Cover-Two: Grading first-year coaches
Even though the jury is still very much out on the eight rookie head coaches around the NFL, three weeks of the regular season have provided a little glimpse into how those hires are working out. In this week’s Cover-Two, Doug Farrar and Chris Burke grade the (very early) performances of the first-year head coaches:
Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles
Chris Burke: C-plus. That first half of Week 1 was pretty exciting, wasn’t it? Since then, we’ve seen the Eagles we expected (and can expect to see until at least 2014): an offense that, while looking phenomenal at times, is still learning a complex system; and a defense that’s overmatched against just about everyone. This is a situation that needs some time — and quite possibly a new quarterback — to really get where Kelly wants it to go.
Doug Farrar: B. The grade would be lower if I were expecting the Eagles to compete for the division this season, and if Philly’s secondary could do … well, much of anything. Kelly has revitalized Michael Vick’s career to a point, but the quick-quick nature of his offense also plays to Vick’s decision-making liabilities, and it’s clear that there are times when this offense is moving too quickly for just about everybody. On the plus side, he’s got a potential NFL MVP in LeSean McCoy, and everybody knows that this will be a process that takes multiple seasons, probably a different quarterback and definitely a few new pieces on defense.
Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears
Burke: A. We’ve seen Jay Cutler run through some hot streaks in the past, so Trestman’s grade (and the Bears’ NFC North title chances) really are contingent on him keeping this up for a full 16-game slate. So far, though, there’s very little to knock in Trestman’s rookie campaign. The Bears still can get after it on defense, as evidenced by a two-touchdown, five-turnover performance against the Steelers last Sunday night. And Trestman has helped Cutler, as Chicago hoped he would, mostly by devising ways to keep him from being sacked.
Farrar: A. I can’t say enough about what Trestman has done for Chicago’s offense. Yes, general manager Phil Emery spent in free agency and the draft on the offensive line, but it’s been up to Trestman and offensive coordinator/line coach Aaron Kromer to make that work. Jay Cutler clearly identifies with what Trestman’s trying to do, which is as much an indictment of Chicago’s previous offensive minds as anything. Like Bud Grant and Marv Levy, Trestman is proving that a move from Canada back to the U.S. need not be a punchline.
Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
Burke: A-minus. Reid has his team proving what we all thought we knew in 2012: that the Chiefs have a ton of talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The key question lingering at the moment is if Reid’s offense, with Alex Smith at the helm, can win a wild one. That unit has taken the slow-and-steady approach so far — the Chiefs have yet to turn the ball over. What will happen if Kansas City has to air it out in the fourth quarter?
Farrar: A, with an A+++ for new defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. As Jim Harbaugh did, Reid is working to Alex Smith’s relative strengths, but at some point he’s going to find out what Harbaugh did — Smith is too limited, and leaves too many throws on the field, to make things around him better. The real story here is the Kansas City defense, a unit that had a lot of talent, but is now coached up by former Jets assistant Sutton at the highest of levels. Smith can “win” with a great run game and outstanding defense, and he has those things. But if they fall short in 2013, the Chiefs had best get a quarterback who can transcend his environment in ’14 .
Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals
Burke: B-minus. The Cardinals are better than they were in 2012, but are they markedly better? I would have been more inclined to vote yay prior to Sunday’s beatdown in New Orleans. There are going to be some pretty brutal growing pains for Arians here, at least until he gets his offensive line fixed. The best news is that Arians has milked some early returns out of promising youngsters like Tyrann Mathieu, Andre Ellington and Andre Roberts. Arizona needs to keep the ball rolling.
Farrar: C. We will never know what Ken Whisenhunt could have done with a quarterback with Carson Palmer’s abilities, which is why Arians grades out as essentially incomplete thus far. We also don’t know whether Arians’ preseason insistence that left tackle Levi Brown was “elite” was just an example of a coach trying to make a player feel better about himself. But reality will sink in with this offensive line and running game in the short term. Kudos, however, must go to new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles for the creative ways in which he’s using defensive back Tyrann Mathieu.
