Takeaways from Week 5
For some silly reason I have picked the New York Giants to cover three times this year. Each time they have failed to do so. No more. This Giants team is headed for a coaching shake-up if they don’t get their act together.
I think Tom Coughlin is a good coach and doesn’t really deserve to be fired. But the simple truth is that if Coughlin didn’t have two Super Bowl rings, he would have gotten axed a long time ago. Assuming there is no epic turnaround this year, it will mean that the Giants have only made the playoffs once in the past five seasons under Coughlin. Over their past 16 games, the Giants sport a 6-10 record. Their defense has given up 30 or more points every game this year, and did so in two of their three final games last season. They’ve now turned the ball over 20 times in their first five games, more than the 19 the 2012 Chiefs gave up in that same span, and the most since the ’97 Saints.
Next week the Giants face the Bears, which probably will be a loss. But if they don’t reel off three straight wins after that point against teams like the Vikings, Eagles, and Raiders, then I think Coughlin has to go. Super Bowls don’t buy you that much leeway especially when there are long-time rumors that Bill Cowher wants the job.
The Houston Texans are a fascinating team with coaching questions as well. Going into this week, they ranked 1st in the league in total defense, but 23rd in the league in scoring defense. I’ve never heard of that since usually it’s the opposite. They have been a “break but don’t bend” defense, with one of the league’s premier passing defenses, yet they give up points rather easily. Like Coughlin, Gary Kubiak’s job security is very tenuous at this point.
Kubiak’s problem is that while his Texans teams have been successful the past two years, he had five seasons where he built very little credit league-wide. Houston was an average team for those five years under him, and after ascending into one of the better teams in 2011, expectations now are much higher. This is a team that I expected to be competing with Denver for the best record in the AFC this season. But the Texans suffer from questions about their quarterback, a very conservative and predictable offense, and an underachieving but talent-laden defense.
The fact that they just suffered their second shellacking of the season on the road doesn’t help things. Losing to the 49ers by 31 on Sunday, after a 21-point loss to Baltimore two weeks ago is not the sign of a championship-caliber team. In between, they choked away a 20-3 halftime lead against Seattle last week.
In terms of coaches on the hot seat, it’s really not about the wins and losses, rather it’s about how good you look. And for the Texans and Giants, both teams have looked really bad in their losses. The best word to describe it is inept. Those sort of performances are what we expect out of teams that win 3 or 4 games all year long. The Giants were a team that looked capable of winning 8-10 games this year, while the Texans were a team that should have skated to at least 11 wins this year. If the Giants are only a 4 or 5-win team this year, that’s dramatic underachieving. If the Giants were able to get their season back on track and get to 6 or 7 wins, you might be able to excuse that and keep Coughlin around.
I’d be surprised if the Texans don’t get to at least to 8-8 this year. And if they can get things back on track, a 10-6 record seems achievable. But both teams are ripe for change along the sidelines if things don’t change, and don’t so quickly.
Late Sunday evening, word came down that Josh Freeman had chosen the Minnesota Vikings to finish his 2013 season with. It’s an interesting fit for the Vikings. It signals that the Vikings are unhappy with the play of Christian Ponder, which is no surprise.
Ponder is currently nursing a rib injury and may miss their next matchup against the Panthers next Sunday. Matt Cassel looked much better in Minnesota’s lone win in London in Week 4. With Freeman under fold and Cassel looking competent, I doubt the Vikings will rush Ponder back.
I assume they’ll give Freeman at least two or three weeks to try and get up to speed in the offense. If I was to guess when the earliest Freeman could be starting for the Vikings, it would be Week 8 on Sunday Night Football against the Green Bay Packers. But I doubt that, because that is a short week following their Monday Night bout against the New York Giants. So maybe the following week when they go on the road against the Cowboys makes the most sense for Freeman to get into the lineup. That would give him three weeks to get up to speed, and likely give the Vikings at least one start for both Cassel and Ponder before making the switch.
I think Freeman is a better player than either Ponder or Cassel. The issue is going to be whether he’ll be suited to coming into that locker room mid-season and doing anything more than what Ponder or Cassel have done to date. Mental toughness isn’t Freeman’s biggest strength. But unlike the current Vikings quarterbacks, he shouldn’t be nearly as tentative to push the ball downfield, which should benefit players like Jerome Simpson and Greg Jennings.
Next off-season is going to be a potentially very interesting offseason for quarterbacks. Now Josh Freeman joins Cassel, Michael Vick, and Jay Cutler as prospective free agents next spring. I believe unless he falls of a cliff the rest of the season (which is possible), Cutler is likely to remain in Chicago. But Freeman and Vick, most importantly, have their futures completely up in the air. And it’s really anyone’s guess at this point.
