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The Debrief, Week 12: Mike McCarthy, Marvin Lewis in trouble?
Gregg Rosenthal catches you up on everything you need to know as we turn from Week 11 to Week 12.
Barack Obama was President-elect the last time Mike McCarthy's Packers missed the playoffs. That was the end of the 2008 season, Marvin Lewis' sixth as Bengals head coach. Lewis' five-year run of tournament appearances in Cincinnati started three seasons later
Both of those playoff streaks are set to end in January. It's worth wondering if McCarthy and Lewis -- two of the three coaches with the longest tenures in the NFL -- could also be looking for work.
Speculation about job security is one of the inherently unfair aspects of an inherently unfair profession in an inherently unfair world. And the post-Thanksgiving calendar is the season of coaching change.
In this week's Debrief, we're going to focus on the NFL coaching community, including which coaches are on the hot seat, before hitting the stretch run.
Mike and Marvin
On the same day that the Bengals' season all but ended with injuries to A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard during a loss to the Bills, two of Lewis' former assistants (Jay Gruden with Washington and Mike Zimmer with Minnesota) were piloting their way to big victories elsewhere. Lewis and the Bengalsare victims of their own success. Expectations were raised because of the excellent roster Lewis helped to build. Three of his assistants (Gruden, Zimmer and Hue Jackson) have left to take head coaching jobs elsewhere.
The story of Jackson's departure from Cincinnati for Cleveland last offseason helps explain Lewis' murky future. NFL.com's Michael Silver previously reported that Lewis himself pitched the idea of a succession plan to Bengalsowner Mike Brown, which would take place after the 2017 season. Brown didn't want to put anything in writing for Jackson to take over, but the thought process shows Lewis is thinking about the end of the line.
Bengals fans don't want to hear it, but Lewis could be the one making the call about next season. A retirement is easier to imagine than Brown firing Lewis. The Bengals have disappointed in many areas this season, especially with their inability to protect Andy Dalton or get after opposing quarterbacks. But their nucleus -- led by Dalton, Green, Bernard, tight end Tyler Eifert, guard Kevin Zeitler, defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap -- is mostly young and intact. One sign of Lewis' success the last 14 years: This is a quality job, if it becomes open.
Then again, the Bengals job pales in comparison to the opportunity to coach the end of Aaron Rodgers' career in Green Bay. While Rodgers called criticism of McCarthy "ridiculous" last week, McCarthy's offense has grown stale the last two years. The Packers' defense is an even bigger issue, and coordinator Dom Capers will likely need a miracle finish to the season to be back.
NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported last week that he "didn't sense any danger" for McCarthy. That makes sense in mid-November. General manager Ted Thompson isn't one to act rashly. It's important to remember how much will inevitably change between now and January.
It wouldn't surprise anyone if the Packers rallied to win a bad NFC North; they've done it before. But if Green Bay finishes with a losing record and McCarthy fails to produce a quality offense for a second straight year, the public pressure on Packers president Mark Murphy will be immense. The Packershave a Hall of Fame quarterback whose struggles this season have been overstated at this point. Rodgers certainly wasn't the problem during the last two weeks of non-competitive games. The problem is larger, and fixing it could require a significant change at the top.
The hottest seats
1) Last December, Jaguars owner Shad Khan announced that Gus Bradley would be back for a fourth season. At the time, Khan wrote: "It's also evident the considerable work that remains to be done to be where we expect to be at this time next season, which is well above where we stand today. And Gus understands that."
The Jaguars, now 2-8, would be lucky to match last season's total of five wins. Bradley's defense has quietly improved, but they aren't getting big plays out of their biggest talents. Blake Bortles has collapsed, and Bradley isn't the coach to turn an offense around.
This is shaping up to be a potentially quiet season in terms of coaching moves. The Jaguars are easily the safest pick to make a change. Khan said it all last December.
2) John Fox was dealt a bad hand in Chicago in 2015. He took over the youngest roster in football, according to Football Outsiders' Almanac, and the Bears have only grown younger. Many of his most talented players have been hurt or suspended. His starting quarterback's contract is an albatross from a different regime. None of those mitigating factors may save him.
Rapoport reported late last month that Fox's standing beyond this season was shaky, and that it was "clear everyone is not on the same page" in relation to the front office and coaching staff. Since then, the Bears have lost guard Kyle Long, tight end Zach Miller, guard Josh Sitton and quarterback Jay Cutler (again) to injury. Receiver Alshon Jeffery and linebacker Jerrell Freeman have been suspended. No one would win with this group, yet, Fox could be the scapegoat. After a long run with Lovie Smith, the Bears could be looking for their third head coach in the last five seasons.
Coaches that could use a big finish
1) Mike McCoy's job security faced a " critical stretch" earlier this season that the team navigated well through an incredible amount of injuries. The Chargers are still 4-6 and have a long road back to playoff contention. The team doesn't even know where its hometown will be next season, and McCoy's future figures to be decided in part by how his team finishes. Defensive coordinator John Pagano, whose unit is 28th in points allowed, could use a strong closing kick, too.
Remember that the final impression means so much. Lovie Smith was 6-6 with a rookie quarterback last season before a late collapse sealed his fate with the Buccaneers.
2) An extension for Rams coach Jeff Fisher was discussed as far back as March and reported by other outlets as a done deal in September. No extension was ever announced. Owner Stan Kroenke has to balance a desire for stability with Fisher's poor track record of hiring the right people to develop quarterbacks. Sunday's performance by Jared Goff was a reminder that the rookie isn't likely to make this offense dynamic overnight. Is Fisher the right coach for Jared Goff?
