MAQB: Ravens–Steelers Move to Wednesday Causes Cascade of Schedule Changes

Week 12 will now extend into Wednesday, meaning three prime time games early next week as the NFL tries to keep the season on track to finish in 17 weeks. Plus, more info on the shake-up in Jacksonville and potential 2021 jobs for Raheem Morris, Jim Harbaugh and Matt Patricia.
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Our weekly Monday afternoon/evening news and notes, following what has been quite a different 24 hours in the NFL …

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• So in case you’ve been offline all day, Ravens–Steelers (originally scheduled for Thanksgiving night) will be played Wednesday, which has necessitated moving two more games with Steelers–Washington (initially scheduled for Sunday) being moved to Monday and Ravens–Cowboys (initially scheduled for this coming Thursday) sliding over to Tuesday. Which means we’ll have three games early next week, including a Monday double-header. And the late game on Monday, Niners–Bills, has been moved to Arizona, because San Francisco can no longer play home games under new Santa Clara County rules on contact sports. Got all that? Oh, and by the way, NFL officials believe this week will be worse than last week from a COVID-19 perspective, with everyone returning to work coming off the Thanksgiving holiday. That explains why the league, for now, has been hesitant to pull the Week 18 lever. Park Avenue very clearly wants to leave the idea of tacking a week on to the end of the season out there as a last resort. The goal, of course, for anyone paying attention, is to deliver all 256 games scheduled to the TV networks ahead of a new set of broadcast deals being negotiated. The thought, as I’ve heard it, is that’ll help with those talks—and if the NFL can score as big as it believes it will, then that’ll help mitigate the cap shortfall looming over the next three years. Which ultimately will help everyone. Fewer teams will be broken up. Fewer players will be cut or traded. More players will get paid. As for the Ravens–Steelers game, specifically, moving it to Wednesday allows for another day of testing, and for the Baltimore players a chance to get together, and get two workouts in, with the hope being that’ll lessen the chance of sprains and strains that can come out of a dormant period.

• It’s been a tumultuous 24 hours for the Ravens. Just after 9 a.m. on Monday, players and coaches were filtering into Baltimore’s indoor practice facility for a 9:30 a.m. session that was going to be basically an accelerated walkthrough. And then the call came from the league office to shut the workout down, and wait until about 5 p.m. ET (when the team’s PCR testing would be processed) for further direction. In between, players were open on their desire not to board a plane for Pittsburgh on Monday night, given an outbreak that had shelved 11 starters (including seven Pro Bowlers, one being reigning MVP Lamar Jackson) that still hadn’t been contained. In the end, the league and union wound up listening, with the game pushed another day. The Ravens’ new plans include a 6:30 p.m. Monday walkthrough/game prep session, and a Tuesday night flight (after Tuesday morning’s tests are processed) to Pittsburgh to play on Wednesday. Clearly, the Baltimore players have been through a lot mentally over the last week. They’ll go into the game, presuming it’s played, severely shorthanded (though they will have J.K. Dobbins and Mark Ingram back, and the number of active-roster guys missing will drop to 12). And when they take the field, they’ll be 12 days removed from their last full football practice. It’ll be interesting to see how they respond—though I know the staff really believes the character of the locker room is such where effort and energy won’t be an issue.

• Owner Arthur Blank was asked, after firing Dan Quinn and elevating Raheem Morris to interim coach, what it would take for Morris to be considered for the full-time job. He joked that if Morris went 11–0, he’d be considered. Now? Morris has put himself on a very real track to being a serious candidate for the job. The Falcons are 4–2 on his watch, and a Todd Gurley brain freeze from being 5–1. And while the playoffs are still unlikely (Atlanta is two games out of the last NFC spot with five games left), the fact that .500 is in sight is pretty remarkable based on where they are. What’s more, the team has responded to some of Morris’s adjustments aimed at getting the group back on track. One was to strip down and simplify the messaging from the coaches to the players; explaining in black-and-white each week what the team needs to win, how it can force its will on the opponent and what each individual’s job will be; while emphasizing turnovers and scoring plays in each phase of the game. Some of that might seem a little cliché. But it’s working. And thus Morris—who many saw as getting close to earning a second shot at being a head coach before the season began—is working his way back into the mix in the 2021 coaching carousel, and into the running to keep the job he’s been doing for the last two months.

