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What a Weekend! The Chiefs’ Reborn Offense Drives a Playoff Comeback for the Ages

This season’s divisional round games brought a massive upset of the NFL’s No. 1 team, a clinical shutdown by the other No. 1 team, a 51-31 win that for a quarter looked to be a blowout by the team that ultimately lost and a winning team that rolled the dice in crunch time. Also, some takeaways from the NFL head coaching cycle, which is now complete, one item on every team in the All-32 and more.

As the Texans were burying the Chiefs under 24 points at the suddenly-silent Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City receiver Sammy Watkins sought out rookie Mecole Hardman with a pointed message.

You’re gonna do something to spark us.

And spark them, he did.

A Houston field goal had just made it 24–0 with just under 11 minutes left in the first half when Hardman took the kickoff and found a seam right up Main Street. The second-round pick hit it, then cut to a wide-open right of the field. Fifty-eight yards later, the game was changed for good.

“He sparked us,” Watkins said a few hours after the fact. “We went down there and scored, and after that, we were on fire. Energy was contagious, everybody just feeding off each other. And it just kept on, trickled down into the defense getting stops and turning the ball over, and we’re scoring and we couldn’t be stopped.”

The rest of the afternoon, the defense clamped down, the offense partied like it was 2018 and the Chiefs made coming back from 24–0 look like converting a mildly-challenging third-and-long. The score the rest of the way: Chiefs 51, Texans 7, giving the home team a 51-31 win and the chance to potentially erase the memory of last year’s AFC title game loss.

Maybe the best sign here? All it took was that little rumble from Hardman. The truth is, the Chiefs have been waiting for this one for some time.

***

kansas-city-chiefs-aaron-rodgers-joe-judge

The divisional round weekend is in the books and the coaching carousel is finally starting to slow down, so we’ve got you covered end-to-end this morning, with material on…

• How the Bills’ blueprint for restraining Lamar Jackson paid dividends for the Titans.

• The 49ers’ intelligence on the Vikings allowing them to smother Mike Zimmer’s crew.

• The Packers rolling the dice.

• Mike McCarthy being the right coach for right now in Dallas.

• Joe Judge’s view of his special team.

But we’re starting with a Kansas City offense that was reborn on Sunday.

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Understanding why the Chiefs haven’t been as strong on offense as they were last year isn’t difficult. Left tackle Eric Fisher and guards Andre Wylie and Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff missed a combined 16 games this season. Wideout Tyreek Hill missed four games, and Watkins and Patrick Mahomes missed two apiece. Put it together, and the projected top offense didn’t play together as a unit from mid-September until December.

Once they did get healthy, there were some expected bumps. But the guys in that huddle, especially the ones who were around last year, trusted that things would turn around. Maybe they didn’t expect it to happen via a kick return from a guy who was still on campus at Georgia this time last year.

“I'm not a huge momentum guy,” tackle Mitchell Schwartz told me on his ride home from Arrowhead. “But you could definitely feel the energy and the buzz.”

So what had been sucked out of the stadium—thanks to miscues, like the blocked punt and muffed punt that led directly to 14 points—was breathed back in. And then last year’s MVP got rolling again.

Mahomes hit Travis Kelce on an out-breaking route for 25 yards on the first play after Hardman’s return, then hit Damien Williams down the seam for a 17-yard touchdown—the first of seven straight possessions by the Chiefs that ended in a touchdown. Before that, Mahomes was four for 10 for 43 yards; after, he was 19 of 25 for 278 yards and five touchdowns. Kansas City didn’t punt in the final three quarters, nor did a possession fail to end in a score, outside of three kneel-downs at the end of the game.

This, of course, is the team who we thought the Chiefs would be and could be before the injuries hit—and maybe this is the team they’re becoming.

“This wasn’t a good year health-wise for this team,” Schwartz said. “So getting everyone back and then having a few weeks to kind of mesh it all together—we’re kind of chasing the greatness we had last year and trying to do that this year.”

“I’d rather get the injuries out of the way early than late,” Watkins said. “And now we’ve got to continue, pick it back up, like we did today. The offense played the best that we’ve ever played.”

The best? “This is the best,” he said. 

And his reasoning? Getting so many different players in the passing game and running game involved, and Mahomes once again rounding into MVP form.

Here’s the scary part: While that was happening with the offense, the defense has pulled itself together behind new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and DE Frank Clark and safety Tyrann Mathieu. 

