Some fans are shaking their heads in wonderment at the performances of some first-year head coaches who keep on losing. Others are campaigning to get rid of an incumbent.
Yet there’s an impressive number of men doing terrific jobs who deserve to be praised as we approach the halfway mark of the NFL schedule.
Try Pete Carroll in Seattle. Jay Gruden in Washington (while his older brother’s return has been a fiasco in Oakland). Ron Rivera in Carolina. Anthony Lynn in Los Angeles. Matt Nagy in Chicago. And Bill O’Brien in Houston.
The key measurement with that half-dozen is talent. More specifically, none of those six has a ton of talent at his disposal, though all have some star players.
But Gruden has a first-place team. So does O’Brien.
Rivera’s Panthers look like a solid bet for the playoffs. Lynn’s Chargers are 5-2 and in good position to be in the postseason. Nagy’s Bears are vastly improved over John Fox’s group of 2017, and Carroll — the only Super Bowl winner in this group — might be doing his best job in a highly distinguished career with the Seahawks.
In a year when so many coaches are being lambasted, from newcomers Pat Shurmur in New Jersey to Steve Wilks in Arizona to newcomer/oldtimer Gruden in Oakland, it’s worthwhile and refreshing to take a look at some jobs well done. Very well done.
While the Seahawks aren’t in full-blown rebuild mode, they are remaking the roster and reaffirming themselves as a hard-hitting, run-first (and effectively), aggressive squad that doesn’t back down. Their victory at Detroit was their best in a 4-3 season during which they started 0-2.
Carroll is fitting in new parts, particularly in the secondary and at running back. He’s getting strong leadership from Bobby Wagner, Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin, but lots of credit needs to be thrown his way for doing quite a bit with less than usual.
When the Texans dropped their first three games, people were placing O’Brien on a Lone Star hotseat. Now, he’s sitting atop the AFC South with a club that should win that division of underachievers.
Not that Houston is underachieving. The poor start had much to do with returning players such as the Texans’ best, J.J. Watt, and quarterback Deshaun Watson not being back to full strength. Now they are.
This is a balanced team when all the parts are available. O’Brien doesn’t panic, he instructs well, and his is a team on the rise.
Is Washington the most-talented team in the NFC East? Nope.
Is it the most consistent? Nope.
What the Redskins do is protect the ball (just five giveaways, trailing only Atlanta’s four), stymie opposing offenses, and rely on some excellent veterans such as Ryan Kerrigan, Josh Norman and Alex Smith. Plus, Gruden was willing to reach out to Adrian Peterson, who has shown he has plenty left — so much so he might be the front-runner for Comeback Player of the Year.
While there’s turmoil in Dallas and New York, and rumblings fostered by the mediocre performance by the defending champion Eagles, all is going smoothly in D.C. Credit Gruden
Yes, in 2015 he guided the Panthers to the NFC title. He still has Cam Newton and Greg Olsen and Luke Kuechly.
But these Panthers, who have beaten the Eagles, Bengals and Ravens, aren’t at the level of the team that fell to the Broncos in the Super Bowl 2 ½ years ago. Their offensive line is shaky, their receivers are inconsistent, and they’ve shuffled their secondary.
They’re also 5-2 and Rivera has one of the best relationships, on and off the field, with his players of any coach in football.
Lynn’s best defensive player, Joey Bosa, has been sidelined all year. The Chargers have relied on rookies — safety Derwin James is among the top defensive newcomers in the league — and a few other youngsters, and it’s working to the tune of nine picks to three allowed, 18 sacks to 10 allowed.
Philip Rivers is having one of his best seasons of a borderline Hall of Fame career, in great part because Lynn gives his quarterback lots of freedom.
You hear criticism that the Chargers haven’t beaten anyone good. Well, a large number of teams would love their 5-2 record.
Every week, the Bears play an opponent tough. Their defense is rugged, particularly if Khalil Mack is healthy. Their offense is developing, not rapidly but steadily. Where Mitchell Trubisky has progressed in his second season and first under Nagy is where the Jets, Cardinals, Bills and Browns hope their first-rounders of this year get to in 2019.
He’s aggressive with the ball and without it, playing to win rather than playing not to lose. Whether he can keep the Bears in contention in the rough NFC North is problematic, but they certainly are headed in the right direction — and in an entertaining fashion.