A Long Time Coming
It’s somewhat surprising it’s taken this long, given his success and longevity, but Sunday will mark the first time Saints coach Sean Payton has faced a team directed by one of his former assistant coaches, when Doug Marrone leads the Bills into the Superdome.
That’s not the extent of Payton’s coaching tree. He was supposed to face Raiders coach Dennis Allen, a secondary coach in New Orleans from 2006-10, last season, but Payton missed the entire season after being suspended for the bounty scandal. Curtis Johnson, the Saints’ receivers coach from ’06-11, is the head coach at Tulane.
“It just goes with being in the league longer,” Payton said of facing Marrone. “It is nice to have guys that were on that initial staff, like Doug or Dennis Allen, to get opportunities as head coaches. That is something that I am excited about, and the organization feels good about. He did a great job while he was here.”
Some only think of Marrone as a college coach, since he made the short drive from Syracuse to Buffalo. But Marrone is a pro coach, having put in eight years as Jets and Saints assistant before going back to college. And it was in New Orleans, on Payton’s first staff in 2006 with guys like Allen and Johnson, where Marrone really made his mark as offensive line coach and coordinator. That staff has a special place in Payton’s heart, considering the challenge they faced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. They wound up building a foundation for a Super Bowl winner.
“Trying to find coaches with families to come into the region was sometimes difficult,” Payton said. “That initial staff, a lot of those guys came with promotions—we weren’t winning many jump balls, if you will, in the hiring process. We had a handful of attempts at hiring guys. Doug was someone that I had met before, and he was still under contract with the Jets, and finally was able to get out of his contract. I had a chance to interview him and felt really, really comfortable with his expertise and his ability to teach. That initial staff was pretty special, and he is someone that I’ve stayed in close touch with throughout the years.”
Marrone built the offensive line for the ’09 Super Bowl winner from the ground up. “We had a lot of transition in that first year if you look at the starting offensive line in 2006 compared to the year before we got here, there were a lot of new faces,” Payton said. “He did a real good job.”
Marrone said his time with the Saints and Payton factored “quite a bit” in putting him in his current position.
“Sean and I, we had a working relationship and we had a close friendship,” Marrone said. “To be close to him and see what he went through as a head coach was obviously very helpful. Having the ability to sit in with (general manager) Mickey Loomis and (director of college scouting) Rick Reiprish and the people in the scouting department—be involved with pro and college—I think that experience is invaluable for what you get, especially for when you’re working with great people. I was very fortunate to have that and it’s been a big part of who I am today and what I’ve learned.”
The Bills are still hanging on in the AFC East (3-4) thanks to last Sunday’s 23-21 comeback win over the Dolphins, which featured the team’s fourth-string quarterback, Thad Lewis (if you count Kevin Kolb before being lost to a concussion). Say one thing about Marrone’s Bills: they battle. Their three victories have come by a combined seven points. Three of the four losses have come by seven points or fewer. The next two weeks, at New Orleans and home against the Chiefs, will likely make or break the Bills’ season.
But no matter what happens, the players believe in Marrone.
“Everybody’s (uncertain) when you get a new coach, especially coming from Syracuse and college,” said veteran running back Fred Jackson. “After the first conversation I had with him, I liked everything he had to say and what his whole mindset was. I’ve been on his train ever since. I’m excited about what he’s brought to Buffalo and what he’s going to continue to do and working towards getting it done. It’s all aboard. I tell everybody in the locker room that as well.”
Toward the end of their tenures in Philadelphia, it appeared that Joe Banner had lost a power struggle with then-coach Andy Reid when Banner, the team president, left in 2012. Yet it was hard to tell after hearing Reid talk about Banner (now the Browns’ president) this week. “I’m a big Joe Banner fan,” said Reid, who had been asked to characterize their relations. “I spent 14 great years with him and we had a ton of success together. He was one of those instrumental in me being part of the Philadelphia Eagles and he gave me every opportunity along with (owner) Jeffrey Lurie to win football games. He’s a brilliant guy. He knows football, he knows talent, he knows what it takes to win. I think he will do a nice job (in Cleveland).”
Reid said fans should have faith in Banner and his staff, even if they were puzzled by moves like the Trent Richardson trade. “You see the different moves he’s making strategically with the trades and accumulating draft picks, he’s very, very good at that,” said Reid, now the Chiefs coach after getting fired by the Eagles last December. “What might seem crazy now, you just watch how it blossoms in the future. He’s got a great eye for putting things together that way.”
... and 10
1. Last week I wondered why the Bucs weren’t using Darrelle Revis in more man coverage and figured there were two answers: either coach Greg Schiano has that stubborn a belief in his system, or Revis isn’t physically ready for that kind of stress after ACL surgery. Well, Revis told the NFL Network that he’s “not even close” to 100% and his explosiveness wanes, like he’s been told it would. I’m inclined to believe Revis, because if he were ready to go, he likely would have just said, “I’m fine, I just do what I’m told.” He didn’t. So in this instance, I’m going to applaud Schiano for taking the long-range view on a player and not pushing it, especially since putting Revis is cover zero would probably help Schiano’s chances of winning games.
