The NFL season is almost over, but it isn't slowing down. Before taking a spin through the coaching carousel, the playoffs and reader emails, we begin with what new Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith will do with his $16 million man
Busy time of year, with so much happening. Eight teams are still playing. Four wish they still were. Five are seeking new head coaches. Two already have completed their changes.
Let's start there, in Tampa Bay and Houston:
LOVIE SMITH WANTS DARRELLE REVIS ON HIS ROSTER. Talked to the new Buccaneers coach for my podcast this week (it will be up late Tuesday), and he tried to educate me about the real way football is played today. I said to him with so many three- and four-wide formations in the pro game now (most teams are playing three-plus wides more than half the snaps), it makes no sense to me to run off Revis, who is set to make a non-guaranteed $16 million in 2014 if the Bucs keep him. Smith agreed. I am glad to hear he doesn’t care if it means Revis will make 13 percent of the cap in 2014—you don’t discard great cover guys in modern football. “We’re trying to get as many good players as possible to win football games,’’ Smith said. “Any coach around would want a Darrelle Revis to be on his roster. We don’t play Cover 2 each snap. There’s a place for a good cover corner. I can’t wait to sit down with Darrelle and talk to him about his game and just kind of see as we go forward how we’re going to do this and win a lot of football games together. That’s all that’s on my mind right now. All those things work themselves out, but you’re right—the game is now more about three receivers on. And yeah, I’ve never been in a situation where we’ve had too many good corners.” Sound like a guy who wants to cut or trade Revis? I think not.
BILL O’BRIEN’S NOT LOOKING FOR TOO MUCH—JUST ANOTHER TOM BRADY. Just kidding. He’s not. But what the new Texans coach wants in whoever is under center for him in 2014 (it won’t be Matt Schaub, if the rest of the organization has anything to do with it) is someone who, like Brady, has a passion for football that equals O’Brien’s. “I’d be getting texts, calls from Tom on Wednesday night about the third-down package,’’ O’Brien told me. “Thursday night I’d be hearing from him 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock about red-zone plays. Obviously, he’s talented, but Tom never stopped thinking about football. When you coach Tom Brady, you’re not coaching with him; you’re a partner in the offense with him. That’s the ideal for a quarterback—someone who cares about it as much as you do.” O’Brien found that in Matt McGloin at Penn State in his first year there, and it’s why he went to the mat with NFL teams, stridently insisting to them last spring they should give McGloin a shot in training camp. The Raiders did, and McGloin ended up playing seven games for Oakland, outperforming Terrelle Pryor. The big question for O’Brien: Is Teddy Bridgewater that guy with the No. 1 pick? Is Blake Bortles (288 passing yards, three touchdowns, 74 percent completions in a Sept. 14 Central Florida win at Penn State) the guy after a trade down? Or Johnny Manziel, or Tajh Boyd, or Derek Carr? O’Brien will find out soon enough. “I just got in the building,’’ he said. “There are so many scenarios. We draft a quarterback there, we trade the pick to someone who’ll give us a lot for it, or we take another position. Lots of time to figure that out." The draft is four months from tomorrow. O’Brien will be sick of the over-analysis by then.
BRUCE ALLEN NEEDS TO PICK A COACH WITH REAL POWER. The Washington general manager might end up setting the NFL record for coaches interviewed; he has 11 candidates on his list. Monday was the first day teams could interview coaches whose teams played and won in the Wild Card round, so Allen can meet with Greg Roman and Vic Fangio, the two San Francisco coordinators on his wish list—but only if he travels to the West Coast to do so. It’ll be an interesting sign if Allen doesn’t go west to meet with Roman and Fangio. That would likely mean we’re in for a long search in Washington, because I’ve heard Allen is very interested in getting to know Roman, one of the most respected offensive coordinators in football and a guy Robert Griffin III might benefit from in a big way. Look what Roman, the play-caller in San Francisco the past two seasons, has done with Colin Kaepernick. Roman’s a guy Allen needs to see. But whoever gets that gig in Washington needs to lasso control of the team, and the quarterback, from owner Dan Snyder. More damaging revelations Monday from Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post, writing that Griffin bragged he could influence the franchise’s direction because of his relationship with Snyder. And you thought Mike Shanahan was exaggerating his claims? The evidence continues to roll in that Griffin needs to be coached, coached hard, and kept away from all the distracting junk that can only hurt him long-term.
THE SAINTS NEED CAM JORDAN TO BE VERY BIG ON SUNDAY. New Orleans got terrific play from its defensive front Saturday night. I thought Philadelphia would control a good Saints front, but the Eagles were beaten more than they did the beating. It happened inside and outside. Twice I saw rookie tackle John Jenkins manhandle Pro Bowl center Jason Kelce and invade the backfield, and in general the Saints got good push in the middle. On the outside, right end Cameron Jordan had 1.5 of the two Saints’ sacks of Nick Foles and was a consistent disruptive force. That’s to Jordan’s credit, going against Pro Bowler Jason Peters, and he’ll be vital to the cause Saturday in Seattle. Jordan faces his second straight top tackle in Russell Okung, and it’s a major problem for New Orleans if Jordan gets neutralized the way he did a month ago in the Pacific Northwest. In that game, New Orleans’ failure to pressure Russell Wilson and cave in the line contributed in a big way to Seattle putting up a gaudy 429 yards, 6.2 yards per play and 34 points. Jordan’s ability to keep outside contain (making it tough for backs and Wilson to string plays around left end) will be important because of Wilson’s practice of using the entire field to make plays; New Orleans will need to funnel him inside between the tackles so the big bodies and active linebacker Curtis Lofton can prevent him from breaking free.
