Posted December 16, 2013

First Down/Fourth Down: Debating Coach and Offensive Rookie of the Year

AFC East, AFC North, AFC South, AFC West, First Down/Fourth Down, NFC East, NFC North, NFC South, NFC West
Bruce Arians has the Cardinals sitting 9-5 a season after they finished 5-11.

Bruce Arians has the Cardinals sitting 9-5 a season after they finished 5-11. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Chip Kelly could have a case in Philadelphia and there may be an argument out there for Miami’s Joe Philbin, but with two weeks (and one game, Monday night’s tilt between Detroit and Baltimore) left in the NFL regular season, the Coach of the Year race appears to be down to three names: Ron Rivera, Andy Reid and Bruce Arians.

Picking between them will be a near impossible task.

All three were victorious Sunday — Rivera’s Panthers against the Jets, Reid’s Chiefs against the Raiders and Arians’ Cardinals at Tennessee. Arians’ win may have been the most impressive, with the Cardinals bouncing back after blowing a 14-point lead very late to win in overtime and keep their playoff hopes alive.

His Arizona team is now 9-5 after finishing 5-11 last season. The problem both for Arians’ COY chances and the Cardinals’ playoff hopes is that they could finish 11-5, replete with wins over Seattle and San Francisco to close the season, and still miss the playoffs.

That will not be the case for Kansas City or, most likely, Carolina. The Chiefs clinched a playoff berth Sunday with their 11th win, already a nine-win turnaround from 2012. Though their defense has slipped a bit in recent weeks, Reid’s squad still ranks in the top five in points scored and fewest points allowed. Last season, under Romeo Crennel, Kansas City finished dead last on offense.

Rivera’s Panthers have yet to lock up a playoff bid, but they need just one win over the season’s final two weeks (or one Arizona loss) to do so. A win over New Orleans this coming Sunday would give them the NFC South lead heading into Week 17. Carolina has not won the division — nor has it finished above .500 — since 2008.

MORE COVERAGE: Week 15 Snaps | Top-10 Mock Draft | SI Sportsman: Peyton Manning

Three deserving candidates. Three really good teams.

More from Week 15:

First Down: The Offensive Rookie of the Year race.

Speaking of awards … here’s another gem of a debate. It’s tough to figure who has the edge here between Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy (141 yards, one touchdown in an incredible comeback win) and San Diego wide receiver Keenan Allen (two TD grabs in a Thursday win at Denver).

Lacy barreled up over the 1,000-yard mark for the season this week — no small task given that Green Bay’s leading rusher in 2012, Alex Green, topped out at 464 yards. Both with and without Aaron Rodgers in the lineup, Lacy has been one of the Packers’ steadiest weapons.

Allen, meanwhile, needs only 69 more yards receiving to hit 1,000 himself. He’s scored four touchdowns combined over the past two weeks, while claiming the role of Philip Rivers’ go-to receiver. Allen somehow slipped all the way into the third round of last year’s draft, as questions about his health lingered. San Diego’s reaping the benefits of that fall.

If I had a vote to give, I’d probably cast it for Allen right now. But there’s no wrong answer here.

Fourth Down: The NFC East.

Ugly. The East posted a brutal 0-4 mark on Sunday, capped off by Dallas’ epic collapse against Green Bay. That result allowed the now 8-6 Eagles to hold onto first place despite allowing 48 points to Matt Cassel and the Vikings.

Washington actually had a shot to avoid its sixth straight loss in spite of seven turnovers, only for Kirk Cousins’ two-point conversion attempt to sail incomplete out of the end zone. And the Giants? On a day which featured the most points for any single NFL afternoon, they were shut out by the Seahawks.

First Down: Matt Cassel and Matt Asiata.

The Vikings are playing for nothing but pride (and draft position), and they suited up without running backs Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart. None of that stopped them from putting forth an inspired performance against the playoff-hungry Eagles.

Cassel did enough in a 382-yard, two-touchdown outing to at least keep his name in the mix for Minnesota’s QB job next season. His story is nothing compared to Asiata, though. Making his first career start, Asiata, who entered Sunday with three NFL carries, scored three touchdowns.