2. On the other side of the coin, Bill Belichick seems to deal with returning players only in the context of, if they’re cleared, there’s no restrictions. Recent examples: Rob Gronkowski played 64% of snaps and was targeted 17 times last Sunday in his first meaningful game action in 11 months. In 2011, Kevin Faulk played 39 snaps (67%)—22 more than BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead combined—in his first game action in 14 months after ACL surgery. He missed the next two games and played just 51 snaps the rest of the season, the final of his career. Aaron Hernandez was supposed to miss four-to-six weeks with an MCL sprain in 2011, but missed only two and played 80% of the snaps in his return (basically on one leg). He didn’t miss any more games, but Hernandez wasn’t nearly close to his form until six games later.
3. The Bucs and Patriots are well-known for their affection toward Rutgers players, considering Schiano was the head coach there, and Belichick’s son played on the team for a season. But it seemed both missed on the former Scarlet Knight who is having the quickest impact in the NFL: Chiefs cornerback Marcus Cooper. Seven Rutgers players were taken in this year’s draft (three by the Patriots), and Cooper was the final of those picks, taken in the seventh round (252nd overall) by the 49ers. He was released by San Francisco and was quickly claimed by the Chiefs. The 6-2, 192-pound former receiver is tied for eighth among cornerbacks in the ProFootballFocus.com overall rankings, and fourth in passer rating allowed—even as a nickel back and occasional starter. “He’s willing to challenge and he also knows that he’s a big kid in size, so he’s not afraid of matchups or whatever,” coach Andy Reid said earlier this season.
4. After the injuries they’ve sustained (Maurkice Pouncey and Larry Foote), the Steelers’ margin for error is much slimmer, but even after an 0-4 start, you shouldn’t sleep on Pittsburgh quite yet. They emerged from the bye week and posted two victories by becoming more of a power running team thanks to the return of LeVeon Bell; there’s also been some improvement on defense. There’s a crucial stretch in the schedule coming up: they’ll face the Raiders, Patriots, Bills, Lions and Browns before getting a rematch with the Ravens. If the Steelers can go 4-1, they’d be 6-5 heading into the final five games.
If the NFL was serious about player safety, and not just paying lip service, it would have suspended Meriweather indefinitely.
5. Chargers defensive end Corey Liuget was caught off guard where informed that his former University of Illinois teammate Martez Wilson was released by the Saints this week. Both were drafted in 2011 (Liuget, first; Wilson, third). “Wow, that came out of nowhere. Shoot, that is a shocker to me,” Liuget said. “I believe Martez Wilson is a game-changing player, and he can play some good football. Last year he won the game for the Saints when we played them and had a sack/fumble. Me playing with the guy for three years in college, he’s a heck of a football player and athlete overall. But I’m shocked to hear he got released.” Liuget was very much in favor of the Chargers bringing Wilson aboard before the Raiders claimed him. “I would love to play with him for another year or two,” Liuget said. “That would be great.”
6. The Panthers are now over .500 for the first time since 2008. But let’s not go crazy about them yet. Their four wins have come over the Giants, Vikings, Rams and the Buccaneers (5-22). Everyone will know whether the Panthers are real or not in short order. Carolina’s next three opponents: the desperate Falcons, Patriots and 49ers.
7. Whoever was responsible in the Vikings organization for Josh Freeman starting a game just two weeks after being signed should be embarrassed. It wasn’t fair to Freeman, or Vikings players (and coach Leslie Frazier, assuming it wasn’t his call). That was a perfect example of why in-season quarterback acquisitions or trades rarely work unless the player has been in a similar system.
8. Same goes for those in charge of player safety discipline at the NFL for the handling of Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather, who had his suspension cut from two games to one. This is a player who has been repeatedly fined for showing a blatant disregard for others during his career—just ask Todd Heap, Steve Smith, Eddie Lacy, Alshon Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall, and I’m sure I’m leaving out a few. The latter two were Meriweather’s victims last Sunday—in the same game, despite Meriweather having been fined earlier this season. After nailing Jeffrey, Meriweather launched himself into Marshall’s head. If the NFL was serious about player safety, and not just paying lip service, it would have suspended Meriweather indefinitely. If the NFL can’t or won’t take action against a player like Meriweather, any enforcement is toothless.
9. The Dolphins were dreadful on offense against the Bills—in every facet. The blocking in the running game was dreadful, and the backs didn’t help much with some shoddy reads. Pass protection wasn’t even that poor—certainly not enough to excuse quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s performance. He failed in his pre-snap reads, and stared down receivers instead of working through progressions. He still has the bad habit of not pulling the trigger fast enough on his passes. It needs to get cleaned up real quick.
10. eyond the Dallas-Detroit matchup, which could make the scoreboard explode at Ford Field, it looks like Jets-Bengals is the second best matchup of the weekend. We’ll see how much Andy Dalton has improved.