- Also, why Doug Pederson decided to run a play on fourth down against the Bears that the team had only practiced a handful of times before, Colts’ early impressions of the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes, the latest on the NFL coaching carousel and more.
A few notes to wrap up the NFL’s wild-card weekend…
1. It’s hard for some people to wrap their heads around Kliff Kingsbury’s situation. The Jets sat down with the current USC offensive coordinator on Monday. The Cardinals, I’m told, are very interested in him. And he was fired as Texas Tech’s head coach on Nov. 24. So I asked a couple of high-end evaluators familiar with that program to gauge their reaction to Kingsbury landing squarely on the NFL’s radar after tallying a 35–40 record over six seasons at his alma mater.
“I’m not surprised at all,” said one AFC college scouting director. “He’s a really innovative offensive coach, he’s charismatic, he has that kind of feel to him. I think he’s kind of what the new age of these offensive coaches are now. Everyone’s trying to find the next McVay. … He produced a really good offense every year, and fell victim to the same thing the rest of the conference falls victim to. And try and get a kid to go to Lubbock.”
Another AFC exec said, “I’m not surprised at all. He’s a young, innovative offensive mind. With the success of guys like that [in the NFL], of course the NFL would want to talk to him.” On the plus side, Kingsbury is regarded as a wizard when it comes to strategy, play-calling and tendencies. The flip side is that as a head coach, he was on his own planet in Lubbock, and he wouldn’t be in the NFL. And there are questions as to he’d handle the ins and out of organizing an operation within a billion dollar company, and how he’d get a defensive staff put together. But it’s really not that hard to see why NFL teams, in this year’s market, are contemplating rolling the dice here.
2. From MMQB’s cutting-room floor: Eagles coach Doug Pederson told me that the fourth-down play that gave Philadelphia the lead against the Bears on Sunday (he wouldn’t reveal the play’s name, because he might go back to it) was one that the team only ran a few times in practice before rolling it out in the most critical spot. The man-coverage-beating concept that freed Golden Tate for the touchdown was one Tate was familiar with, as he explained in the column, which emboldened Pederson to call it in anticipation of Bears DC Vic Fangio bringing the house.
3. An unsung hero on Pederson’s staff: Defensive backs coach Corey Undlin, who has lost three of his four starters and fought through some rough patches (the game in New Orleans was more like a really deep ditch) to round his unit into shape recently. Second-year corner Rasul Douglas has graded out better on a weekly basis since Week 11, and rookie Avonte Maddox has gotten healthy, while journeyman Cre’Von LeBlanc has been steady. Add that up, and Undlin, originally brought to Philly by Chip Kelly, deserve credit for making it work under challenging circumstances.
4. The Colts are getting their first look at the Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes this season. And with the tape already downloaded on his iPad, I asked second-year corner Quincy Wilson for his first impression of what he thinks Indianapolis is going up against this weekend. “I’d say, from my first glance at the film, he’s got hell of an arm, he makes throws you’ve never seen,” Wilson explained. “He rolls one way, throws the other. With people in his face, he goes sidearm. So we all have to be ready to cover a little bit longer, be ready for him to make those throws. It’s different because, he can be rolling right, and everyone on the left side of the field has to stay aware.” Wilson also admitted that he’s become a fan of Mahomes, watching the QB from afar, and didn’t mince words when on what he’s been most impressed with. “I mean, you’ve seen it,” he said.
5. Credit to Colts DC Matt Eberflus for putting together a plan that absolutely stifled the Texans offense for three-plus quarters. The idea was to force Deshaun Watson to win from the pocket, without leaning on DeAndre Hopkins. They rotated spies on him to mask their intentions, with rookie all-pro Darius Leonard getting a lot of that work, and they had their corners—mostly Pierre Desir—play physically with Hopkins at the line. The idea was to reroute him, and throw off the timing of the Houston offense, which would force Watson to hold the ball. The result? The Texans were shut out through three quarters, and Watson, at that point, was 20-of-34 for 161 yards and a pick. Passer rating: 58.6. “The No. 1 thing was to keep Deshaun in the pocket,” said Wilson. “Everyone knows his thing is to scramble and find guys wide open. So that was No. 1. And the second thing was to be physical with Hopkins—he likes to run free, like any other receiver. We wanted to make it a dogfight.” Mission accomplished.
6. My sense is things are moving along with the head-coach hiring process in Tampa, with Bruce Arians having emerged as the favorite for the Buccaneers job. And sure, Arians’s age (66) is a concern, and the team will have to get assurances on his health. But there’s plenty to work with here. He was 58-33-1, made the playoffs twice in Arizona, guided a rebuilding Indianapolis team to the postseason with Chuck Pagano on leave, and he has a great network from which to pull and build a staff, and maybe even position a successor.
7. I’d bet the coordinator market will heat up in the coming days. We mentioned Vikings interim OC Kevin Stefanski’s contract is up Tuesday, and he’s expected to garner outside interest. And elsewhere in the division, a nugget on the Lions OC search—OL coach Jeff Davidson has been in on the interviews. That underscores the importance of the relationship between an offensive coordinator and line coach, of course. And it also is another example of the commitment that Matt Patricia and Co. have put into rehabbing the run game, which was rolling before Kerryon Johnson got hurt.
8. Criticism of Seahawks OC Brian Schottenheimer over the weekend was interesting to hear. Part of what Pete Carroll was looking for last offseason was for his program to return to its roots, and one piece of that was re-establishing what the team had been when Marshawn Lynch was the offense’s centerpiece. It’s hard to say that Schottenheimer, paired with new line coach Mike Solari, didn’t do his job in that regard. Seattle was the NFL’s No. 1-ranked rushing team this year.
9. While we’re there, Seattle has a really interesting negotiation coming with Russell Wilson. The Seahawks kicked the tires on the 2018 draft class of quarterbacks, and that ruffled some feathers with Wilson’s camp. If talks stall in the spring, would they go down that road again?
10. And to wrap up, Ohio State redshirt sophomore QB Dwayne Haskins declared for the NFL draft on Monday. Here’s the assessment of one evaluator, who’s already gotten eyes on his tape: “Good size with physical development and maturation left. Very productive. A winner. Accomplished on and off the field, they love him there. Poised and in command, he handles of the position and the program well. He had a unique experience with the coaching situation to start the season. His performance off the bench against Michigan in 2017 was impressive. He’s got a good arm and timing—little less accuracy downfield. And he’s athletic enough, not a runner. A good decision-maker.” As of right now, through the calls and texts I’ve traded, and everything else through the fall, I’d say Haskins is this class’ consensus top quarterback, with Duke’s Daniel Jones giving chase.
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