THE COLTS SIGN DEION BRANCH. This is not 2009. The Colts, with Darrius Heyward-Bey sidelined with a sore hamstring, signed Branch to be their fifth receiver five days before traveling to New England to face the team Branch, now 34, knows oh so well. His last catch: 50 weeks ago, in the AFC title game loss against Baltimore. When you’ve signed Griff Whalen and Da’Rick Rogers already, the wideout pool’s getting pretty shallow. This is no attempt to tweak the Patriots or to steal information about them—it’s simply a way to try to get a healthy, smart body who could play 12 snaps Saturday night and won’t be cowed by the moment if the Colts decided to activate him. Colts GM Ryan Grigson never lets convention get in the way of building his roster.
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Now onto your email:
THEY'RE MAD IN CINCY. Why is Marvin Lewis still the head coach of the Bengals? All I see is another underachieving team. Similar to the Carson Palmer-Chad Ochocinco era but with a new cast of characters. When will Bengals brass realize Lewis has clearly hit his ceiling?
Good question. I don’t think that’s going to be now. I think that club owner Mike Brown is more comfortable with Marvin Lewis than he has been with any of the previous coaches under his watch. I have heard nothing to suggest Brown's opinion is going to change. If you figure out a way for Andy Dalton to play a competent game in January, I think that might go quite a ways to helping Marvin Lewis be a better head coach.
ON KLUWE AND THE VIKINGS. I certainly won’t be alone in bringing up this startling omission. Most of us fans are far too removed from the intricacies of the NFL inner circles to be able to form a reasonable opinion regarding Chris Kluwe’s trustworthiness relating to his incendiary accusations. I respect that you are unwilling to offer knee jerk reactions on such serious matters, but your loyal readers deserve to hear from you on this topic. What say you, good sir?
—Mike, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Here’s what I say: a few days ago on Twitter when the story broke, I praised Kluwe for his willingness to be so critical of people who he had worked so closely with. I also said in response to a question on Twitter, that in my experience, Kluwe had been nothing but truthful with me, to the best of my knowledge. In an explosive case like this, I do regret not addressing this in the column Monday. I should have. What I would have said is that I applaud Kluwe for writing what he wrote, and I also applaud the Vikings for appointing two independent authorities to investigate it. I do not know if the special teams coach, Mike Priefer, said those exact comments. I do not know Priefer. I do know Kluwe. And as I said, I’ve never known Kluwe to lie. So let’s let the light of truth shine on this story, and see what happens.
TOO MUCH, TOO EARLY FOR RUSSELL WILSON? Nobody rides a bandwagon like the sports media. Seattle had the 26th-rated passing team in the NFL, yet all we hear from the media is that Russell Wilson is the next coming of Drew Brees. I don't get it. He might be good some day, but already anointing him a top QB is way too much. Why is it the media gets fixated on a guy and everyone piles on? What am I missing? You will probably say stats are not everything, but then you will point out a QB rating or a stat when talking about another QB. Help me out.
I would point out that Russell Wilson, in the span of eight days last January, went to the East Coast to play two postseason games. In those two games, he engineered a victory over Washington and on the strength of his 360-yard performance the following week at Atlanta, had the Seahawks one minute from the NFC Championship Game, with a lead, before the Seattle defense gave it up and lost to the Falcons. He beat Tom Brady head-to-head last year. He quarterbacked his team this year to a 13-3 record, while having some mediocre days. I don’t know how much more a quarterback can do in the first two years of his professional career than Russell Wilson has done to this point. I can’t read the future, but if Russell Wilson were a stock right now, he’d be Twitter. That’s not to say that he might not crash and burn. But I don’t believe there’s much evidence to suggest that he’s been anything other than one of the true rising stars of the NFL in his first two years.
IT'S ONLY FIVE YARDS. For years I’ve been completely baffled by one fixed item of “conventional wisdom” in the NFL, and that is the unwritten rule that a team should always take a timeout when the play clock is running down, rather than incur a 5-yard delay of game penalty. The ultimate example of this nonsense, in my view, took place Sunday when the 49ers took a time out on the first play from scrimmage in the second half. For the life of me, I cannot understand the thinking here! I would much rather preserve a precious timeout—an option which could determine the outcome of a game, and often does —and accept a 5-yard penalty instead of sacrificing the timeout because the play clock has expired. I must be an idiot because no football coach has ever agreed with me, at least insofar as I can tell from watching football at the college and pro level for many years now. Is there any logic to my position, or am I totally out of my mind?