Doug Marrone, Buffalo Bills
Burke: B. I’m giving Marrone a grade higher than he or his team really has earned, because it appears that he may have been right in gambling on EJ Manuel. True, Manuel turned in a tentative, disappointing performance in a Week 3 loss to the Jets, but he is entrenched as the starting QB, and that’s a big step toward a rebuild. That Mike Pettine’s defense has been unable to stop the run stands as a rather surprising disappointment.
Farrar: B. I’m also giving Marrone an extra letter grade for avoiding whatever temptation he may have had to overdraft his Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib, instead going with EJ Manuel in the first round. Marrone has done a good job of managing Manuel’s transition to the pro game, and there are times when the impressive weapons in this offense really show their stuff. Marrone has brought a sense of definition to the offense and to the team overall. Now, he needs time to develop consistency with a lot of new pieces.
Mike McCoy, San Diego Chargers
Burke: C. The Chargers’ two losses thus far have been troubling — both late, both with San Diego blowing leads. That’s the type of bumbling this franchise endured all too frequently during the Norv Turner era, so any repeat performances bring unwanted flashbacks. The truth for McCoy is that he has an undertalented roster with few true building blocks. He has coaxed plenty out of Philip Rivers thus far, at least statistically speaking. Beyond that, there has not been all that much to get excited about.
Farrar: C. McCoy has earned the “quarterback whisperer” reputation he got by turning Tim Tebow into a passable NFL quarterback as Denver’s offensive coordinator in 2011, and he’s managed to make things a lot better for Philip Rivers, despite a series of injuries to his receiver corps. However, the curse of the late-game collapse seems to have survived Norv Turner, and that has to be put on the coach to a certain degree. Credit McCoy for coming up with an offensive gameplan to slow-roll the Eagles, but somebody has to let these guys know that there are four quarters in a football game.
Rob Chudzinski, Cleveland Browns
Burke: B. The Browns obviously did not start the season as planned, but Week 3 brought about as impressive a coaching job as you’ll see. Days after trading arguably the face of the franchise, then subsequently being faced with questions about tanking the season, the Browns pulled out all the stops in Minnesota. Chudzinski and his talented staff straight outcoached Leslie Frazier’s Vikings. Even if the Browns falter from here out, that showing was proof positive that the right people are in place.
Farrar: B-plus. It’s been a wild ride for the Panthers’ former offensive coordinator. As some of his former players in Carolina were questioning his schemes after the fact, “Chud” was dealing with the trade of his best offensive skill position player in Trent Richardson, and an injury to quarterback Brandon Weeden that made Brian Hoyer (sort of) a household name. Whether he knew he’d be in for such a radical rebuild before the season started, Chudzinski showed during the Browns’ surprise victory over the Vikings’ last Sunday that he understands how to maintain a winning attitude in the face of chaos, and that’s a key attribute for any coach.
Gus Bradley, Jacksonville Jaguars
Burke: D. The general consensus was that the Jaguars offense might stink this season — and, boy howdy, does it ever. The belief was that Bradley might be able to salvage the defense. Neither unit has done much of anything thus far, pointing to the general lack of talent spread throughout this roster. Bradley faced the longest rebuild of all the new coaches, and the clock is still ticking rather slowly on that process.
Farrar: C. If nothing else, Bradley has learned to adapt. He was the only Seahawks position coach of note to survive the transition from Jim Mora to Pete Carroll, and he helped build a defense that is now the NFL’s best. Last Sunday, he had to watch that defense whack the living heck out of his new offense, which may or may not actually exist. Bradley is a patient and infinitely positive man, and the Jags’ front office believes in its coach. He’s done the best he possibly can with a roster that is as deficient of talent as any non-Matt Millen team we’ve seen in the last 25 years. He’s the right man for the team’s rebuilding process — but boy, he’s going to take his lumps in the short term.