“It feels like a more complete team,” Schwartz said. “Not to say anything against the defense last year—those guys led the NFL in QB pressure and sacks and hits and all those things, which is really the key to the NFL these days—but it does feel like this team is well-rounded. The past month or two, we’ve relied on those guys to keep games close, and we’ve been able to put them away late. It’s exciting.”

Up next? Kansas City is one win away from the franchise’s first Super Bowl berth since Len Dawson was tearing through Lucky Strikes at halftime, and the sixth-seeded Titans are all that’s in their way.

The Chiefs have had a tougher path than last year’s team did, and they’re not going to let a play like Dee Ford lining up offside at the least opportune time get them again, as it did last season against the Patriots. The players they’ve been hardened by its experience. We’ll know in a few days.

“It’s stuck with us a lot,” Watkins said, referencing last year’s title game. “And I tell people, ‘Man, I don’t think God’s going to make another mistake.’ We took that one to the chin pretty hard. And now we’ve got the same opportunity coming.

“So hopefully we can go out there and do the same thing—move the ball around and have fun and play fast and enjoy it, and do it with a purpose of trying to get into the Super Bowl.”

Now, all they have to do next week is pick up where they left off.

***

THE TITANS GO TO SCHOOL

The Ravens’ last meaningful game against another contender was 34 days before Saturday’s divisional round. And it was that game, in Buffalo, that did in the AFC’s top seed. Confused? I’ll explain.

While the month-long layoff between showdowns probably didn’t help, something else that happened in Orchard Park in early December was more damaging in the long run: The Bills put on tape a blueprint for how to defend Lamar Jackson and the Ravens.

Buffalo didn’t win five weeks ago, but the team held Jackson to his second lowest yards-per-attempt (5.8) and yards-per-carry (3.6) averages of the season, and it put its offense in position to take the game at the wire. In doing so, the Bills handed Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees a foundation on which to build.

“It’s funny, because a lot of people don’t fully understand football at the level Dean Pees does,” corner Logan Ryan told me postgame. “Everyone’s like, ‘Well, how you gonna spy [Jackson]?’ Well, he can outrun almost every spy. So our whole thing was, we wanted to give him loaded boxes, pack the paint, play the receivers inside-out and make him throw field comebacks, have eight, nine in the box, play quarters coverage, man coverage, play cat coverage, where we say, ‘You have this cat, I have this cat.’

“It was a lot of what Buffalo did to them, where we have rules, real strict option football rules, with an eight-man, nine-man box, and corners on their own. Buffalo played them like that. Buffalo played them really well. It’s just, Buffalo’s offense didn’t score touchdowns.”

The Titans offense did put up the scores, while the defensive plan went as well as anyone could have hoped. The result was a stunning 28–12 upset that didn’t seem even that close most of the evening. And really, it was as Ryan laid out.

Tennessee flooded the box, trusting the defensive backs to cover without much help behind them. The coaches had those DBs take away throws over the middle, forcing Jackson to throw outside the numbers. Up front, they were strict on the kind of assignment football you’d deploy against Army or Navy in the run game—putting one defender on the quarterback, another on the dive, and a third on pitch—and they rushed with the purpose of crowding Jackson’s space, not flushing him from the pocket.

After talking to some Buffalo people Sunday morning, I can say the game plans weren’t identical. The Bills disguised coverage more, while the Titans manned up the Ravens more, and Buffalo was a little more aggressive with its pass rush.

But the ideas were close enough, and both worked. The Bills had one bust that resulted in a 61-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Hayden Hurst. Outside of that? The Ravens had 196 yards on 58 plays. Conversely, the Titans gave up yards (530) but were so good situationally that it didn’t matter. The Ravens were 0-for-4 on fourth down, scored just 12 points on four trips to red zone and turned the ball over three times.

On the first turnover, Jackson was picked off when a ball bounced off tight end Mark Andrews’ hands into Tennessee safety Kevin Byard’s. That set up an eight-play, 35-yard drive to give Tennessee its first lead. The first fourth-down stop, on the first play of the second quarter set up a sudden-change strike from Ryan Tannehill to Kalif Raymond on the very next play.

And by going up 14–0 early, the Titans did something else: they took the Ravens out of their element. Before the game, coach Mike Vrabel showed the players Baltimore’s first-quarter statistics, highlighting an NFL-best plus-97 point margin, which reinforced how, if the Titans got out of the gate with force, they’d send Baltimore looking for answers.