Fourth Down: Kevin Huber.

Huber, the Bengals punter, missed the final three quarters of Sunday night’s loss in Pittsburgh. The first quarter was bad enough to last him.

Huber helped open the scoring by fumbling a snap deep in his own territory, a miscue that set the Steelers up with 1st-and-goal at the Cincinnati 1. Le’Veon Bell scored a couple plays later.

And that was nothing compared to what happened on a Huber punt later in the quarter. As Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown broke free for a TD return, Huber was blasted by a blocking Terence Garvin. The collision, with Garvin’s helmet slamming into Huber’s chin, was violent enough to fracture Huber’s jaw.

First Down: Robert Mathis.

With one sack of Case Keenum on Sunday, Robert Mathis entered his name twice into the Colts’ record books. That sack gave Mathis 16.5 for the season and 108 for his career, topping Dwight Freeney’s previous franchise records in both categories. After a torrid start to 2013, Mathis has fallen off the pace of Michael Strahan’s single-season sack mark (22.5). He’s still having a career year at age 32.

Fourth Down: The Saints.

“Much has been written about how we play on the road and how we play at home,” Saints coach Sean Payton said after a disheartening 27-16 loss in St. Louis. “And you know what? That is where it is right now, with this season.”

The game was not even as competitive as that final score indicates — the Saints trailed 27-3 after three quarters. All four of New Orleans’ losses this season have come away from home, with a division-deciding trip to Carolina looming next Sunday. Lose that one, and the Saints likely would have to win three road games in the playoffs to make the Super Bowl. Even with a victory, there’s a very strong chance they’ll have to go into Seattle and claim a win at some point. Right now, this team doesn’t look capable of such an accomplishment.

First Down: Jamaal Charles’ fantasy owners.

If you fall into this category and were still alive in your league, congratulations: You probably won this week. Charles scored five total touchdowns, with eight catches and 195 yards receiving. That’s good for upwards of 50 fantasy points, depending on your scoring system.

Incredibly, Charles had more points scored (30) than he did yards rushing (20). Knile Davis led the Chiefs on the ground with 34 yards and a TD of his own.

Fourth Down: Coaches on the hot seat.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from Rivera, Reid and Arians lie the likes of Dennis Allen, Mike Shanahan, Rex Ryan, Mike Munchak, Greg Schiano and Jason Garrett. That sextet of coaches may have to argue for their jobs in the coming weeks, and Sunday’s combined 0-6 showing won’t help.

Garrett’s loss may be the most damaging, even though Cowboys owner Jerry Jones reportedly reiterated that he has no plans to change head coaches. Dallas blew a 23-point halftime lead at home, thanks to some shaky play calling down the stretch. Garrett then blamed Tony Romo for a late audible, which led to an INT; and he passed the buck on some earlier pass plays to offensive coordinator Bill Callahan.

Allen’s prospects have taken the most sudden turn of that group. The Raiders once were 3-4 this season and playing surprisingly competitive football. Sunday’s loss marked their fourth straight and sixth in seven games. The 56 points allowed to Kansas City will not sit well with anyone.

First Down: Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick started the season by torching Green Bay for 412 yards and three touchdowns. He has not approached those numbers in any game since, even slumping for a lengthy stretch. As the 49ers push for the playoffs, however, Kaepernick has found his stride again.

Sunday in Tampa Bay, he threw for 203 yards and two touchdowns — one an absolutely brilliant deep ball to Vernon Davis. The 49ers are as healthy as they’ve been all season on offense and no team will want to draw them in the playoffs.

Fourth Down: Case Keenum’s chances of starting in 2014.

Keenum delivered a jolt of electricity to the struggling Texans when he took over as starter, finishing his first three outings with seven TD passes and no interceptions. He has just two touchdowns (and six INTs) in the five games since, all losses — part of a 12-game skid for Houston and an 0-8 mark for Keenum personally.

27 comments
BenAdamczyk
BenAdamczyk

No Zac Stacy love.  Really wasn't used in the first 4 games of the season.  Starting QB out for the season, no real passing game to talk of, and has a great shot at breaking 1000yds.


