Tag:CoachKillers
Posted on: January 17, 2012 12:05 pm
Edited on: January 17, 2012 12:08 pm
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Coach Killers, Week 19: Drops, picks and sacks

Coach Killers is your postseason look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that ends Super Bowl aspirations and begins "So, where should we vacation?" discussions.

By Ryan Wilson

Jacoby Jones, T.J. Yates - Houston

Jacoby Jones is the easy choice here because in the time it took him to try to field a punt with his face, he swung the momentum in the Ravens' favor. The Texans' opening drive led to three points, and the defense had forced Baltimore to punt on their first possession. Then Jones happened. (To his credit, he fell on an Arian Foster fumble later in the game. It doesn't make up for his first-quarter punt but it's something.) But he's not the only reason the Texans lost.

Jones had a long day in Baltimore. (US PRESSWIRE)
It's probably unfair to call out Yates here; he's a rookie who played collegiately at a basketball school that had never produced a starting NFL quarterback. His 2011 destiny was to spend the season running the scout team during the week and sitting comfortably on the bench on Sundays.

Then Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart were lost for the season, the Texans' playoff hopes didn't seem far behind, and the offense was suddenly Yates'. And he played beyond everyone's expectations. Which is why we don't feel quite so bad for name-checking him now.

Against Baltimore, he was 17 of 35 for 184 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. And if Yates had found a way to complete just one of those picks to someone not wearing purple and black, the outcome of this game could've been different. In fact, midway through the final quarter we actually had this thought: What if Yates leads Houston to a win (easily the biggest in franchise history)? No matter what happens in the conference championship, he's now entered Matt Flynn airspace.

Which is to say: assuming that Schaub and Leinart are both healthy by training camp, the Texans could try to trade Yates to a QB-needy team and make a nice little profit on the transaction. (We figured they might be able to get a third-rounder out of it; not bad given that Yates was a fifth-round afterthought last April.)

But that daydream was short-lived. Ed Reed's ball-hawking abilities quickly brought us back to reality and guaranteed that come August, Yates will return to a backup role. For the time being, anyway.

Green Bay 'pass catchers'

Easily the worst-performing bunch of the weekend and it's not close. It's easy to blame rust as the culprit but it could be something much simpler than that: the Packers were off (Hey, Occam's razor). They also have terrible timing.

Bad hands and worse timing for Packers. (Getty Images)
Whatever the explanation, unless Mike McCarthy has a time machine, the fact remains that Green Bay's season is over and it's primarily because their usually sure-handed receivers dropped eight Aaron Rodgers' passes.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Lori Nickel pithily recaps what happened at Lambeau Sunday.

"James Starks, Tom Crabtree, Greg Jennings, (Jordy) Nelson and (Jermichael) Finley all had drops. Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Grant and John Kuhn all lost fumbles."

Nelson was dumbfounded after the game.

"For everyone to do it in the same game," he said. "I don't know . . . I don't want to say it's contagious. But it sure looked like it today."

Finely was more practical. "Trying to do too much," he offered. "We were trying to look upfield, trying to get the YAC, but first you've got to catch the ball."

However you choose to explain it, it was a horrible showing for a team that won 15 games in 2011. Silver lining: Somebody's getting something really nice with the Best Buy gift cards coming their way.

Denver offensive line

Any conversation about the Broncos invariably begins with Tim Tebow. But that's no different than at any other point in his career going back to high school. Tebow is many things to many people, and for Denver, for now, he's theirs starting quarterback. Even following a forgettable performance against the Patriots, seven days after his most impressive showing in two years in the NFL.

But Tebow's final line -- 9 of 26 for 136 yards, 5 rushes for 13 yards, a lost fumble and 10 measly points -- isn't just the latest example that he's a fullback who is occasionally asked to throw the ball.

We've documented in great detail his progress this season. Has Tebow evolved into a franchise quarterback in 13 weeks? No, of course not. But the Broncos learned quickly that the best way to make this relationship work is by accentuating what Tebow does well (the college offense Tebow ran at Florida) and throwing the rest of the playbook in the incinerator (the pro-style offense the team ran with Kyle Orton).

But it's not just Tebow who has to grow into this system, it's his teammates. Specifically, the offensive line, at least based on their performance Saturday. In general, the unit performed well this season, particularly when Denver ran the ball. According to Football Outsiders' metrics, the Broncos' o-line ranked 11th in run-blocking in 2011 but 29th in pass protection.

Clearly, some of that falls on Tebow, who struggles to make correct presnap reads, or work through his progressions after the snap. But against New England, the Broncos had 15 plays that lost yards -- both running and passing (including sacks).

This doesn't mean that Denver needs to overhaul the entire unit. But if the plan is to build an offense around Tebow and the option game, they need to find players that best fit that scheme.

New Orleans secondary

Jenkins' day was much longer than Jacoby Jones'. (AP)
There's plenty of blame to go around, on both sides of the ball, but underwhelming performances by Roman Harper and especially Malcolm Jenkins gives the secondary the edge. Harper was the closest player to Vernon Davis on his game-winning touchdown grab, and afterwards, the 49ers said that they noticed on film that Harper's tendency was to drop several yards into the end zone but never step up to the goal line. Davis ran to the goal line, Alex Smith hit him with a laser, game over.

But a lot had to happen before Harper even got the opportunity to let Davis make the play. Linebacker Scott Shanle never redirected Davis as he came off the line of scrimmage, and linebacker Martez Wilson just missed tipping Smith's pass.

Jenkins, meanwhile, served as Davis' metaphorical punching bag. The poor guys at Canal Street Chronicles relive the horror to provide the play-by-play breakdowns in those fateful final three minutes. The final breakdown was Harper's; the other two are courtesy of Jenkins' inability to stop Davis.