“We were patient,” Ryan said. “And we got the turnovers. And once we got the turnovers and got the lead, it got them out of their normal offense—and he became a quarterback who had to throw the ball 40 times. And if Jackson has to throw the ball 40 times, that’s not his strength. Our offense did a good job of getting us the lead, and we did a good job of making them kick field goals.

“And then we were playing from ahead, and then it’s a different game.”

The overarching theme? The Titans came in aggressively—with their edgy D-line, their sticky secondary, their bullying offensive line, their resurgent veteran backup quarterback and their monster of a rushing champion—and Vrabel’s collection of ass-kickers, well, kicked ass.

“The biggest thing is we weren’t afraid of them,” said Ryan, who won two Super Bowls with New England. “We weren’t afraid of the black uniforms, we weren’t afraid of the ghost of Ray Lewis. We came out there and played them for who they were. We checked them. And we ended up executing and winning.”

With that, Ryan called this Titans group “special,” one that’s playing free and without the burden of expectation. “No one expected us to win but us,” he said. And when I mentioned how much it seemed he loved his team, Ryan laughed.

“Pick us next week, man—pick us and we’ll see,” he said, before thinking about it for a minute. “Actually, don’t pick us.”

Maybe no one will next week, either. As Saturday night showed, they’ll be ready regardless.

***

Armstead dropped Cousins early on, setting the tone for a day in which the Vikes had seven first downs.

Armstead dropped Cousins early on, setting the tone for a day in which the Vikes had seven first downs.

FOR SAN FRANCISCO, FAMILIARITY BREEDS SUCCESS

In 2019 the Vikings offense—riding the promotion of Kevin Stefanski to offensive coordinator, the addition of Gary Kubiak as assistant head coach and the rebirth of Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook as stars—ranked eighth in scoring and sixth in rushing. The team then took down the Saints in the wild-card round. And all of the things that helped them get right this year led them right into a buzzsaw of a matchup on Saturday afternoon. Consider…

• 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has been around Kubiak’s system since he was a teenager, has run it as a play-caller for 12 years and is surrounded by offensive assistants steeped in it.

• His defensive coordinator, Robert Saleh, has coached against it in practice in eight of his 14 NFL seasons.

So that’s how you get the kind of defensive beatdown that keyed the 49ers’ 27–10 rout of the Vikings. With the bye week to work on it, and a virtual overflow of institutional knowledge in the building, San Francisco put together a plan that, outside of one first-quarter play and some garbage-time yardage, absolutely suffocated Minnesota.

“Just giving them different looks up front, not staying in the same front every single time so they know where everybody’s gonna be—I feel like that really helped with us stopping the run,” defensive tackle DeForest Buckner told me postgame. “Also, the coaches did a really good job learning their protections and relaying the game plan in the pass game for us, in how we could get one-on-ones up front.

“Overall, I feel like the guys really dug into their playbooks this week, and watched as much film as they could and executed throughout practice, and it all came to life on game day.”

The 49ers, all year, played predominantly in an “over” front, and they had a pretty good idea of how the Vikings would attack it. So on the first few series, San Francisco gave Minnesota every look they could, and never lined up in the same front two snaps in a row—they played some of their “over” front, some “under” fronts, some “Bear” fronts and even some looks with two defensive tackles in 2i (shaded inside the guard) techniques.

The coaches felt that by doing this, they’d screw up the Vikings’ offensive linemen’s targeting, and that showed in the number of unblocked defenders. It also was apparent in the stats:

• Through 33 plays, the Vikings had 81 yards. Forty-one of those came on Stefon Diggs’s first-quarter touchdown, on which Ahkello Witherspoon fell down. Which means they had 40 yards on the other 32 plays.

• The Vikings failed to pick up a first down on seven of their first nine possessions and had a total of four first downs in the first 55 minutes.

• On three of those nine possessions, Minnesota actually netted negative yardage.

Was Buckner surprised by those numbers after the game? 

“Definitely not,” he said. “The preparation, from the bye, this past week, guys really honing in on their jobs and taking it personally—the coaches came up with a great gameplan, and we all just executed today. We trusted one another. I’m definitely not surprised, but those are some great numbers right there.”

There was one other element to getting there: Shanahan’s knowledge of Cousins himself, something that makes Cousins like most quarterbacks.

“[Shanahan] pretty much said they like to keep him clean, with boots and play action,” Buckner said. “And also that he doesn’t like to get hit, so we just had to make sure up front that we were doing a good job having constant pressure on him and making him uncomfortable in the pocket. And he would start seeing ghosts, and then the guys could really start getting after him. I feel like we did a really good job with that.”

