The “New Kids” to the coaching block
What do the NFL’s newly named head coaches need to do to get the playoffs
***** This article originally appeared in the March issue of Three Point Stance Magazine. To get the latest issue ($1.99) or to subscribe to the Season Ticket (12 issues/$19.99) go to https://3psmag.com/subscribe/ and get yours today. *****
As I struggle to fill the need for pigskin in my life and I binge-watch my life away with my guilty obsession with Netflix’s Fuller House, “Oh, Hey, Stephanie Tanner,[wink, wink)!” I begin to correlate the nineties back into everyday life. Approaching the 2016 NFL season, there will be some new faces in new places or shall we say, some “New Kids on the Block.”
The “NKOTB,” a group of seven stepping into the role of “fearless leader,” compared to five “heart-throbs” in a boy band of the nineties and will probably never have teen girls (and 30 somethings these days) swooning over their voices and moves. Here is a profile of the “boy band,” or coaches and what they must do to achieve playoff success in 2016.
First up, the youngest of the bunch, is Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase, former offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears. Gase, most recently of the John Fox crew, has excelled in the NFL with exceptional knowledge on offense and being known for developing quarterbacks, Gase hopes to improve a very stagnant Dolphins offense and an inconsistent Ryan Tannehill.
The Dolphins ranked 26th out of 32 teams in total yards per game on offense in 2015. Tannehill’s numbers are not much better, he ranked 18th in YPG, only averaging 263 per outing, but did post 24 touchdowns to 12 interceptions on the season, so there is promise amiss turmoil.
The running game in Miami did not fare so well either, the Dolphins are among the “bottom-feeders” ranking 23rd overall. Where they lack on offense, the defense is making up for it on their end. The defense positions itself among the top 15 in total yards, passing yards, rushing yards, receiving yards, points scored, and tackles.
Areas of improvement remain to be sacks and interceptions, which hopefully will turn around if Ndamukong Suh can help strengthen a defensive front that he was brought in to bolster alongside pass-rusher Cameron Wake.
The Dolphins must protect Tannehill, first and foremost. They must keep their quarterback off the ground, allowing him to be sacked 45 times in 2015 is clearly unacceptable.
With a plethora of receiving talent led by Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, and Devante Parker. Added protection will likely keep Tannehill consistent.
Win at HOME! The Dolphins won one of just five games at home in 2015 and inevitably put out a poor product on the field.
Gase has the toughest order of all the new coaches though, being in the same division as the New England Patriots and Tom Brady. Look for the turn around in the second year of Gase’s reign.
The Cleveland Browns hired Hue Jackson in the offseason who most recently served as offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals under Marvin Lewis for the last two seasons. Jackson’s last head coaching stint was cut short in Oakland after an (8-8) season after replacing Tom Cable, when a (1-4) skid ruined playoff hopes.
Jackson is also known for developing running schemes and getting the most out of a quarterback, as he did with Andy Dalton for the last two seasons and Giovanni Bernard, running alongside of Jeremy Hill.
The Browns need the most work, obviously starting at the key position of quarterback. The Johnny Manziel experiment was flawed from the beginning and it seems Manziel’s days are numbered. In order to make the playoffs, Jackson must go after Carson Wentz, quarterback from North Dakota State to revitalize the Browns’ fanbase that is undoubtedly one of the most loyal around the league.
In 2015, Jackson took Dalton to the No. 2 quarterback rating in the league finishing with a 106.3 QBR, after going (10-3), before going down with a broken hand. Even in Dalton’s absence, Jackson led the Bengals to averaging 22 points per game with an inexperienced A. J. McCarron…
An ongoing rebuild is “still” the theme in Cleveland. An inexperienced rookie QB will still need time to adjust to the fast paced NFL and the defense still needs much work in front of talented defensive back Joe Haden.
The overall outlook for the future will be to fix their wrongs in the draft from previous years. As far as the playoffs, there is “promise” under Jackson, but as history has shown, there is much work to be done with a new front office after owner Jimmy Haslam cleaned house in 2015, starting over with a focus on analytics.
The Browns will need to first achieve a winning season, which has not happened since 2007 and no playoff berth since 2002. Give “Hue and the crew” at least three years before the seat gets hot and a coaching search ensues again.
In San Francisco, the 49ers acquired the services of Chip Kelly. Kelly, who relocates back to the west coast, inherits a team with disruptions in the front office, much of the same similar fashion that killed Kelly’s career in Philadelphia. The 49ers ran off Harbaugh, only to hire and fire coach Jim Tomsula (5-11) after one season. The bright spot for Kelly is he heads to San Francisco and will only be depended on to coach, and not assume front office responsibilities as he did in Philly with the Eagles.
Kelly must get quarterback Colin Kaepernick to buy into his offensive scheme which is suited for a player like “Kap.” Kaepernick, which has been rumored to want out of San Fran, should be delighted to work with Kelly, the transformation of Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez, and Sam Bradford speaks volumes for Kelly’s success. The three quarterbacks excelled in Kelly’s scheme, while they were not the prototypical quarterbacks for the job.
To make it to the playoffs, Kelly will have to strengthen its young secondary in free agency and re-sign top veteran wide-receiver Anquan Boldin, who has a rapport with Kaepernick.
The 49ers will also need to return to a steady “ground and pound” to offset what has been reduced to the one-dimensional “Colin Kaepernick show,” after the demise and eventual departure of Frank Gore. A great mind and tactician like Kelly should fare well in his first year, the 49ers should create a substantial push for the playoffs in 2016.