As Brinson wrote in Sorting the Sunday Pile, "You might want to pick on Roman Harper for getting worked over by Vernon Davis in the end zone on the final touchdown, but Jenkins is the reason the Niners even had a shot. First there's the teardrop Alex Smith dropped over Jenkins into Davis' outstretched arms before his now famous touchdown run. Then there's Jenkins coverage on Davis across the middle when he picked up 47 yards on the 49ers final drive. Burnt toast anyone?"

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Posted on: January 10, 2012 11:02 am
 

Coach Killers, Week 18: Taylor needs time machine

Coach Killers is your postseason look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that ends Super Bowl aspirations and begins "So, where should we vacation?" discussions.

By Ryan Wilson

Ike Taylor, Mike Wallace - Steelers

It's not a stretch to say that cornerback Ike Taylor had his worst game as a professional at the worst possible time. In fact, he said as much after he spent Sunday afternoon helplessly chasing on-target Tim Tebow passes to Demaryius Thomas. By the time it was over, Thomas had 204 receiving yards, including the game-winning touchdown grab on the first play in overtime. (Incidentally, overtime took less time than explaining the new overtime rules.)

Understandably, Taylor, who a lot of people (us included) thought had a Pro Bowl-caliber season right up until the moment of the Steelers-Broncos kickoff, was upset and saddened by his performance. According to ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley, after the game Taylor "sat in front of a ripped-up locker, staring blankly down at the floor."


Hey, at least the locker didn't outrun him to the end zone.

A day after choosing to not talk to the media (and we don't blame him), Taylor took to Twitter to take responsibility for what transpired in Denver.

"I apologize for playing the worst game at the wrong time apologize to my teammates steelernation and family. Luv y'all to def."

There is no doubt that Taylor's performance had everything to do with the outcome, but wide receiver Mike Wallace deserves some mention here, too.

The former third-round pick out of Ole Miss spent much of his first three seasons running go-routes past defenders who couldn't believe just how fast he was. At the beginning of the 2011 season, after Wallace had 16 touchdowns in 20 starts, the joke was that Ben Roethlisberger couldn't overthrow him deep. And for the first eight games or so that proved to be true.

But a confluence of events changed that over the final two months: the emergence of Antonio Brown, new defensive strategies to slow Wallace, and Ben Roethlisberger's ankle injury, which hampered his ability to throw accurately down the field, all affected Wallace's productivity. But the biggest problem was that Wallace just wasn't playing well.

A microcosm of his inconsistency was on display against the Broncos. With the Broncos leading 7-6, Roethlisberger completed what looked like a 52-yard pass to Wallace that was eminently catchable except for that Wallace didn't actually catch it. Denver challenged the ruling on the field, won, and Pittsburgh punted a play later.

But that wasn't the worst of it. With the Steelers trailing 17-6 in the third quarter, Wallace dropped a Roethlisberger lateral that was recovered by the Broncos on the Pittsburgh 18-yard line. Because the officials had blown the play dead it couldn't be reviewed which effectively means that horrible officiating had saved Wallace, who had dropped another throw (even if it would appear in the box score as only an incompletion).  If the play is called properly on the field, it's game over. Denver was already in field goal range and Pittsburgh seemed incapable of moving the ball on offense.

Yes, Taylor had his troubles Sunday, but Wallace wasn't far behind.

Atlanta Falcons offense

We could jus stay "everybody in the Falcons organization is responsible for the debacle in the Meadowlands" and just get on with our day. And in fact, the defense is a close 1a) for coach-killing honors this week because their third-ranked rush defense allowed the Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs to go to town on the ground (Football Outsiders ranked New York's run game 20th.) 

But it's Altanta's offense that never gave this team a chance. Atlanta scored two (TWO!) points, and technically, that was thanks to Eli Manning throwing the ball to no one out of his own end zone. Matt Ryan, meanwhile, was 24 of 41 for a measly 199 yards. His leading receiver on the day was rookie first-rounder Julio Jones (seven catches, 64 yards).

While there's no disputing that Jones had a great rookie season (54 receptions, 959 yards, 8 TDs), he wasn't worth what the Falcons gave up to get him on draft day 2011.

Quick refresher: Back in April, Cleveland traded the sixth-overall pick to the Atlanta in exchange for the Falcons' 2011 first, second and fourth-round picks, as well as a first and fourth-rounder in 2012.

Wild Card Recap
Atlanta promptly selected Julio Jones, who along with A.J. Green were considered can't-miss prospects. (And at the end of the season we can agree that they were just that.)

It's hard to fault the Browns for making that deal with the Falcons. After all, on draft day, New England coach Bill Belichick told Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff, "Thomas, I'm just telling you as a friend. I wouldn't do it."

Belichick added that he thought Jonathan Baldwin was "just as good if not better" than Jones. Which leads us to this: the Browns weren't wrong to trade out of the No. 6 pick, but they really could've used a playmaker. And the Falcons could've settled for Baldwin, kept their draft picks, and been just as well off. (This has nothing to do with Jones' performance against the Giants, more a commentary on how the Falcons went all in and lost.) 

You could argue that the Jones deal wasn't a one-year, all-or-nothing proposition. Except that it sorta is. Yes, Jones will be in Atlanta for years but the trade was made because Dimitroff thought it gave the Falcons the best chance to win now. Why else would you give up a '12 first-rounder, too? 

Put differently: could Atlanta have made it to the playoffs with Baldwin, who went late in Round 1, instead of Jones (and they would've still had their 2011 second-rounder)? If you're willing to accept that as a possibility, then this season was a failure from the perspective of the Jones trade.