Indeed, on the first offensive play of the second quarter, Arik Armstead sacked Cousins off play action. That messed with him the rest of the way. It was the start of a seven-possession stretch in which the Niners allowed a total of eight yards and one first down, which ended any shot the Vikings had.

Of course, this was about more than just scheme. Rest was a factor, too. The Niners’ bye came in Week 3, so a lot of guys really needed the week off to get their legs back. Having Dee Ford back in the lineup didn’t hurt, either. And then there’s the talent on hand. The defensive line alone has five former first-rounders on it, with Buckner and Ford joined by Armstead, Solomon Thomas and all-world rookie Nick Bosa.

“Obviously, having five first-round picks on our defensive line, it’s unreal,” Buckner said. “When you see it on paper, it’s great. But at the end of the day, you gotta execute as well. All the guys, we all know our own ability, our capabilities, and we know what we bring to the table. So we gotta just bring our skill sets to the table. Hopefully, it’s enough for the entire team to be able to feed off our energy, and we can feed off theirs, and turn all these games in to wins.”

One more will put the Niners back in the Super Bowl.

***

RODGERS COMES THROUGH IN CRUNCH TIME

Just after midnight Eastern, I asked a high-ranking Packers staffer about Matt LaFleur’s decision-making down the stretch. In two key spots where just about any coach would pack it in, hand the ball off and either burn clock or force the other team to burn a timeout, the Packers first-year head coach did the opposite.

“When you got a dude like Aaron Rodgers,” the Packers’ staffer said, “you go win the game.”

Which is what the Packers offense did.

The final at Lambeau was 28–23, but somehow, late in the fourth quarter, even after Russell Wilson rallied the Seahawks from a 28–10 deficit, it never felt like whatever shot Seattle at an upset was that great. And that related directly to what Rodgers was doing to Pete Carroll & Co. at the most critical time.

The Seahawks closed to within five with a little less than 10 minutes to go, plenty of time for any offense to a come back. Rodgers responded by converting a third-and-10 with an 11-yard strike to Geronimo Allison, then picked up another first down on a 14-yard run. In extending that drive twice, Green Bay took nearly five minutes off the clock.

The Packers defense got a stop. And thanks to Rodgers, Seattle wouldn’t see the ball again. And on the two clinching plays, the coaches showed the kind of faith in their quarterback that was examined and questioned just a few months ago.

Play 1: Third-and-eight, Packers 22, 2:19 left. Seeing man coverage, Rodgers gave Adams a look. Adams angled his route toward the corner, but kept looking in. Without a spectacular throw or great catch, the play doesn’t happen. Green Bay gets both. Rodgers laces the ball over Ugo Amadi and into the outstretched arms of Adams, who hauls it in despite the safety closing fast on him.

Play 2: Third-and-nine, Seahawks 45, 2:00 left. Again in man, Rodgers is going to have to give guys a chance to get open, and this time it takes a while. Rodgers holds it, holds it, holds it, waiting for his target to clear. And boom—the quarterback finds tight end Jimmy Graham over the middle, with hands up and in his face, for the nine yards he needs.

And that’s the game.

That’s what a great quarterback does. When another one is on the field, and rallying like Wilson was, Rodgers kept the ball out of his hands.

***

SI Gambling: Check out this week’s best bets against the spread from SI’s gambling experts for the conference title games.

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I don’t know what we’ll remember about the 2020 NFL head coach hiring cycle five years from now. But I know this today: College football’s influence on the NFL game was felt. The Panthers broke the bank to pry Matt Rhule from Baylor and keep him from the Giants. The Giants hired a coach who’s equal parts Bill Belichick and Nick Saban protégé. And even in places where a college coach wasn’t brought in, like Dallas, there was a lot of contemplation.

“I won’t say specific names, but Jerry and I spent a lot of time talking about college head football coaches,” Cowboys COO Stephen Jones told me Friday. “We talked about specific ones. We went down that road hard, internally, between the two of us in particular, but my brother [Jerry Jr.] weighed in and we talked to [VP of Player Personnel] Will [McClay]. We did our diligence. We just didn’t have anybody in for a formal interview.

“And in a lot of ways, that was by design, because these guys have jobs, they’re recruiting and you don’t want to rock boats.”

Stephen Jones knew the landscape well, too, because his son John Stephen, now playing at Arkansas, was recruited by guys like Matt Rhule and Lincoln Riley.