3) It would be a surprise if Chip Kelly was only given one season in San Francisco, despite his 1-9 record. If nothing else, it would be embarrassing for the 49ers organization to be paying Jim Tomsula, Kelly and next year's head coach all at the same time.
A question of faith
Texans coach Bill O'Brien is not afraid to be bold. He went for it on fourth down in his own territory in a tie game Monday night in the third quarter (Houston converted). He went for it on fourth down in a tie game midway through the fourth quarter (they converted, but the officials said they didn't).
So when O'Brien chose to punt down seven points against the Raiders on fourth-and-5 with 3:02 left, we don't think it was because of a lack of cajones. He just didn't believe in his quarterback, Brock Osweiler.
That stood in stark contrast to Raiders coach Jack Del Rio, who, a minute later, allowed Derek Carr to let it fly downfield to rookie Jalen Richard. Three plays later, Del Rio asked his offensive line to bulldoze the Texans one final time to end the game. They did it.
Osweiler has given O'Brien little reason to have faith. Del Rio's Raiders have rewarded his faith again and again in a season that has stuffed a lot of magic into 10 games.
Coaching narratives busted
1) The Cowboys coaching staff is among the best at in-game adjustments. Imagine saying that about Jason Garrett five years ago!
After four punts to start their game against the Ravens, Dallas adjusted its protections, Dak Prescottgot rid of the ball more quickly and the Cowboys scored on their next five possessions, mostly due to Prescott's decision-making and accuracy. This is a pattern that has played out multiple times, with the Cowboys disproving the notion they aren't "built to play from behind."
2) Rookie head coach Dirk Koetter has been learning on the fly, but it's probably time to stop calling the Bucs the worst (whatever their record happens to be at the time) team in football. Their mature offensive performance in a win at Kansas City, which started with seven straight drives over 50 yards, showed real progress from a team that has put together its best two games of the season in successive weeks.
3) It's not fair to say the Steelers have no pass rush after they sacked the Browns eight times Sunday. Perhaps the return of Bud Dupree to the lineup will help give this team more juice down the stretch. Mike Tomlin cut his teeth coaching defense, yet he has been unable to lift this group above mediocrity since saying so long to Dick LeBeau. It's not too late to turn things around this year.
4) The Redskins' glorious Sunday night victory over the Packerswas a jolt for the franchise, and not only because Kirk Cousins unveiled his latest catchphrase while essentially asking his boss for a raise.
If Cousins can continue to stretch the field vertically, the Redskins' offense goes from being a nice story to one of the best groups in football. The fact that Cousins threw some of his bombs into a strong wind only hammers home the point that Jay Gruden's offense is not just about dinking and dunking. Gruden's decision to have Cousins sneak for a first down on the Redskins' side of the field with the lead is the mark of an offense-first team. Gruden doesn't coach scared. Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, Gruden's old boss never met a fourth-and-short he couldn't punt away.
Coaching storylines that deserve more attention
1) Andy Reid will be tested in the coming weeks. As well-coached as the Chiefs are, the key injuries have started to pile up. They lost breakout pass rusher Dee Ford on Sunday, just as they welcomed Justin Houston back. The defense didn't look the same against Tampa, with defenders Marcus Petersand Jaye Howard out. The offense hasn't played well in three weeks, and receiver Jeremy Maclin -- out since Week 9 with a groin injury -- is missed.
Losing to Tampa could haunt the Chiefs, who are dealing with these injuries just as they hit a brutal part of the schedule: at Denver, at Atlanta and home for Oakland. Other AFC wild-card hopefuls like Miami or Buffalo could see the Chiefs come back to the pack.
2) Bruce Arians' hospitalization for chest pains Monday was scary, in part because it's his second health-related issue to occur this season. Arians also had an August stay in a hospital following symptoms associated with diverticulitis, a condition that affects the digestive tract.
His health puts his team's struggles in perspective, yet it's also fair to worry about the future of Arians' offense in Arizona. Led by players toward the ends of their careers (Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald), the Cardinals are struggling to adapt to games where their opponents are the aggressors.
Palmer mostly played well Sunday in Minnesota, but he was hit virtually every snap, even when the Vikings only rushed four defenders. Arians has adjusted his principles, recognizing a run-first approach is in his best interest. But even David Johnson can only do so much. Given two chances to try to win the game late, the Cardinals lost 14 yards combined on their final 11 plays. And there was nothing Palmer could do about it. Their offensive line is a problem that, it appears, will have no solution until the offseason. We hope Arians can take the time off he needs to treat a far more pressing matter.
3) Not all 5-5 records are created equal. The Bills won a professional football game Sunday with Marquise Goodwin, Brandon Tate, Justin Hunter and Percy Harvin finishing the game at wide receiver. Only one of those players (Goodwin) was even on the team in mid-August. Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn and quarterback Tyrod Taylor deserve kudos for making it all work. Rex Ryan deserves credit for putting Lynn in charge of the offense. With Rex's defense as healthy as its been all season, Buffalo has a chance to keep surprising down the stretch.
4) Holding Colin Kaepernick to 17 points won't ease fears about this Patriots' defense. Last year's leading sack artist Jabaal Sheard was a healthy scratch in Week 11 because he's not playing well. Defensive tackle Alan Branch, one of the most consistent players on the unit, is facing a suspension. Bill Belichick experiments with his defense each week, looking for the right mix of snaps. He hasn't found one yet.