Another way to think about it: let's say there's a three-year horizon on the deal. Are the Falcons, as currently constituted, favorites to win the Super Bowl next season? Of course not. They'll be in the conversation as one of the NFC's playoff-caliber teams but not much else. Again, would that conversation be any different if they had Baldwin -- and a full complement of draft picks -- over Jones? Not likely.

And that's the point. This isn't an indictment on Jones' ability. Clearly, he's a special player. But the Falcons' front office took a gamble, it failed, and now, like 24 other teams, they're sitting on their couch wondering what happened.

Detroit Lions defense

It's hard to fault anybody faced with the task of slowing Drew Brees and the Saints offense, but as Lions head coach Jim Schwartz mentioned several times during his post-game comments Saturday: missed tackles, the inability to get off the field on third down and dropped interceptions (not to mention the happy whistle that negated a possible Lions defensive touchdown) conspired against a Detroit team that otherwise exorcised any remnants of Matt Millen's presence in the organization.

"Well, there is no question that they are a good team," Schwartz said. "They're 13-3, scoring 44 points a game (on average the last four weeks) and undefeated at home. There is no question that they are a good team. But when you face a team like that, you can't give them second opportunities."

And that's it right there. The difference between advancing in the playoffs and packing your bags one last time until minicamps usually comes down to a play, maybe two. There's no guarantee that the outcome would've been different if the Lions had twice picked off Brees, or had been allowed to return the Saints fumble for what looked like a touchdown, but it wouldn't have hurt.

“Should have been a touchdown because every other time in this league they let that play go and they don’t blow the whistle,” Schwartz said. “We were a victim of that last week (when officials ruled Titus Young didn't have two feet down on a touchdown catch and the Lions didn't have a challenge left to dispute the call) and for some reason in this game they decided to blow the whistle when that would have been seven points in this.”

Brees' numbers were, well, Brees-ian -- 33 of 43 for 466 yards and three touchdowns. But it will be the two interceptions that got away that will haunt Schwartz for some time.

"We were able to score on offense, missed a couple opportunities there but it was really more about missed opportunities on defense," he said during his Monday end-of-season press conference.

"With a team like the Saints, they are going to get some yards, but you got to find a way to stop drives and that is going to come from third downs that is going to come from turnovers. We stopped some drives in the first half with turnovers and had some other plays that we didn't make. We didn't do a very good job on third down. Even when we stopped them on third down, we allowed the conversion on fourth down and they were able to keep drives alive and then big plays, particularly in coverages that we shouldn't give up big plays. It just made it that we couldn't score enough with them because of those things."

Andy Dalton - Bengals

We could just as easily give this to Pacman Jones for getting toasted by Andre Johnson for a touchdown, or Chris Crocker for getting trucked on the way to the end zone by Arian Foster, but it was Andy Dalton, a rookie in name only, who played one of his worst games of the season.

A long day for Dalton. (Getty Images)
When it was over, he was 27 of 42 for 257 yards with three interceptions, although one -- the "wait, what just happened?!" pick-six from rookie defensive lineman J.J. Watt -- doesn't count. Dalton will throw thousands of NFL passes and he'll never ever see anything like that again.

Watts' acrobatics aside, Dalton was off and it played no small role in the outcome. To be fair, he was in the hospital three days before the game because of the flu, but this is the time of year when no one's healthy. Just ask the Texans' quarterbacks.

The Bengals remain winless in the playoffs under Marvin Lewis (the sad truth: Cincy hasn't won a postseason game since 1990 -- Dalton was three), but unlike previous teams, this one is young, full of promise and without egos. Which means no offseason reality shows or MLS tryouts or bull-riding stunts. Just a focus on getting better.

“I don’t want to end in the first round of the playoffs anymore,” Dalton said Monday, as he talked about becoming more of a leader next year. “You get to come back and critique all of the little things that you did in the season,” Dalton said. “You get to work with the guys and not just come into training camp where you have two weeks before your first preseason game. It will be nice to come in and watch stuff, try to get better and do a few things with everybody and make sure everybody is on the same page.”

“I’ll fly wherever he needs me,” Green said of Dalton and their offseason workout plans.

That used to be Carlson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco. Now it's Dalton and Green, who after just one season have the potential to be much better than their predecessors.

“[The past 12 months have] been a freaking whirlwind,” Dalton admitted. “Starting with the Rose Bowl, getting ready for the combine, Senior Bowl, pro day, getting drafted, getting married, a couple of weeks later moving up here. It’s been a crazy year. It seems stuff like that happened a long time ago, but its crazy it’s already over. It’s already 2012.”

And training camps are just seven months away.

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Posted on: January 10, 2012 10:03 am
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Posted on: January 3, 2012 10:58 am
Edited on: January 9, 2012 12:22 pm
 

Coach Killers, Week 17: Say no to team captains

Coach Killers is your weekly look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that put the guy in charge squarely on the ol' hot seat.

By Ryan Wilson

With the regular season in the books, the coaching axe has fallen on several unfortunate souls around the league. Raheem Morris and Steve Spagnuolo joined Todd Haley, Tony Sparano and Jack Del Rio among the ranks of former head coaches now looking for jobs. We won't address them here. Instead, we'll look at those performances from the final week of the regular season that could cost still-employed coaches their gigs at some point in the future.

Santonio Holmes - Jets

Your New York Jets team captain, everybody!
A brief history: the Steelers traded Holmes to the Jets just before the 2010 NFL Draft for a fifth-round pick. At the time, Pittsburgh fans were apoplectic because Holmes had been a first-rounder in 2006, and oh, right, he was the Super Bowl MVP in February 2009.

