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This Week in Football: Bad coaching, trade deadline, MVP candidates

OUR TOP STORY

There some thresholds that speak volumes about where an entity stands in the face of conflict. Over 50 years ago, President Lyndon Johnson said “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.”

While the scale is appreciably smaller, you can consider Joe Flacco’s postgame distress John Elway’s Cronkite moment.

Flacco is one of the most boring personalities in the NFL. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, and he probably doesn’t care that he’s perceived as boring because he has a ton of money, a Super Bowl ring and a more fame than most of us could ever dream of having. His attitude isn’t exactly the stuff of legends, and he never says anything that rocks the boat.

That was the case until after the Broncos’ 15-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts this weekend.

First and foremost, he’s right.

He’s probably not happy with the reason why he’s right, given that the lack of aggression is largely because he, as a quarterback, inspires next to no faith that an offense can accomplish any kind of quality drive, series or even play at any given moment. It sounds harsh, but it’s increasingly more evident with every Broncos game.

Nonetheless, Denver’s offensive scheme is boring, conservative and generally not competitive. Flacco has a right to be upset. No quarterback wants to sit on the ball, play conservatively and have the ball effectively taken out of his hands.

The Broncos aren’t the only team dealing with this kind of dysfunction. It’s a multi-level problem that is blatantly affecting several of the worst teams in the NFL this year.

It’s a coaching problem which was created by a front office problem in each case, specifically the hiring process.

Vic Fangio was a bad choice for Denver’s coaching opening this offseason. He’s a great defensive mind, but there’s a reason it took him until his mid-60s to get his first head coaching gig. His offensive coordinator, Rich Scangarello, isn’t exactly proving to be a great hire. In a league that’s trending toward young coaches and innovative offensive schemes, hiring an old defensive coordinator and putting an offense on the field that’s ranked 26th in total offense and 28th in scoring isn’t going to cut it.

Fangio was never the right decision.

The same can be said for those other teams that are in a similar spot. Take the New York Jets, for example. This was supposed to be an ascending year for a traditionally hapless and hopeless franchise. Sam Darnold is young and has potential, and they need him to take a step forward in his development. They added Le’Veon Bell to get him an elite weapon on offense. They also hired Adam Gase.

It’s challenging to find anything good to say about Gase’s career. He made a name for himself being obedient for Peyton Manning in Denver, then had one good season as Jay Cutler’s offensive coordinator in Chicago. He parlayed that into the head job in Miami, where he performed miserably and steered the Dolphins into their current tanking situation.

He proved year after year in Miami that he’s not good at this job. New York gave him a chance anyway. The Jets, predictably, have been awful.

How about in Cleveland? Freddie Kitchens is another example of an outmatched coach who never should have been put in the position he’s in. As Matt Verderame of Fansided.com said on 580 Sports Talk this week, nobody in the Browns’ organization had Kitchens atop their list of coaching candidates. Cleveland is a disaster, and while there are plenty of problems throughout the roster and organization as a whole, a lot of the losing lands on the coach.

Coaching matters. It’s not everything, of course, but it matters. Take the Green Bay Packers as an example of a good coaching decision made by a quality organization. Obviously Green Bay is an outlier in the sense that, unlike those other teams, it has a future hall of famer at quarterback right now. But the organization found a good coach who developed a rapport with the superstar quarterback and has put him in a position to succeed all season long.

The result? The Packers are arguably the best team in the NFC.

Somewhat like drafting, it’s hard to predict a coach’s success sometimes. But there are also times when you can tell right off the rip that a hire is doomed to fail. Going against the grain in an egregious, regressive way like the Broncos is a bad idea. Choosing a coach with no track record who is clearly in over his head like the Browns is a bad idea. Picking up a guy whose track record is littered with failure like the Jets is a bad idea.

Bad organizations stay bad because they make the wrong choice week after week, year after year, decade after decade. Making the wrong choice for your coach is one of the biggest ways a team stays bad forever.

John Elway has been making bad personnel decisions for the Broncos for years. He had his losing Cronkite moment when the most boring man in the NFL lashed out at the coaching staff on Sunday.

Maybe he’ll make some tactical adjustments. Maybe his franchise is turning into the Browns and Jets of the Mountain Time Zone. As long as you keep making bad decisions from the top down, that’s the trajectory you’ll be on.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

*Despite losing Sunday night, the Kansas City Chiefs should feel confident about their prospects the rest of this season. Even without six starters, including the reigning MVP, and facing a vintage Aaron Rodgers performance, the Chiefs hung with the Packers until the very end this weekend. Andy Reid fell into his longstanding faults once again at the end of the game, speaking specifically of clock management, but called a brilliant game for his Matt Moore-led offense through three quarters. The defense is getting better, too, right around the time it was expected to under their new system with defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Once Patrick Mahomes returns at full health the Chiefs will return to their place as the clear No. 2 team in the AFC. Realistically, that also means they’re the only legitimate threat to the New England Patriots come playoff time. You never want to lose, but there was more to positive about than negative about in their Sunday night loss, given the circumstances.

*Matt Nagy needs to be stopped. He’s gone beyond just coaching poorly at this point and has moved on to also antagonizing the media when they ask about his asinine decision making.