Dirk Koetter, coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has a “good situation” on his hands in Tampa Bay, as far as on the field goes. The Bucs organization pulled the plug on Lovie Smith after two seasons, even after the team did a complete 180 in 2015, but still failed to make the playoffs.
Koetter’s previous experience as offensive coordinator with the Jaguars (2007-2011) and with the Falcons (2012-2015), along with success coaching rookie quarterback Jameis Winston, will serve as the building blocks in year one. Koetter looks to become the first coach to take the Bucs to the playoffs since 2007. With a winning season in 2016, it would be the first since 2010.
The tools for a playoff run in Tampa Bay will be the continued success from Jameis Winston. Winston threw for 4,000 yards, completed 58 percent of his passes, and finished the season with a QBR of 84.2.
Another offensive coordinator taking over the reins of a team with defensive issues, the Bucs gave up 26.1 points per game in 2015, ranked 4th in the NFL, not a stat you want to that high on the totem pole.
With the likely departure of Doug Martin to free agency, emphasis will be on the passing game and sense of urgency on the other side of the ball for Tampa Bay. Key free agency signings on defense and the signing of Doug Martin should be the key for Tampa Bay to make the leap to the playoffs, a traditional pro-style quarterback like Winston relies heavily on a proper rushing attack and the Bucs should be do everything in its power to keep their franchise player on the up-swing.
Offensive coordinators continue to dominate the new hires, the same is the case for the New York Giants after appointing coach Ben Mcadoo successor to Tom Coughlin. Mcadoo and the Giants come off a disappointing season at (6-10), and the baffling sentiment being that there is too much talent on this roster to not make the playoffs. Since winning the Super Bowl in 2011, three losing seasons have followed and no appearances in the post season.
Most of the work here is left to be done on defense, the Giants allowed the most points per game in the NFC, but allowed the most yards in the NFL overall. Situated on an upcoming decision regarding the long-term role for Jason Pierre-Paul, after he injured his hand in a fireworks incident (C’mon man) and with an awful secondary in New York, which is putting it lightly, the Giants must return to smash-mouth defense and a steady running attack.
An electrifying Odell Beckham Jr., should lead the “G-men” back to the playoffs, as it’s about “that time” for Eli and company to pull in another Super Bowl, as they sometimes like to pull off these magical runs every so often. Key pieces in free agency on defense should help and an impact by Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen should take some weight off Eli’s shoulders.
With a chaotic NFC east division from top to bottom, the Giants are in the hunt each year for the postseason and 2016 will be no different for first-year coach Mcadoo.
Another former head coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the new Tennessee Titans head coach is Mike Mularkey, Mularkey takes over Tennessee after posting a (2-7) record as interim head coach after the firing of Ken Whisenhunt. With the franchise in the hands of Marcus Mariota, things are on the come-up for Tennessee fans.
The Titans head into the offseason with the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL draft, looking to strengthen a young offensive line with a lot to prove still. With a prospect come draft day at left tackle like Laremy Tunsil, it is easy to expect a turn around with consistent added protection, and keeping “Super Mario” from being sacked 38 times.
En route to the playoffs, Mularkey must find a way to win the close games, the Titans blew fourth quarter leads in 2015, along with added miscues in the secondary and a depleted linebacking core for quite some time, since the departure of Keith Bulluck’s services from ages ago.
The advantage for Tennessee and Mularkey is cap space, the Titans have the seventh most cap space in the league approaching 2016 free agency. The keys for success will to improve a defensive that allowed 112.3 yards per game on the ground and 229.9 through the air. Already posting only two wins in the win-loss column of his first season, and the added pressure with a talent like Mariota to succeed early, give Mularkey one season and this experiment will be regarded as such, “Malarkey.”
Last on the list is Brett Favre’s “best buddy,” Doug Pederson. Pederson, who worked under Chiefs head coach Andy Reid the last two seasons as offensive coordinator in Kansas City, was a long-time backup to Brett Favre in Green Bay and is another coordinator promoted to the head coaching club.
Serving as quality control coach in 2009-10 with the Eagles organization, Pederson looks to transfer his success under Reid to get Philadelphia back to the playoffs. Working closely with Sam Bradford, who is presumed to be the starter in 2016, after signing an extension, Pederson will look to improve the wide receivers corps to make the playoffs.
The inconsistencies of Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz must end in 2016, a rushing attack, which should be by committee between Darren Sproles and Ryan Matthews, should do its part in stretching the field. In order to make the playoffs, consistent play on defense is key, in light of spurts of dominance in 2015, the Eagles defense is highly suspect. With a weak NFC east division full of parity, the pressure on Pederson to win won’t come until year three.
In order to win in 2016, and make a substantial leap, look for the organization to go after a prime receiver in free agency and strengthen the defensive line with a key pickup. As mediocre as the NFC east is right now, the Eagles still have pieces of the puzzle left to add to catch the surging Redskins and rejuvenated Giants (Cowboys left out, as Dallas endures one more failed year of “The Jason Garrett Experiment”).
The NFL in regard to its players and coaches is synonymously known as meaning “not for long,” and with coaches it is no different. The longest tenured coaches are not succeeding off of win-loss record in every sense, hence Jeff Fisher in Los Angeles, but more off of relationships with owners, fans, and players.
If these newly appointed coaches hope to achieve longevity in this league, winning is the only option and more importantly patience. Patience from impatient fan bases, players, and fans, which is easier said than done.
So with that being said, “May the odds ever be in your favor,” let’s start the games…