To send him packing for what amounted to a draft-day afterthought was, well, insane. Turns out, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is a lot smarter than any of us, just in case we needed reminding. Not only did he unload his problem on the Jets, that fifth-round pick he got in return? Colbert sent that to the Cardinals for cornerback Bryant McFadden and a sixth-round pick, which Pittsburgh used to take -- wait for it -- Antonio Brown. So, yes, things worked out just fine for the Steelers.

The Jets, meanwhile, are an unmitigated disaster. Head coach Rex Ryan named Holmes team captain in August, which might have been his most egregious coaching decision all year. (We don't say that lightly, though Ryan admitted at Monday's press conference that naming team captains was a mistake.) Everything came to a head Sunday in Miami, when Holmes was benched.

"Let's just say there were guys in the huddle that were unhappy with Tone's demeanor," veteran running back LaDainian Tomlinson said of Holmes after the game. "When you have a group that's fighting their butts off, and one guy, for whatever reason, their demeanor's not with them, you're going to get some guys to say something to him and tell them how they feel. That's what you got today."

Again: that's the Jets team captain. There's more (of course there is). On Monday, after Holmes refused to talk to the media, there were reports that he and Mark Sanchez "feuded" in a team meeting in the days leading up to the Dolphins game.

"He went back and forth with Mark at the meeting," the source told Gary Myers of the New York Daily News. "He was saying stuff like, "What am I even here for?" Then he blew off Mark by not even showing up the next day."

Another player called Holmes "a cancer" adding that "it's like dealing with a 10-year-old." And then, on Sunday, Holmes got into a shouting match with Sanchez in the huddle on two consecutive plays which prompted one player to tell him to "Go home, go to the sidelines."

As CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco pointed out Sunday, this is all Mike Tannebaum and Rex Ryan's doing. It's all fun and games until a grown man cries in an end-of-year team meeting. Then reality sets in. The Jets are a mess.

There is a bright spot to all this, however: Holmes' antics have temporarily taken the white-hot interrogation lamp off Sanchez.

Terence Newman - Cowboys

Head-coaching material? Jason Garrett thinks so.
The Ryan family had quite a day Sunday. Rex's Jets team self-destructed and Rob, the defensive coordinator in Dallas, did his part to make sure the Cowboys missed the playoffs. Cornerback Terence Newman wasn't the only issue against a Giants offense that moved the ball at will all night, but his performance was indicative of a larger problem facing this defense: it's not much of a defense at all.

Newman has probably played his last game in Dallas, something that almost happened during training camp. ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon recounts the weirdness:
It was quite a surreal scene: a giddy Jerry Jones handing defensive coordinator Rob Ryan his cellphone on the Alamodome sideline during practice, hoping Ryan could close the Cowboys' recruiting campaign on All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, a conversation that happened about 10 yards away from where Newman and the other defensive backs ran drills.
That worked out.

Now it's fair to ask if Ryan will be back, too. Like his brother, Rob is never at a loss for words. The difference: Rex has been to two AFC Championship games in the last three seasons. It's easier to tolerate the gum-flapping when the team is winning. Rob's claim to fame, as best we can tell, is that his dad is Buddy and that he once was a position coach under Bill Belichick.

Rob's career as a defensive coordinator includes stints with the Raiders (2004-2008), Browns (2009-2010) and Cowboys (2011). The results, according to Football Outsiders' metrics:

2004: 26th-ranked defense
2005: 20th
2006: 8th
2007: 22nd
2008: 19th
2009: 30th
2010: 17th
2011: 17th

Not the type of numbers that should lead to a lot of bluster. Yet Rob still talks. And he very well may have talked himself out of not only head-coaching opportunities in 2012, but maybe even another defensive coordinator's gig should the Cowboys decide to move on.

Steve Johnson - Bills

Oh, Stevie Johnson. You seem like such a well-meaning dude. It's just that you can't stay out of your own way. Johnson wasn't the reason the Bills blew a 21-point lead against the Patriots Sunday, but his inability to avoid silly end zone-celebration penalties defy common sense.

Johnson found his name on this list back in Week 12, when his Plaxico Burress "I just shot myself" interpretive touchdown dance was predictably flagged. It got worse: later in that game against the Jets, Johnson dropped what could've been the go-ahead touchdown. Here's what we wrote at the time: "Johnson's TD dance: hilarious. Getting a 15-yard penalty: not hilarious. Dropping a perfect pass from Fitzpatrick on the Bills' last drive, one that would've given the Bills the lead: unacceptable, especially if you're going to mock the opposition."

Gailey says he still wants Johnson back.
And here's what Johnson said at the time: "I was just having fun, and part of having fun ended up being a penalty and a touchdown for the Jets," he said. "It was a stupid decision by myself." Lesson learned, right? Uh, no. Johnson scored in the first quarter Sunday and pulled up his jersey to reveal the words "Happy New Year 2012!!!" scribbled on his t-shirt. About as benign a "celebration" we can think of but it's still a penalty.

On Sunday, Bills coach Chan Gailey benched Johnson for the rest of the game and Buffalo went on to lose, 49-21.

Here's Johnson afterwards:

"I didn’t know it was going to draw a penalty. At the end of the day, what I did was what I did, and I am going to try and bring in the New Year. Ultimately, it hurt my teammates and that is the thing that is hurting me the most. The fact is that it hurt my team.

"The coach told me I was out of the game. He said for the rest of the game and I have to respect his decision. He made it and that is what it is. I can’t complain about it or whine or pout. He made his decision and I am going with it. It really doesn’t matter why or how it happened at the end of the day, what I did hurt my teammates and I have to take that and I will."

Gailey pointed out that Johnson had relayed a message via t-shirt last year without incident, which makes the NFL rules on the matter unclear (shocking, we know).

