Posted January 06, 2014

Bengals, Packers, Chiefs and Eagles all face serious offseason questions

AFC North, AFC West, Cincinnati Bengals, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs, NFC East, NFC North, Philadelphia Eagles
Andy Dalton's repeated playoff failures have some questioning his viability as a top-tier quarterback.

Andy Dalton’s repeated playoff failures have some questioning his viability as a top-tier QB. (John Grieshop/Getty Images)

They say that success is never final, and failure is never fatal … but it’s hard to wrap one’s head around the subtleties of those two divergent forces after one loses a playoff game. Now, for those teams eliminated in the wild-card round, the analysis portion of the year begins. Where are the holes, and how can they be filled? Here’s one potential issue for each of the four teams eliminated over wild-card weekend.

MORE COVERAGE: Wild-card Snaps | Divisional round preview | Schedule, results

• Cincinnati Bengals: Can they overcome Andy Dalton’s low ceiling?

“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.” — Auric Goldfinger

Now that the Cincinnati Bengals have seen quarterback Andy Dalton three times in the postseason, you can bet they’re pretty frustrated with all the enemy action going on. In two games against the Houston Texans and Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers — all first-round playoff losses — Dalton completed 70 passes in 123 attempts for 718 yards, one touchdown and six interceptions. His postseason quarterback rating is 56.2, a figure which wouldn’t get him off the bench had he not set the franchise record for touchdown passes in the 2013 regular season.

But that’s the problem with Dalton — he’s an average-to-good quarterback with a ridiculously talented group of targets around him, whose abilities have been maximized by an understanding coaching staff, and we still don’t know when that failing spring will snap. One thing’s for sure — it will generally snap in the postseason. Against a Chargers defense that was the league’s worst in the regular season, Dalton overshot his targets, looked balky in and out of the pocket, missed open reads and continued to make rookie mistakes … which would be OK if this wasn’t his third season.

“Whatever you do during the regular season doesn’t matter once you get to the playoffs,” he said after the most recent loss. “It’s disappointing. All the good stuff we did this year, then to come out and not win this game kind of hurts.”

At least he understands the problem. But can he fix it with his limited palette? The Bengals have an outstanding defense, an above-average offensive line and a group of skill players that most other teams would envy. Dalton has one year left on his rookie contract, and if he can’t transcend his limitations to date, and that window starts to close, Cincinnati will have some interesting decisions to make in 2014 and beyond.

• Green Bay Packers: Cam Dom Capers still get it done?

Despite the fact that Aaron Rodgers was out for almost half the season with a broken clavicle, the Green Bay Packers still ranked ninth in Football Outsiders’ opponent-adjusted efficiency metrics. The defense, however, was a problem all year, no matter who was healthy and who was not. Green Bay ranked 31st in those same metrics on the defensive side of the ball, and though defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ troops did a pretty decent job of keeping the San Francisco 49ers under wraps at frozen Lambeau Field in Sunday’s 23-20 playoff loss, the team’s continued inability to keep Colin Kaepernick under wraps points to a worrisome inability to adjust.

Capers has been the team’s defensive coordinator since 2009, and in that span, the Packers have finished second, second, 25th, eighth, and 31st in FO’s defensive stats. So, a defensive coordinator whose squad finished eighth just a year ago would seem to still have something on the ball — but there are also times when Capers’ line concepts don’t seem to work, and an overreliance on man coverage comes back to bite the team.

“If Dom’s under contract, I expect him to be back,” cornerback Tramon Williams told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel after the loss. “He’s been a vital part of our defense, too. We won a Super Bowl with Dom and our entire coaching staff. We’re comfortable with these guys. These guys come out and work every day, put in an enormous amount of hours throughout the week. Those guys put their hearts and souls into it. So for you to ask me that question, yeah, he’ll be back.”

Perhaps, but any more defensive regression will force change.

• Kansas City Chiefs: Will the real defense please stand up?

Through the first nine weeks of the 2013 season, the Kansas City Chiefs were undefeated, and their defense, led by first-year coordinator Bob Sutton, was the NFL’s best. It was a shutdown unit capable of sacking quarterbacks and ending drives with equal fervor. Then, injuries started to take their toll, and that formerly great defense wasn’t so formidable anymore. Sutton’s squad dropped from fifth to 15th in opponent-adjusted efficiency in the second half of the season, and from second to 17th against the pass.

And in their 45-44 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday, that defense allowed Andrew Luck to complete six passes of 20 yards or more and erase a 28-point third-quarter deficit. It was the second-largest comeback in NFL postseason history, and it seemed unthinkable just a few months before that the Chiefs could allow such a thing. Luck finished with 443 passing yards and four touchdowns as his three interceptions faded into the subsequent offensive onslaught. Second-year receiver T.Y. Hilton stunned the Chiefs’ secondary with 11 catches on 13 targets for 224 yards and two touchdowns

“We gave up too many big plays,” Andy Reid said, stating the obvious. “That’s what it came down to. That’s what you saw if you look at the different stats; that’s really where it points to. You can’t do that. You have an aggressive style defense and you have to have an aggressive attitude with it. You can’t afford to give up big plays.”