• The Giants have plenty of confidence in backup QB Colt McCoy, who’s been in the NFC East forever and has the respect of his teammates. For now, word is that Daniel Jones’s hamstring pull is a two- to three-week injury. And while Jones is going to want to go, for sure, McCoy’s presence gives Joe Judge and Jason Garrett some leeway to manage Jones if need be. Hamstrings, as you probably know, can be tricky.

• Questions about Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s future have run rampant as his Wolverines have tumbled to 2–4 over the truncated Big Ten schedule—and many in the industry believe he’d want his next step, whether he takes it now or later, to be back into the NFL. So where would he go? The place he has the most obvious connection is Chicago, given he was a first-round pick there. But I’d just keep an eye on the Jets. Owner Woody Johnson’s affection for Harbaugh has been no secret to those who’ve worked in Florham Park over the last decade. Of course, Johnson still hasn’t returned from his ambassadorship in the U.K., which will be coming to an end shortly, and his reentry plan to the team is unclear. So there’s still some uncertainty here. That said, Johnson interviewed Harbaugh for his coaching job all the way back in 2009, and has kept tabs on him since, even covertly taking his temperature on interest in the Jets at points over the years. Keep an eye on that one.

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• Of course, a big piece of trying to sell a coaching candidate is, and will always be, who that candidate will bring with him. To that end, wherever 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh lands in 2021, I’d think San Francisco run-game coordinator Mike McDaniel would be high on his list to come with him as an offensive coordinator and play-caller. McDaniel’s reputation as a strategist and play-designer is off the charts (there’s a reason why Kyle Shanahan has brought him to every one of his stops), and I’d think his presence on any staff list that Saleh presents a prospective employer would be viewed as a major positive.

• I wouldn’t be stunned if Matt Patricia wound up back in New England in some capacity. He’s maintained a very close relationship with Bill Belichick since leaving Foxboro, and was proficient in developing young guys on defense—New England was flush with homegrown stars like Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones over Patricia’s time running that side of the ball—which will be an important skill with a roster that badly needs to be turned over. I also believe that Patricia, with family ties to the area, would probably welcome a return. The only question, to me, would be potential awkwardness in slotting Patricia back in, with Belichick’s son Stephen and Jerod Mayo having taken on such prominent roles on the staff in recent years. (What would be more surprising to me, while we’re here, would be Bob Quinn landing back with the Patriots.)

• A lot of eyeballs will be on Eagles rookie Jalen Hurts Monday night. What will it amount to? My understanding is he got a smattering of first-team reps over the last few days—not enough to the point where a casual observer would take notice—so my guess would be that Doug Pederson and his offensive coaches have put together a few packages for him. Hurts, for his part, has gotten a lot better as a passer over the last two years, since leaving Alabama, so it should be interesting to see if that shows up in whatever shot he does get against Seattle.

• Texans WR Will Fuller’s six-game PED suspension isn’t exactly timed out great for the fifth-year burner. With five games left in the season, any team signing the pending free agent will do so knowing he’s out for the 2021 opener and he’s one step away from a year-long suspension. That could really cost him in what will likely be a market saturated with veterans cut as teams work toward compliance with a salary cap expected to drop. And that’s bad news for Fuller, because he’s exactly the kind of receiver that a lot of teams are looking for with the way NFL offenses are going, and he had been well-positioned to cash in as a result. (He might cash in anyway, we’ll see.)

• Finally, one note on the Jaguars’ move to fire GM Dave Caldwell: I’m told that head coach Doug Marrone actually has had final say on the 53-man roster over the last year. He got it when EVP of football operations Tom Coughlin was fired late last year, and that at least adds some context to all the moves the team has made since then.