"I am disappointed," Gaily said. "What happens is, it happened last year, he put a message on his shirt, showed his shirt and didn’t get a flag. And he does it this year, and he gets a flag. Which one is it, you know? It puts me in a bind because I make the statement and if I say it, I’m going to [punish players who hurt our team]. So, I could not argue the gray area of that. So, yeah, I’m disappointed and if it hurts the team, then I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do."

Defense - Raiders

Raiders head coach Hue Jackson is responsible for giving up a first- and second-round pick to land Carson Palmer and it blew up in his face. Yes, you can argue that the Raiders have Palmer going forward, but that wasn't a "looking to the future" transaction. The plan was for Oakland to make their playoff run now.

It didn't happen for any number of reasons, Palmer's play and an inconsistent defense among them. After Sunday's loss to the Chargers that eliminated the Raiders from the playoffs, Jackson told the media that he was "pissed at my team." (He should also be pissed at himself; now Oakland doesn't have a first-round pick in April.)

“I’m going to take a stronger hand in this whole team, in this whole organization,” Jackson said. “There ain’t no way that I’m going to feel like I feel today a year from now. I promise you that."

Duly noted, Hue. He wasn't done.

“There’s no question. Defensively, offensively and special teams. I ain’t feeling like this no more. This is a joke. To have a chance at home to beat a football team that is reeling after being beaten by Detroit, is one of your rivals, and come in and beat us like that . . . yeah, I’m going to take a hand in everything that goes on here.”

But it's the defense that appears to be the true focus of his ire.

"I think (defensive coordinator) Chuck (Bresnahan) knows how I feel,'' Jackson said while not commenting directly on Bresnahan's status for next season. "I'm disappointed over there. I have been. It's not like we haven't had conversations. Chuck knows what I feel, and it's not good enough.''

The Oakland Tribune's Jerry McDonald writes that the Raiders "ended the season allowing 433 points, the second most in franchise history, an average of 27.1 points per game. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers' three touchdown passes brought the total to 31 against the Raiders this season, the most in club history."

Too bad the Raiders can't address their defensive needs in the first round of the 2012 draft.

Tim Tebow - Broncos

Tebow makes back-to-back appearances in Coach Killers after taking an 11-week break while the Broncos went from 1-4 to 8-5. Last week we wrote "the big issue is if defenses have figured out how to stop Denver's option attack and whether the offense has an answer to it."

Yes, it appears so. Tebow was just 6 of 22 for 60 yards (0 TDs, 1 INT) but head coach John Fox says the passing woes don't fall solely on the quarterback. (No idea if Fox actually believes this.)

Has Tebow performed his last miracle?
"There's a lot of moving parts to the pass game," Fox told reporters Monday. "You've got protection, route, timing. You have to throw the ball sometimes to tight windows. We've had had our moments this season. We'll just continue to try to improve. It's not just the quarterback."

Fox continued: "He's trying to do the best he can to help us win. He had a little bit of a struggle yesterday throwing the ball. That happens sometimes. You have to give credit to the Kansas City Chiefs. They've got a pretty good defense. They made a pretty good Green Bay Packer offense have some struggles. We're onto next week and trying to get better."

And the Broncos will need to get better because they're facing one of the league's best defenses when the Steelers come to town.

Last week, Broncos executive vice president John Elway said that Tebow would be the team's quarterback in 2012.

"Tim Tebow's not going anywhere," Elway told the Associated Press. "I mean, he's going to be a Bronco and we're going to do everything we can and hopefully he's that guy."

That proclamation may have been written in pencil, however. On Monday, CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman had this: "While I'm sure Elway wasn't lying I'm told by several league and team officials that Elway continues to have significant concerns about whether or not Tebow can be a franchise quarterback despite Elway's public protestations to the contrary."

If the Broncos lose to the Steelers to drop their fourth game in a row we should expect those rumors to intensify.

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Posted on: December 27, 2011 11:45 am
 

Coach Killers, Week 16: Is Sanchez the answer?

Coach Killers is your weekly look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that put the guy in charge squarely on the ol' hot seat.

By Ryan Wilson

Mark Sanchez - Jets

Is Sanchez in NY's future? Rex says yes. (AP Photo)
With each passing game, Sanchez confirms what everybody already suspected (even if Rex Ryan won't admit it publicly): he's an average NFL quarterback. There are worse fates (he could be Tyler Palko or Caleb Hanie), but Sanchez's success is contingent on the formula the Jets had working during the 2009 and 2010 seasons: ground, pound and a stifling defense.

In 2011, the rushing attack and the vaunted defense has been inconsistent, New York has fallen behind, and Sanchez hasn't been able to get the Jets in the end zone late in games. The result: eight wins against seven losses -- the latest coming Saturday against the Giants -- and the very real possibility of missing the playoffs for the first time in Rex Ryan's tenure as head coach.

“They were definitely the better team this year,” Ryan said after the 29-14 loss to the Giants. “Clearly, I was wrong. I will take the responsibility. It is on my shoulders and it should be. That’s just the way it is.”

That's what Ryan has to say -- the buck stops with him, after all -- but he's not calling offensive plays. That falls to Brian Schottenheimer, who dialed up 59 (fifty-nine!) pass plays. Sanchez completed just 30 attempts (51 percent), threw one touchdown vs. two interceptions and was sacked five times. By the end of the day, he looked out of sorts and out of confidence.

It's so bad that we're again hearing murmurs that Sanchez may not be the longterm answer at quarterback for the Jets, sentiments that come up a half-dozen times each season. CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman writes Monday that Schottenheimer's job is probably less secure than Sanchez's at this point.

"The inevitable Sanchez microscopic exam started immediately after that Giants loss. The site Profootballtalk.com reported the Jets were having doubts about Sanchez. The New York Post loosely reported that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer might be coaching for his job this week. The latter, I’m told by someone I trust, is more likely the truth."