“I really got to understand what they were all about as head coaches philosophically, those type of things, so yeah, it was fortunate that I did have some real insight into some of these guys,” Jones said.

I expect this trend will continue, with the lines between college and pro becoming increasingly blurry. For now, let’s go through some quick hits on the now-complete 2019 hiring cycle.

Dallas plays it safe with Mike McCarthy. The Cowboys just paid Zeke Elliott, they’re about to pay Dak Prescott, they have to decide on paying Amari Cooper, and they have an offensive line that’s been paid and isn’t getting younger. On defense, there’s growing talent in need for leadership. Add all that up, and as Jerry and Stephen Jones saw it, this just wasn’t the time to roll the dice on a college coach or young coordinator. So, yes, the decision to hire the former Packers coach was about the current roster.

“No question,” Jones said. “With the roster and the shape that it was in—a lot of good players in their prime—it was the right thing to do. We came down pretty quickly, we wanted to find a coach with NFL head coaching experience.

“It just so happens that there was a head coach who’d been wildly successful in Green Bay, not only having winning teams, but getting to the playoffs and then having success there, the three championship games, lost a tough two and then won one, and won the Super Bowl. So the more we got in and we talked with him and you knew the skins he had on the wall, the success that he’s had, it just made all the sense for us that he was our guy.”

That said, Jones reiterated that he and his father did “look hard” at the college level, and the Cowboys were prepared to go there if a second phase to the search proved necessary. But the first phase, which included Stephen Jones’s old friends on the competition committee Jeff Fisher (over the phone) and Marvin Lewis (in person).

The other thing Jones wanted to clear up: I’d heard the now ex-Cowboys coach was over at Jerry Jones’s house on the Friday after the season ended, a day before McCarthy came in. Stephen Jones wouldn’t confirm that, but he did say that the decision to let Garrett go was tough for his whole family, and the communication with Garrett was constant through it.

“Really, Jerry wanted to do what Jason wanted to do every step of the way,” Stephen said. “And the big thing he needed Jason to understand was that he was going to move forward with the coaching search and that he was going to be contacting coaches and doing our diligence, and we didn’t want that to be disrespectful to him. Jason chose the timing on this, every step of the way. It was important to us that we try to accommodate him, regardless of what the press said on a lot of stuff.

“Unfortunately, they had this one wrong every step of the way, and we didn’t feel compelled to say anything about it. If Jason wanted to elaborate on it, he could. But, for the most part, everything that came out about Jason and our interaction with was wrong.”

Judge presiding in New York. Here’s an oddity in the NFL: A coach of a certain type was hired a while back, was wildly successful, even winning a Super Bowl, and it took the other 31 teams a dozen years to even attempt to replicate the model. Strange, right?

That’s the story here. The Ravens hired John Harbaugh in 2008. He’s been to the playoffs eight times, won four division titles, and captured a Super Bowl. And yet, Joe Judge’s hire last week was the first of a special teams coach since Harbaugh landed in Baltimore.

“I have more respect for John Harbaugh as a coach overall than I am trying to mirror anything he’s done,” Judge said to me the other day. Then, he agreed that coaching special teams does, at least on paper, prepare a guy to be a head coach, which is a point his old boss, Bill Belichick, has made over and over again over the years. And he actually took that point further than I’ve heard it taken before.

“You definitely learn working with the special teams the value of the entire roster and how everybody is used,” Judge said from his office. “You definitely learn how to find everybody’s strengths and how to incorporate them into a game plan as necessary. The biggest thing I’ve really learned, when you’re coaching special teams, it’s not about positions, it’s about body types. And you have to really learn how to look at a total player.

“You’re not looking at a guy as a tight end or a linebacker, you’re looking at him in terms of what kind of matchups they can be a part of, and you’re looking at how they move in space. It could be a defensive guy—well, you evaluate how he tackles, how he moves space. If it’s an offensive guy, you look how he blocks by how reacts and tracks movement. So you really learn to look at the big picture of what a player is.”

That’s great, of course, but it’s also not exactly what the general public thinks about when a team is looking for a new head coach, and Judge is aware of that too. He knows where everyone’s been on this over the last seven days. Rhule probably would’ve been a popular hire, Garrett wouldn’t have been, and, in comparison, Judge’s hire was met with a collective “Who?”