It was a requiem for the playoff loss, but also for the second half of Kansas City’s season. People calling for Sutton’s ouster are overreacting, but the Chiefs have a lot to figure out in the offseason.

• Philadelphia Eagles: Can the defensive improvements hold up next season?

And on the other end of the spectrum, there are the Philadelphia Eagles, who also came into this season with a first-year defensive coordinator. Things started out rough for Billy Davis as he tried to merge his personnel and schemes, but it all started to come together right about the time that Chip Kelly found his franchise quarterback in Nick Foles. From Weeks 1 through 9, Philadelphia ranked 30th in FO’s metrics, but they vaulted to 12th in the season’s second half. The strongest improvement came against the run, where the Eagles improved from 22nd to fifth.

That held up for the most part in the postseason, even though Philly lost to the New Orleans Saints 26-24. Drew Brees threw two picks and was limited to 250 passing yards. Mark Ingram ran for 97 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, which certainly went against type, but Davis and the Eagles have a lot to look forward to with this defense. The front seven is excellent minus a top-tier pass-rusher, the secondary can be tweaked from good to great with a few new moves and it’s clear that Davis is in sync with his players. To his credit, it was the coach who took the blame for deficiencies in the run defense.

“That’s on me,” Davis said. “I made the calls for the passing game, to make sure we keep the big plays off of us … I could’ve called more of a run-heavy defensive game.”

It speaks well for the future of this defense that Davis’ players weren’t having any of it.

“We shifted our attention, obviously, to their passing game,” linebacker Connor Barwin said. “We went ‘coverage’ a lot, because we felt like we could hold up in the run with six guys, five guys in the box. And we did at times, but we didn’t enough,”

The Eagles should be seen as a potential force contender in 2014. That won’t take any of the sting out of this season’s end, though.

24 comments
strawwalker
strawwalker

KC defensive coordinator should be fired. For the second 1/2 half they used a srandard nickel defense. 4 DL No blitzing 2 linebackers and a Zone defense... #13 had to have  man press coverage, and they needed to blitz. The NFL QBs and receivers in the playoffs will eat Zone defense alive.They are just too good. NE blitzed and had #13 man coverage but in the second 1/2 they tried zone and got burnt.

CarlDeLuca
CarlDeLuca

Did he really just write the Packers' offense was good without Rodgers??

couch_wrath
couch_wrath

For ten straight weeks the Chiefs secondary was a catastrophe, no adjustments were made and you think fans are overreacting when they want Bob Sutton fired?  

Richard--Ramirez
Richard--Ramirez

Packers are finished. Will be lucky to finish 3rd in the NFC North next season.

OnTheRoad
OnTheRoad

Honest question, One that I would really like to have answered!!! What is it going to take to get an honest, able HC and OC in Dallas???? We all realize that Jerry Jones is going to be the owner for several more years and that he will remain their GM. So, what do we have to do to make him realize that Garrett is not the man. If Jones were to fire Garrett tomorrow, who and at what level would hire him as their janitor???

donniejohnson4
donniejohnson4

Sorry Chiefs fans, but Andy Reid's clock management skills won't be getting any better.  No matter what holes you plug with this team, this is as far as you go.

slickwilly
slickwilly

So because he puts up good stats with a strong supporting cast and has had three bad playoff games (one as a rookie), all of a sudden he has a low ceiling? That's a pretty crappy argument for why Dalton has a low ceiling.

OSU
OSU

The Bengals have an average coach and a average quarterback.  If making the playoff is the goal (see Dallas Cowboys), then stick with them both.  If the goal is to challenge for a Super Bowl, they both have to go.  Neither of them are championship quality.

loaded_question
loaded_question

Kap got the game winning run because one guy who was supposed to contain him decided to rush the QB and got blocked. That's the guy u get rid of because he'll never learn. 

donald5
donald5

Sorry but setting the franchise record in TD passes or yardage now a days doesn't really mean THAT much.  I have a feeling that if Boomer Esiason, Ken Anderson or pre Kimo Carson Palmer were throwing against the currently defensively handicapped rule book, they would have set those records pretty high in their days.

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

It was the real Chiefs all year.  They didn't really play anyone tough in their first 9 games.  Over the course of the season, things tend to even out.  


Most teams and players play better against worst teams and do worse against better ones.


5 out of their last 7 games (including their playoff game) were losses and ALL 5 of those losses came to teams who made the playoffs.


The Chiefs were 1 & 6 against teams that made the playoffs this year.