Wherever reality lies -- and Rex has both Mark and Brian's back-- the point remains: Sanchez has yet to prove that he's a capable NFL quarterback. He thrives as a complimentary piece within a system but he's not the guy you want trying to bring the team back from a late-game deficit. Maybe he'll evolve into that player someday, but through nearly three NFL seasons, he's more game manager than game winner.

Tim Tebow - Broncos

After seven wins in his first eight games as Denver's starting quarterback, Tebow has now dropped two in a row and the Broncos are 8-7. A Week 17 win gives them the division crown and a home playoff game, but that will likely be against the Steelers or Ravens.

For now, though, the big issue is if defenses have figured out how to stop Denver's option attack and whether the offense has an answer to it.

The Bills, with nothing to play for after having lost seven in a row, intercepted Tebow four times (returning two for touchdowns). And while Tebow's numbers are troubling (13 of 30 for 185 yards, 1 TD, 4 INTs and 3 sacks) he wasn't the same guy who was manhandled by the Lions back in Week 8. That Tebow looked confused all afternoon; this Tebow struggled with the Bills' scheme but wasn't overwhelmed to the point of paralysis. That scheme, by the way, wasn't some complicated Dick LeBeau zone blitz concoction. It was a stout four-man rush with seven men in coverage (including a quarterback spy). Tebow wasn't allowed to run for large chunks but was forced to stay in the pocket and win the game with his arm. Obviously, he couldn't do it.

Now the Broncos have a week to work out the kinks and hope everything's clicking should they make it into the postseason. Because if they don't … well, God help us because we're going to spend the spring and summer wondering who will be Denver's starting quarterback in 2012. And, really, nobody wants that.

Phillip Taylor - Browns

Taylor's gaffe was costly. (Getty Images)
Saturday's loss isn't entirely Phil Taylor's fault. The 2011 first-round pick wasn't solely responsible for the Ravens jumping out to a 17-0 lead. But it was his offsides penalty late in the fourth quarter with Cleveland trailing 20-14 that guaranteed the Browns would lose their fifth straight and remain winless in the AFC North this season.

After stuffing running back Ray Rice on third down, Baltimore faced a fourth-and-2 at the Browns' 37-yard line with just under two minutes to go in the game. The Ravens' options: attempting a 55-yard field goal, going for it on fourth down or punting. After a timeout, Baltimore's offense took the field, presumably to draw the Browns offside and keep the drive alive. Cleveland's defensive coaches warned players of as much … moments before Joe Flacco hard-counted and  coaxed Taylor into jumping early. First down Ravens, game over.

"It was the first hard count and we stayed onside. The second time, I just jumped," Taylor told The Associated Press. "Of course you feel bad but you just got to move on."

For the Browns, that means moving on to Week 17 where they will face the Steelers in a game Pittsburgh would like to win, even if it means doing so without starter Ben Roethlisberger, who was injured the first time these teams met in Week 14. (If the Ravens lose to the Bengals and Pittsburgh prevails in Cleveland, the Steelers would win the AFC North and get a first-round bye.)

Flacco, who has taken his share of criticism this season, was shocked Taylor fell for the hard count (it's the NFL equivalent of falling for the "pitcher fakes to third before throwing to first" routine in baseball).

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been in position for that to happen," Flacco said. "It’s never worked.”

There's a first time for everything, especially when you're facing the Browns.

Early Doucet - Cardinals

Poor Early Doucet. He was attacked by the seldom seen Paul Brown Stadium turf monster at the worst possible moment, and instead of hauling in possibly the easiest touchdown pass of his career, he was instead picking himself off the field as the ball skipped out of the end zone incomplete.

The specifics: facing 4th and 5 from the Bengals 17-yard line with 1:16 to go and trailing 23-16, Cardinals quarterback John Skelton threw to what appeared to be a wide open Doucet. Except he tripped and fell, as did Arizona's dwindling playoff hopes.


Turf monster avoids the pass interference call despite tripping Early Doucet.

It gets worse: the father of teammate Larry Fitzgerald called Doucet out, first on Twitter ("Doucet bombed this year he drops to many passes not a dependable No.2. Needs to work harder at his job. He dropped 5 TDs this year.") then to ESPN.com's Mike Sando.

“I just know that Larry invited him to come and work out with him this summer and some guys take initiative and do it, some guys don’t,” Larry Fitzgerald Sr. said. “But with the lockout, I thought he would have worked on it a little harder. That is me. People criticize me because they think I talk too much. That is just how I see it.”

On Monday, the Arizona Republic's Kent Somers wrote that "from previous conversations with Doucet and coaches, the Cardinals were happy with Doucet's off-season work. He was rehabbing from sports hernia surgery, and the Cardinals approved of his program. Receivers coach John McNulty complimented Doucet on reporting to training camp in shape."

Not to worry. Fitzgerald Sr. says he "wasn't picking on" Doucet. “I track when he drops the ball in critical situations. They use Larry the way they are going to use him, so they know others are going to be singled [in coverage]. The Ravens game, he dropped one on the goal line. I remember other games. Now that they’re out of the playoffs, I’m putting it out there.”

Can't wait to hear what Senior thinks about Kevin Kolb and/or John Skelton.

LeGarrette Blount - Buccaneers

Like Phil Taylor, it's unfair to point to Blount and say, "Yep, it's all his fault." But head coach Raheem Morris thought enough of Blount's performance to call him out after Tampa Bay's latest no-show performance, this time against the Panthers. On the Bucs' very first offensive play, Blount muffed the handoff from quarterback Josh Freeman. When an NFL team struggles with something as basic as a handoff it's probably time to hit the reset button. Which is exactly what will happen to Morris shortly after the season ends, and possibly to plenty of names currently on the roster, Blount included.