Other veterans that are likely to get cut are: Mark Sanchez, Matt Flynn, and Kevin Kolb. The Jaguars and Browns will certainly be drafting quarterbacks high, and thus might opt to dump recent first rounders like Blaine Gabbert and Brandon Weeden. The Browns could also shoo Jason Campbell out the door and simply go with their 2014 rookie and Brian Hoyer as their quarterbacks next season. Ponder’s status is also up in the air, as it Matt Schaub’s.
Cincinnati is going to be an intriguing team to watch, as they could become a major destination for one of these veteran free agents to come in and push Andy Dalton. Philly also seems like a notable landing spot for a veteran player. The Eagles drafted Matt Barkley this off-season, and Nick Foles is also an option. But I would be surprised if they turned the keys over to either next year. It wouldn’t shock me that if the Texans parted ways with Schaub next March that he landed with the Eagles to run Chip Kelly’s offense.
I find all the trades that occurred over the past few weeks to be fascinating. I already gave my comments on the Trent Richardson trade. But Eugene Monroe going to Baltimore and Levi Brown landing in Pittsburgh were also interesting moves.
It will be interesting what Baltimore does with Monroe since both he and Michael Oher are upcoming free agents after this season. And with Joe Flacco’s burdensome salary, it doesn’t seem likely they will be able to re-sign both. Because Oher plays right tackle, he should be the cheaper of the two, but he’s likely to earn a deal that exceeds the one given to Gosder Cherilus last offseason which averaged about $7 million/year and had roughly $20 million paid out in the first three years. Jake Long got the market-setting deal for left tackles, which averaged $8.5 million/year and had about $25 million paid out in the first three years. Could Baltimore afford both? Perhaps, as I don’t have a strong enough grasp on their cap situation to say otherwise. But it wouldn’t surprise me to see another offseason where the Ravens reshuffle their roster extensively. I do know that players like Ray Rice, Lardarius Webb, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata will carry large cap hits in 2014. I would be surprised if any of those players were cut next off-season since all are key players on both sides of the ball, but I would expect all of them to have to slash some salary, particularly Rice and Ngata. I do think it’s likely that 2014 could be the last seasons in Baltimore for each Rice, Suggs, and Ngata.
It is a shame that Luke Joeckel went down for the season yesterday only a week after Jacksonville shipped away Monroe. Clearly, the Football Gods are very vengeful in regards to Jacksonville this year.
The Levi Brown trade doesn’t really move the needle. He has struggled throughout his career when he’s been asked to line up on the left side, and is a much more effective right tackle. That description fits both of the Steelers other tackles in Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams. Which leaves a lot to be desired for the team’s left tackle position. I would not be surprised that if Baltimore does opt to let Monroe walk, the Steelers should be a team that jumps all over him.
The Panthers traded linebacker Jon Beason to the Giants this week. The Panthers already re-worked Beason’s contract this past summer to void his deal after this season. But it was clear that with the emergence of Luke Kuechly, Carolina had no intention of bringing him back, and now they get back a fifth round pick in next year’s draft rather than waiting for a compensatory pick in 2015 that may not have been much more than that given Beason’s injury history and the likelihood it would impact his contract.
Hopefully more trades on the horizon as the October 29 trade deadline looms. Jairus Byrd is formally on the block, something I discussed back in July. My opinion is unchanged on whether or not the Falcons should be interested in trading for Byrd.
On the subject of other potential trades, I think the Raiders need to be willing to deal Darren McFadden. Oakland is clearly rebuilding and McFadden simply is not the sort of back that you build around. If they can get something good for him now, they will be avoiding a DeAngelo Williams situation (i.e. vastly overpaying a free agent running back) next offseason. The Giants should also think about trading Hakeem Nicks. Given the money they just invested in Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle beginning to emerge, if they can get something decent for Nicks, why not flip him for a first or second? But that’s unlikely to happen, given how little Monroe, Brown, and Beason went for. I’d expect the Giants could get a third for Nicks, but I’d be surprised if they got anymore.
I noted in my picks that Andrew Luck’s passer rating in the fourth quarter was 40.6 this year. Well he had a good fourth quarter against Seattle on Sunday, completing 4 of 7 passes for 68 yards for a rating of 90.2. But the main reason why the Colts beat the Seahawks in a comeback win was because of the Colts defense. Luck fumbled midway through the third quarter which gave the Seahawks the ball at the Colt 30-yard line. But the Colts defense held the Seahawks to just three points. And then the Colts defense forced a three-and-out midway through the fourth quarter after the Colts took their first lead of the game.
The Colts are one of the ascending teams, and that defense has been one of the big reasons why they are better than a lot of people predicted (including myself). Robert Mathis has 9.5 sacks through five games and their pass defense has played very well. Granted, part of that has been that they haven’t played many prolific passing offenses through the first five weeks of the season. They do host the Broncos in Week 7, and that will be a true test to see how far they’ve come. But there is no doubt that they are much improved from last year, and if they continue to play well the Colts will remain in the driver’s seat in the AFC South.