job at the helm of an NFL team, and unfortunately the same man who gave him that, former Browns majority owner Randy Lerner, basically killed it by selling the Browns this year. Cleveland has better talent than it did two years ago, but the culture of the organization is to blow up the team and rebuild almost every year. The negativity is so strong, that it's hard to see anyone succeeding there. Shurmur has also failed specifically in many areas in two years: He basically wrote off Colt McCoy after only one year of starting, and with both McCoy and current 28 year-old rookie Brandon Weeden the Browns have reprehensible clock management both in the 2 minute drill and in just getting a play off without having to call a time-out or suffering a delay-of-game penalty. The Browns front office also failed Shurmur in that they only add players through the draft, and rarely through free agency. It's hard to attract Pro Bowlers to a team that has only won a single divisional game in the past two years.
Verdict: Jimmy Haslam will cause big improvements to the organization, and has already one-upped Lerner by actually showing up and taking an interest in games. He has already basically swept out Browns Prez Mike Holmgren almost immediately upon being approved as an owner. And if he wants to show how different he is from Holmgren, he might fire Shurmur immediately. When Holmgren took over, he allowed Eric Mangini a grace period of a whole season to prove himself. In Cleveland, where I live, this is known almost universally as the "wasted season". Expect Shurmur to land as an assistant somewhere next year. Norv Turner or Andy Reid might be the next occupants of this seat.
Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers
Hoping his name isn't on one of the suggestion box notes.
The Pouting Pharoah of Charlotte. Did anyone tell Cam that he can't be cast in a Conan the Barbarian remake/sequel if it's already been cancelled?
Ex-'85 Bears who come back to coach somewhere else can't catch any breaks. Remember how Rivera's fellow linebacker Mike Singletary fared in San Francisco? And how about their own coach, Mike Ditka, and his infamous reign in New Orleans?
Rivera may be losing steam a lot faster than Singletary, because Carolina's offense is near the bottom of the league in points scored, and their yardage isn't much more impressive. Rivera's defense is on the lower side of the middle of the pack. The biggest threat at the moment to his continued tenure comes from his own locker room. There are reports of internal discontent, especially since Cam Newton issued his official "plea" for suggestions as to how to improve the offense and win games. Everyone is trashing Newton for his open displeasure, but let's remember that most other young QB's who lose games drily talk at press conferences about how "I needa get better . . . execute more . . .not make mistakes". Cam Newton at least shows that he hates losing. As for Rivera, say what you want about Newton's sad sack demanour, but this coach obviously isn't fielding a game plan to put points on the board. The Broncos defense, until now largely ignored under Peyton Manning's shadow, were all over Newton this past Sunday.
Verdict: Extinguisher. Newton is dead wrong if he thinks that replacing a coach is going get the Panthers into playoff shape any time soon. In fact, since the Panthers essentially fired their GM Marty Hurney after Week 6, axing Rivera would send the wrong message for next season that the judge, jury, and executioner in Carolina is none other than Cam "Thulsa Doom face" Newton.
Mike Shanahan, Washington Redskins
Funny how it is when you replace one tire and the other one goes flat right away.
The RG3 draft pick gamble is already shaping up to be one of the most intriguing in the history of pro football, and the one factor that may derail the whole experiment seems to be out of Mike Shanahan's control. Just when Griffin seemed to be reviving the Capital's football club, the defense has been exposed as an incomplete, injury prone mess. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett isn't the Isaac Newton of defense anyway, but the talent he has is nowhere near to being enough to shut down even error prone his divisional foes. This was obvious when Eli Manning and Victor Cruz wiped out RG3's go-ahead touchdown weeks ago to send the Skins home feeling robbed. Injuries to their best player overall, Brian Orakpo, and tackle monster London Fletcher are killers, and is anyone afraid of throwing around DeAngelo Hall anymore?
Are the Redskins better off now than they were under Jim Zorn? Well at least they have a future. Back then their QB was the much-abused Jason Campbell, who seems to be the touring host of Lifestyles of the Horrendous O-Lines (see the episodes in Oakland and Chicago; he can't catch a break). They were still tossing around the 300+ lb. hot potato of Albert Haynesworth. Owner Daniel Snyder didn't even have the smallest respect for Zorn, and repeatedly encroached upon his authority. Shanahan has put an end to every one of those situations. Now if he could just win.
Verdict: Extinguisher. Mike Shanahan needs to have only one goal this season in order to just keep Snyder happy; stay ahead of Philly. And that is well within his reach this Sunday. Anything more than that will have those abominations they call Redskins fans salivating like dogs. And even the worst case scenario of a last place finish won't dislodge him in my opinion, because it's Jim Haslett who's really on the hot seat in DC.