"To not get that play executed on the first play of the football game is unacceptable,'' Morris said according to the Tampa Tribune. "You're obviously not ready to play. I'm not ready to give up on him (Blount), but you can't let your team down that way.''

Blount was just as frank when asked about the play and the subsequent benching.

"It happens. Whenever you feel like something is not going your way, you've got to look somewhere else. If a back's been giving up the ball the whole season, you've got to find someone else to do the job. It was a miscommunication. We fumbled the ball.''

Meanwhile, veteran cornerback Ronde Barber, wholly unimpressed with the Bucs' defense, says that the same team that won 10 games last season is now full of players looking out for themselves. Such is the destiny for four-win clubs.

"That was an embarrassing performance, really, in the run game," Barber said after Tampa Bay allowed 270 yards rushing. "It's frustrating to watch because you know what the problems are. It looks like guys want to do their own thing. You've got to believe the guy next to you is going to do his job. … They didn't even need [Steve Smith] today. That just shows how far they've come and how far we've gotten away from what we used to be.''

(To be fair, the Panthers did have Cam, who has come so far, so fast, he's already ascended to one-word-name status). Which is why when we see the Bucs in 2012 they'll look nothing like the team that limped to the finish in 2011.

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Posted on: December 20, 2011 10:58 am
 

Coach Killers, Week 15: Max meets Aldon

Coach Killers is your weekly look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that put the guy in charge squarely on the ol' hot seat.

By Ryan Wilson

Max Starks - Steelers

To be fair to Max, the Steelers cut him during the summer, something about him being out of shape. And then, a month into the season, after it was abundantly clear that Jonathan Scott wasn't a capable NFL starting left tackle, Pittsburgh re-signed Starks, promptly inserted him into the lineup, and the offensive line immediately improved.

And given how well the Steelers had been playing in the two and a half months since Starks returned to the team, it's hard to quibble with one performance. But hey, that's what we do here.

Rookie Aldon Smith, a situational pass rusher at this stage of his career, treated Starks like a 350-pound rag doll Monday night. Any shortcomings along the offensive line are usually mitigated by Ben Roethlisberger's mobility in the pocket, but the Steelers quarterback was playing on bum ankle that so hobble him that we're pretty sure Tommy Maddox could've beat him in a foot race.


Aldon Smith puts on a clinic as he takes down Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger on 2.5 sacks Monday night, setting the 49ers' rookie record at 13 with two games left in the season.

Starks held his own in the first half, primarily because the close score meant that Pittsburgh's rushing attack was still part of the game plan. But after the 49ers went up 13-3 in the second half it was, as they say, on like Donkey Kong. To paraphrase Jon Gruden on Monday Night Football, if the game had gone on much longer, Smith would've earned a trip to Canton on that singular performance. (The only thing missing: the wind spring sack dance.)

A healthy Big Ben and a soft schedule over the final two weeks (Rams, at Browns) should mean more consistent play throughout the offense. Also not hurting: getting Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey back. He missed the 49ers game with a high-ankle sprain of his own.

Cary Williams, Jimmy Smith - Ravens

Heading into the season, the Ravens secondary -- particularly cornerback -- was thought to be a liability. Former practice-squad player Cary Williams has started 14 games this season and for the most part he's been solid. Against the Chargers, he spent the evening chasing after whichever target Philip Rivers just found wide open streaking across the field.

And you could argue Jimmy Smith's night was worse. Chargers head coach Norv Turner identified the rookie first-round pick as a target and Norv was true to his word. Rivers ended the night completing 74 percent of his throws for 270 yards and a touchdown. More than that: he wasn't touched all game. That's right, the team with more offensive line issues than the Steelers, and who were working on their third left tackle of the season, kept Rivers clean against one of the NFL's most ferocious pass rushes.

Put differently: Baltimore's shortcomings don't all fall to Williams and Smith. The front seven didn't do their job and if we really want to point fingers, Joe Flacco played like, well, crap. The lesson: don't take Tim Tebow's name in vain. Nothing good will come of it.

Stanford Routt, Rolando McClain, Raiders

Obviously, this honor should go to head coach Hue Jackson for his inexplicable decision to not triple and quadruple-team Calvin Johnson during the last drive of Sunday's game, one that proved to be the difference. (But this is 'Coach Killers.' Presumably, Jackson's into self-preservation even if his coaching decisions scream otherwise.) Instead, Jackson blamed execution not play-calling for Johnson getting open, even though one play call had linebacker Rolando McClain responsible for covering Johnson 40 yards down the field.

“Yeah, that’s called the Tampa-2," Jackson said. "That’s what the middle linebacker does — he runs right down the middle of the field. They made the play and we didn’t.”

We don't know much about football strategizing, but that seems like a recipe for losing.

Oakland likes to play a lot of man-to-man and cornerback Stanford Routt was burdened with covering Johnson for most of the game. He had a costly pass interference penalty that gave Detroit the ball at the Raiders six-yard line with 48 seconds to go. Wondering how that ended? Yep, a Matthew Stafford-to-Calvin Johnson touchdown pass in the back of the end zone. The goal post was the closet object in coverage on the play.


See how Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson led the Lions on a seven-play, 98-yard drive to defeat the Raiders in Oakland.

“It isn’t a scheme issue. The ball’s laying up in the air. You gotta go make that play. Their guy made it and we didn’t. So they won the game." Jackson said, according to CBSSports.com Rapid Reporter Eric Gilmore.

Well, it is a scheme issue when the scheme doesn't have anyone in Johnson's vicinity.