JJ72
JJ72

Funny how the more successful Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh get over looked.  Carroll, with the help of the team's GM built the Seahawks from the ground up, and yet he gets little recognition though his team is perhaps the most dominant in the league.  Harbaugh and Carroll appear to be almost too successful for their own good.  People take what they have done for granted and give recognition to lesser coaches who beat the odds in a more short term way.  Perhaps Carroll's greatest talent is a part of the reason for his lack of recognition.  It is his ability to find other talented individuals and utilize their strengths.  As a result he seems to be held up by greatness around him, and little attention is given to the fact that it was his eye for talent that resulted in that.  Harbaugh also has done well building for the long term.  Recognition should certainly be given to these coaches who have far and away exceeded the accomplishments of those mentioned.  The great ones make it look easy and I think it is that appearance that causes people to overlook them, but in all fairness, who has done a better job than those two?  Given the choice would Seattle or San Francisco really want to swap coaches with any one over the next few years?  I doubt it, but there might be significant interest among other teams mentioned in swapping for Carroll or Harbaugh.  Let's not over look long term success because it appears to have been easier than it was.  

Tyler8
Tyler8

 Pete Carroll has turned around a franchise and has his team with the best record in the NFL. But I guess that's not much of a story line. 

j7apple
j7apple

Close race for offensive Rookie? I suppose if its all stats. One has had to carry his team, the other, is on a team putting up good individual numbers but not taking the team anywhere. The fact the Pack "may" actually win their division, has much to do with Lacy.

thatmanstu
thatmanstu

Eddie Lacy.Even in the wreckage left by the Rule Book and it's destruction of a real running game,Lacy has stood out and shone what the League used to look like back when it was Football and not Playstation/X-Box. 

@RayStarn12
@RayStarn12

Ron Rivera Coach of the year he turned the Panthers into a dominant team in the NFC


jarobertson
jarobertson

Eddie Lacey is the best rookie in the NFL, period.

ThomasLVincent
ThomasLVincent

No vote is wrong for ROY offense. Keenan Allen has been great no doubt but I don't think anyone who follows the NFL as a journalist/columnist/blogger/reporter etc. could possibly vote for anyone but GB running back Eddie Lacy. You have to take into account GB's woeful struggles to run the ball for years. The fact that Lacy's stats(1028 yards rushing and 31 receptions for 236 yards and 8 TD's) have been accomplished in 12 games, not 14. I count the WAS game as a non played game. He had 1 carry for 10 yards, his very first carry of game, before Meriweather launched his helmet into Lacy's jaw and knocked him from the game. So he missed the next game too.(precautionary basically because GB had a bye the next week so they kept him out)  I don't see how this vote can even be close, Lacy has done all of this with GB not having Aaron Rodgers for past 6 weeks, without Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley also out. He has been the "one" consistent piece of the offensive puzzle that has helped to keep GB's playoff chances alive. He spurred the entire comeback vs DAL with his first carry of 2nd half, going for 60 yards. He rushed for 110 of his 141 yards in that 2nd half, with the season on the line.  And for the record he did all that at about 75% health due to a bum ankle. He also spurred the comeback against MIN that at least got GB a tie. Big picture wise, the impact and stats and all the variables that went against him this year due to injuries, it would be a robbery to give the award to anyone but Eddie Lacy. You combine his yards in the 12 games that he has really played and he is averaging around 105 combined yards per game, despite facing stacked to the hilt boxes since Rodgers went down. He has had so many big impact plays to stir his team and fans its hard to pick a few, but I've mentioned a couple. Another that comes to mind is the road win BAL, where he cracked off a huge run on one of his first carries to set the tone for that game. Yes Allen has been really good and will be really good NFL WR, but to compare what he has done to what Lacy has been thrust into, sorry I don't see a photo finish. Just by nature RB is such a more demanding physical position, Lacy has 279 touches of the ball in 12 games and 1 play. He is legit a real special franchise type of RB that GB has lacked in quite some time. Thats my argument in a nutshell, anyone who has followed GB this year, knows the absolute MESS that injuries have done to this team, imagine the room he would have had to run, if #12 was behind center, Finley at TE and Cobb in the slot, well he has still done pretty good.  