But Judge has been around enough winning, both with the Patriots and at Alabama, to have a pretty decent feel for what will really play with a fanbase. He could be coming in from a field hockey team—if he wins, the rest won’t matter. And so he’ll build it taking what he can from guys like Belichick and Saban, with one big lesson from both as a foundation.

“I can tell you what they did for me, it’s the same thing: it was on a daily basis being very demanding, and being very detail-oriented,” Judge said. “Giving me responsibility and making me come through with others depending on me, that’s the best thing they could’ve done for me.”

The leverage game. I do think there’s a lot about the Panthers’ job that appealed to Rhule from the start. New owner David Tepper was going to give his new coach a relatively blank slate to work from in football ops (allowing him to set up strength and conditioning, video, etc., etc.), and that would be ideal for most coaches coming from the college game, where they run the whole show.

But it certainly didn’t hurt having multiple suitors. It helped to force the Giants to consider some structural changes to appease Rhule, to which I think that they’d have been amenable. It also made it so both had to show their hands to him early last week. And ultimately, it landed him a contract that’ll be worth between $60 million and $70 million over the next seven years. That’s unheard of for a first-time head coach.

Rhule’s use of his leverage helped Judge use his. He interviewed with Mississippi State eight days ago and was believed to be his alma mater’s top choice. With that in hand, and the Panthers closing on Rhule, he could go to the Giants after interviewing last Monday and press for an answer. A lot of people have asked why the Giants had to move based on Mississippi State. That’s easy. Judge had a shot at a job at a place that was capable of paying its coach $5 million per, and it was a place he had an attachment to.

At that point, the Giants had to make a decision, because Judge had to make a decision. Judge wasn’t passing on Mississippi State if the Giants job wasn’t his, meaning the Giants were picking between Judge and the field; either they hire him or move forward with their search. So why the former? Judge crushed the interview. Belichick called John Mara with a glowing recommendation. The Giants moved decisively. Judge said no to his school.

“I don’t want to say anything on their process, I don’t think that’d be fair to them, in terms of where their search was,” Judge said. “As the appeal of the job, obviously there’s an emotional connection, it’s my alma mater, my wife went there as well. We got married down there, had our first son down there. So it’ll always be a home to us. But when this opportunity came up, it was definitely one I wanted to pursue. And after sitting down with the Mara and Tisch families, this was where I wanted to be.”

A word on the Browns. It was always going to be starting over (Josh McDaniels) versus going forward with a revised version of what they’ve been building the last five years (Kevin Stefanski).

McDaniels, I’m told, was very impressive, and had a thorough, detailed plan for what he wanted to do with the organization. My sense is that it would’ve meant change on a lot of different levels, change in the reporting structure—a lot of turnover throughout the building. I don’t think this was about personnel control. I think it was more about how the entire football operation was aligned, with guys like Pats exec Dave Ziegler coming aboard.

Stefanski really did blow the Browns away last year, and in his first go-round as a head coach won’t require as much change. Paul DePodesta, whose contract was close to expiration going into the search, can probably continue in his role as chief strategy officer, largely from his home in San Diego. Andrew Berry, a favorite of DePodesta and owner Jimmy Haslam, will likely return after a year away as the Eagles’ VP of football operations. And Berry and Stefanski have the beginnings of a relationship, having kept in touch after last January’s interview in Berea.

Now, here’s the question: Why would the Browns run back DePodesta and Berry, a couple guys who were in positions of power in 2016 and ’17, years when the team went 1–31? The answer, I think, is that Haslam wants to go deeper into analytics, all-in this time with a coach who lines up with the front office, and he listened to the brass’ pitch that it be involved at every level, even game-planning.

(In doing so, he’s implicitly blaming coaching for everything that went wrong in 2016 and ’17.)

So Stefanski it is. And the reason why is easy: Because, really, that’s what the owner wants.

***

ALL-32

The 49ers have a raft of people who deserve credit for their rebuild. Let me give some here to CEO Jed York. He was smart enough, and humble enough, in 2017 to recognize that the issues the team had would only be fixed if he took a back seat and empowered the people he hired. Then, he found someone brilliant, in Shanahan, and surrounded him with people he trusts. The rest is history.

I liked the idea of the Bears bringing in Pat Shurmur as Matt Nagy’s offensive coordinator, and the reason why goes back to what Nagy’s been trying to do since he got the job there two years ago: deepening the thinktank he’s been trying to build. After seeing Shurmur go to Denver, I think Chicago should make a run at Kansas City quarterbacks coach Mike Kafka, who those with the Chiefs believe is ready to be an OC.