The Chiefs were 10 & 0 against teams that did not make the playoffs this year and there you have their 11 & 6 record this year after bowing out of the playoffs.


So to say they were one team during their 9 & 0 start had more to do with the schedule than it did them.  Had their schedule been more even throughout the year with some of the playoff teams appearing earlier in their schedule, they would not have been 9 & 0.

anon76
anon76

@OnTheRoad 


Complain all you want about Garrett, the OC, or Romo.  The thing that held the Cowboys back this year was their defense- that's where Dallas will have to improve if they want to get back into the playoffs.

anon76
anon76

@donniejohnson4 


Reid took Philly to the SB with his poor clock management skills.  That suggests he can go further than a Wild Card exit (and suggests he has at least as much potential as Harbaugh in SF- should the 49ers be looking for a new coach as well?).

kcobrien90
kcobrien90

@slickwilly Exactly. And which QB is out there that we can pick up who is better than Dalton? Maybe the blockheads at SI and all the other sports sites don't get it, but every Cincinnati fan will tell you that the problem lies WITH THE HEAD COACH. That would be Marvin Lewis. He's had 11 seasons, four different starting quarterbacks, numerous different staff, personnel, and Pro Bowl players yet he's 0-5 in the playoffs. Here in Cincy we want Lewis out and Zimmer IN as HC. I've been a season ticket holder since '03 and if Marvin Lewis is around next year then Mike Brown can say goodbye to getting another dime from me.

kcobrien90
kcobrien90

@OSU Who would we get as a better QB? Carson was smart enough to get out of Cincinnati because he realized that Marvin Lewis SUCKS as a HC. Marvin Lewis has gone through FOUR starting QBs. He's a QB killer and if we replace him I promise Dalton will perform much better in the playoffs.

rmcginnis456
rmcginnis456

@OSU Bengals owner Mike Brown's #1 goal is to make a profit.  If that results in a Super Bowl, fantastic.  But he'd rather not have the publicity or headache.  For that reason, everything will stay status quo.  Marvin is the #2 tenured coach despite 0-5 in the playoffs; nowhere else would he survive that disaster!

WCoastPro
WCoastPro

@OSU Nice analysis. Some network should hire you because you'r so bright and well versed.

kcobrien90
kcobrien90

@donald5 It's not pre Kimo Carson. It's pre Marvin Lewis Carson. Marvin Lewis is a QB killer.

geewhiz
geewhiz

@donald5 I like how you say 'pre Kimo carson' ...indeed he's never been the same since.

WCoastPro
WCoastPro

@Sportsfan18 Wow! You must have gone to an Ivy League college! Great Analysis! 

Can't believe nobody thought of this: Had they played harder teams sooner their record would have been worse! Amazing insight by you! 

PWINGS
PWINGS

@anon76@OnTheRoad The thing that Romo, the OC and the defense all have in common is the person who evaluated their abilities, selected them and continues to employ them - the GM otherwise known as Jerry Jones. He is the common denominator for ALL their problems.


"....What is it going to take to get an honest, able HC and OC in Dallas???? We all realize that Jerry Jones is going to be the owner for several more years and that he will remain their GM. So, what do we have to do to...."

As you said, Jerry's NOT going anywhere (voluntarily, anyway) and so all Cowboy fans have to look forward to is more of the same unless you vote with your feet and stop attending games and purchasing jerseys et al. In the meantime, as to what will it take to get change, have you ever heard the expression "act of god"?

ScottM.Wright
ScottM.Wright

@kcobrien90 Because that 2005/2006 version of Carson before he injured his elbow in 2007 was horrible.  Only #2 and #3 in the advanced QB metrics.  Who was that guy's coach again?  In 2006, he was still awesome, and got better as the season went on.  Check the Football Outsiders metrics if you don't believe me.


Here's the info from Kitna from Wikipedia, but every Bengals fan knew what was up:


"In 2003, Kitna played every offensive down, and was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year after throwing for over 3,500 yards and 26 touchdown passes in leading the Bengals to a respectable 8–8 record, the team's first non-losing season since 1996.


Kitna's secondary role with the team was to prepare young quarterback Carson Palmer (the Bengals' #1 draft pick in 2003). It was a role Kitna accepted gracefully. By 2004, Palmer was ready, leading the Bengals to another 8–8 season. Kitna was the backup for Palmer in that season. The two QB's developed a close friendship off the field, particularly because both men are avid golfers"


Marvin Lewis has had two starting QBs in his tenure, Carson and Andy.  He inherited Kitna, who everyone knew was a stop-gap until the QB of the future could be drafted, and Ryan Fitzpatrick was Carson's backup.


Oh, so Kitna was also comeback player of the year.  Who was that guy's coach in 2003?


You clearly don't understand Bengals history, so please don't discuss it as if you do.  You're probably an ignorant Steelers troll.