NeoSmith
NeoSmith

The NFL is brutal in terms of being able to adjust to one-time wonders.  The NFL has adjusted now to Kaepernick, RG3, and Keenum.  You may be able to burn teams before they get the tapes on you but they will sooner or later take away your best attribute and force you to adapt.  Now comes the cat and mouse game and if these QBs will be able to adjust and raise the level of their play.

Jonathon
Jonathon

Gotta mention either Josh McCown, Marc Trestman or both.  

In other years when Cutler went down, that was the end of the Bears' season.  Not so this year, even though their defense and special teams are among the NFL's worst.

DSM
DSM

Excellent point on the COY candidates--and speaking of KC, how about Alex Smith for comeback player of the year?


Why did you not note that the hit on the punter was clearly a penalty, although unflagged/ There are restrictions on how you can hit punters during returns.

GordonBombay212
GordonBombay212

Eddie Lacy is clearly the rookie offensive player of the year.  I don't even think its close. He's been better statistically than Allen and has done it without Aaron Rodgers.  Lacy is likely the number one reason why the Packers still have a shot at the playoffs.

CousinVinny75
CousinVinny75

Chip Kelly is hands down the Coach of the Year.


Andy Reid inherited an ELITE defense.  He's supposed to be a coach whose specialty is offense. 


Ron Rivera although defense is his specialty, he also has Cam Newton.


Chip Kelly has Nick Foles.    If Chip Kelly had Cam Newton he'd make Cam Newton look like the GOAT

JJ72
JJ72

@Tyler8 Easy to forget that just a few years ago the Seahawks were a 5 win team going no where.

mnico213
mnico213

@j7apple  Both guys have had great years and I wouldn't take anything away from Lacy, but it's kind of ridiculous to knock Allen because his team plays in a much tougher division than Lacy's.  The Packers are a whole half game better in record than the Chargers with an inferior point differential.  

mnico213
mnico213

@ThomasLVincent Allen had four targets in his first three games until Floyd got injured and he became a bigger part of the offense so it's hardly like he got a big jump start on him.

SohailAman
SohailAman

@ThomasLVincent as a charger fan i want Lacy to win the ROTY, why?  Because I am sure there is something in Allens contract that will allow him to restructure his contract if he gets ROTY.  Also after sundays performance Lacy should get the nod .

dksherlock
dksherlock

@Jonathon Absolutely, Jonathon.  With McCown on the field, I enjoyed cheering for the Bears - first time in years.  Then Cutler comes back and screws around until the 4th quarter, as usual.  If this guy's supposed to be an elite, then why does he screw up basic fundamentals in the first half and refuse to get serious until the last quarter?   

IAmPaulSoulier
IAmPaulSoulier

@DSM Actually, I would argue that GB's Kicker Mason Crosby should be the Comeback Player of the Year.  Do you remember the season he had last year?  He was missing almost every FG attempt last year.  He's changed that this year.  

ThomasLVincent
ThomasLVincent

@GordonBombay212 Amen brother. Agreed. Not even close, media types have to always make things controversial, think its in their contracts.

AlbertE.Bannister
AlbertE.Bannister

@CousinVinny75- The 2-14 Chiefs had an "elite" defense last year?  They were 25th last year - a far cry from elite.  Currently the Eagles have 4 more wins than last year - the Chiefs are plus 9.  If Philly misses the playoffs I think you have to agree Chip's case for COTY goes down the drain. 

JaeA
JaeA

@AlbertE.Bannister @CousinVinny75 KC had 4 pro bowlers last year. Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson, and Eric Berry. Add Dontori Poe to that list this year. They might not have been playing like an elite D but they certainly had elite players. Andy Reid is doing a fine job this year, but COY? I'd argue for Chip or Mike McCoy, SD coach. Chip brought in a whole new system and is getting his offensive players to play at career high levels. There is not too much talent on that D. As for McCoy, although his record doesn't show it, he's gotten mediocre talent to playoff contention and transformed also-ran Rivers into a All-Pro level QB.