This is embarrassing, and if it’s not for the organization then the whole McCaskey family should be ashamed. To act in a moronic fashion on the field is one thing, but to defend your actions in such a pompous way shows how deserving he and his team are of the widespread ridicule they’re receiving. While it sounds fun, exciting even, to roast Nagy for being completely clueless when it comes to managing the game, doing so is just sad in a way, because it’s clear that he doesn’t have a clue. He has admitted since the game ended that he was scared of fumbling, taking a sack, throwing an interception and committing a hold, all of which led to him calling for a knee before a game-winning field goal attempt from a kicker who had already missed an even shorter kick in the game. He missed. Nagy got what he deserves. He may be dealing with an unplayable starting quarterback, but it’s becoming clearer every week that he is not cut out to be leading a team that had playoff aspirations.

*The NFL is a worse league without its star players. J.J. Watt is a star player who has been through a mass quantity of injury troubles in recent years. He’s done for the year with a pectoral injury, which is bad news for the Texans and the NFL as a whole. His old “Captain America” schtick got old a couple years ago for many, but he’s a great icon for the game as a player and as a person, something that will undeniably be missed. Football is better when the best players are on the field, and despite his rash of injuries over the years Watt is still in that category. It’s obvious that his body does not want to constantly cooperate with him, which is sad more than anything. The NFL will be a better league when he returns from injury next season. Whether you’re a Texans fan or not, more good players is a good thing for the sport. Watt’s an all-time great, and that kind of presence is always missed.

*We’re primed for a thrilling trade deadline on Tuesday. There have been a few trades over the last couple of weeks, then two more sizable ones already this week (confusing as they may be for the buyers). A handful of teams are certainly potential buyers at the deadline, such as the Chiefs looking for a linebacker, the Eagles looking for a cornerback and the Browns looking for offensive line help, just as two examples. Don’t be surprised if several high-profile, or at least highly productive, players end up on the move. There are rumors about several big-name cornerbacks who could be dealt, the Redskins may finally be willing to ship out disgruntled tackle Trent Williams and there are always surprises at the last minute. Things should get wild and fun before 3:00 CT on Tuesday.

NICK BOSA DID WHAT THIS WEEK?

Nick Bosa strengthened his case for defensive player of the year this week.

Joey Bosa is one of the better edge defenders in the NFL, and his younger brother may be even better. He had a monstrous game against the Panthers on Sunday, recording three sacks and a pick-six in a massive 51-13 win. That gives him seven sacks and a league-best 11 TFLs this season. Shaq Barrett is having a fantastic year in Tampa and will be in the conversation for the award too, but Bosa made sure this week that if fans around the league didn’t already know about his game, know it well now.

FOOTBALL FOLLIES

Zay Jones did the levitating thing again.

https://twitter.com/WhistleSports/status/1188860123621580800?s=20

It happens so quickly that it’s so hard to pick up on exactly how he’s doing this. It’s probably not some superhuman feat to lift yourself up like this, but if it looks cool then it should be appreciated.

Let’s watch the original, too, just because we can.

On Monday night, in a game that was otherwise only remarkable for the Dolphins coming up with yet another way to express their futility (they lost 27-14 after leading 14-0), we got to see James Conner adorn some unique facemask décor.

Conner had to leave the game late due to a shoulder injury, unfortunately, but his comedic addition to the game was still appreciated. That’s especially true since Miami’s season has devolved rapidly from comedy to tragedy.

At least you covered, Dolphins.

WEEKLY TOP 5: MVP CANDIDATES AT THE HALFWAY POINT

We’re through eight weeks of the season and are essentially at the halfway point of the season. These five players have, so far, separated themselves as the best candidates for MVP this year.

  1. Russell Wilson – His candidacy has slipped slightly in the last couple weeks, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been wonderful throughout the year. He’s leading the NFL in passer rating and is second in QBR all while running a confusing, inefficient offense. Seattle is one of the best teams in the NFC mostly thanks to the remarkable play of Wilson.
  2. Aaron Rodgers – After a slow start in Matt LaFleur’s offense to start the year, Rodgers’ production has exploded recently and the Green Bay offense has too. He’s second in the league in passing yards and passing touchdowns, and has been playing his best football without his best receiver. While Davante Adams has missed the last four weeks, Rodgers has completed 69.1% of his passes with 10 touchdowns and just one pick, good for a 119.6 rating. Vintage Rodgers has arrived.
  3. Christian McCaffrey – The leader among the non-quarterbacks, McCaffrey has effectively been the entirety of Carolina’s offense this year, both with Cam Newton and Kyle Allen at quarterback. Opposing defenses have had to scheme against him for entire game plans, and the Panthers wouldn’t be even close to 4-3 without him.
  4. Deshaun Watson – If he wins the award this year, his touchdown pass in the fourth quarter against Oakland on Sunday may be his ultimate highlight. Houston has plenty of faults, from the roster around him to the play caller, but Watson has dragged the Texans to a 5-3 record, with one of the losses being anything but his fault. He’s one of the most exciting players in the game and has developed into one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks.
  5. Patrick Mahomes – He’s been hurt, which has caused him to miss a game (so far, it could be more) and limited the mobility that makes him nearly impossible to stop. Despite that, he has 2,180 yards, 15 touchdowns and just one interception in seven games, which is good for a 113.1 passer rating. He’s been out of the picture for just about two weeks, but don’t lose sight of who the frontrunner was for the award once again before his knee injury.

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