Santonio Holmes - Jets

You have to wonder what goes through a player's mind when he makes the conscious decision to do something stupid. The Bills' Stevie Johnson had to know that as soon as he went to the ground during his "I shot myself in the leg" homage to Plaxico Burress touchdown dance in Week 12 that he was going to get a 15-yard excessive celebration penalty.

On Sunday, with the Jets trailing 28-9, Holmes finally held onto the ball long enough to get into the end zone (he already had a fumble and caused an interception by misplaying a Mark Sanchez pass).

Hand the ball to the official, head to the sidelines and try to figure out how get back in this game.

That should've been the thought that ran through Holmes' mind. Nope. Instead, he put the ball on the ground, stepped on it, and pretended to fly. Like an eagle. Um, yeah, using the ball as a prop? That's a 15-yard penalty.


Good news: Holmes scores. Bad news: he gets a stupid celebration penalty.

In the scheme of things it didn't matter; the Eagles blew the doors off the Jets and 15 yards here or there wasn't going to be the difference. But the penalty is symptomatic of something larger: Rex Ryan's inability to control his locker room. Holmes is a six-year veteran and a team captain. He's also one of New York's best players. But there's a chance he will be one of New York's best players sitting on the couch in January.

Ryan, for his part, nailed the role of the enabling parent.

“He apologized for that to me but I’ll say this about Santonio and every other player on this team: They have my 100 percent support and we’re in this thing together. … Are we perfect? No. None of us are perfect, but I'm just saying that you wish that thing never happened," Ryan said. "I don't think it will happen again, but again, I have his back, he has mine and this whole team is that way. We just have to come out and fight for each other, we know it was a mistake and we'll learn from it."

In two weeks, the Jets might have plenty of time to replay all the mistakes from the past season.

Marc Mariani - Titans

We were all set to blame Chris Johnson for the Titans' loss to the Colts, but pointing the finger at one of the league's worst running backs has become unoriginal 15 weeks into the season. And while Mariani had very little to do with Tennessee getting steamrolled by an 0-13 team, this play perfectly embodies the Titans' Sunday afternoon experience at Lucas Oil Stadium.

With the Colts leading 17-6, Mariani, Tennessee's return man, misplayed a kickoff in the end zone. No big deal -- it happens all the time … except that Mariani accidentally drop-kicked the ball out of bounds at about the six-inch line.

“I botched my responsibility,” Mariani said. “Their kicker (Pat McAfee) line-drived that one and I was trying to make a play, but it was all over the place and took an unbelievable bounce.”

The miscue proved to be harmless; the Titans gained a few first downs before eventually punting.

As for the real culprits Sunday, take your pick: Johnson (15 rushes, 55 yards); Matt Hasselbeck (a pick-six -- including the first interception by a Colts cornerback all season -- and another pick in the Colts end zone); Jared Cook (huge fumble in Indy territory); and the entire Titans defense for getting Donald Brown'd in the fourth quarter with Indy leading just 20-13. And perhaps more embarrassingly, giving Dan Orlovsky his first career victory. (Orolovsky had been 0-7 with the 2008 Lions and 0-2 with the Colts in 2011.)


Tennessee goes tackling-optional on Brown's 80-yard TD run.

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Posted on: December 13, 2011 10:01 am
Edited on: December 13, 2011 12:47 pm
 

Coach Killers, Week 14: DeAngelo Hall is a statue

Coach Killers is your weekly look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that put the guy in charge squarely on the ol' hot seat.

By Ryan Wilson

DeAngelo Hall, Redskins

Back in Week 11, DeAngelo Hall suggested that the Redskins should cut him for his performance against the Cowboys. They didn't, but it sure seemed like he wasn't on the field for long stretches Sunday when Washington faced New England. And the few times he did make his presence known, it just made things worse.

The lowlight (in a day filled with them) came in the first quarter when Hall stood by (literally, he was standing two feet away and didn't move; it was as if he was trying to will himself invisible) as two teammates tried unsuccessfully to bring down Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (it was scene straight out of Gulliver's Travels). So instead of a 12-yard gain, Gronkowski rumbled for an extra 35 yards before Hall thought it wise to try to keep Gronkowski out of the end zone.

You can see the frame-by-frame hijinks here (or watch the moving-pictures proof below).


Want to see DeAngelo Hall pretend to be a statue? Then watch the video. It looks a lot like the freeze-frame above except that everybody else is moving. 

"DeAngelo Hall was guilty of poor effort, poor judgment and poor leadership," the Washington Post's Mike Jones wrote Monday. "[On the Gronkowski play] Hall said he thought the tight end was headed out of bounds, and maybe he didn’t want to get a penalty, but even a shove — not a head of steam blast -- could’ve helped. Instead, Hall turned and walked away."

It gets better. In the third quarter, Hall was flagged for holding, he disagreed, and thought it made sense to chuck the penalty flag up the field. He was flagged an additional 15 yards for being a d-bag. In one play, Hall had cost his team 20 yards of field position (and 35 more yards on the Gronkowski mishap). DeAngelo Hall: Your Washington Redskins team captain, everybody!

Ryan Succop, Chiefs

Kansas City isn't 5-8 because of kicker Ryan Succop. And Todd Haley wasn't kindly asked to leave Monday because of Ryan Succop. But what we're about to show you from Sunday's Chiefs-Jets game serves as a metaphor for Kansas City's season, which makes you want to laugh, cry and punch yourself in the face all at once.


Chiefs' kicker Ryan Succop failed in his onside kick attempt in the fourth quarter against the Jets. Was this the worst onside kick attempt ever? (Editor's note: unequivocally, YES.)

So that happened. To Succop's credit, he's the team's most consistent scoring threat this season, converting 18 of 21 field goal attempts, including 3 for 3 from beyond 49 yards. It's just that he struggles with distance control, particularly from 0-10 yards.

Silver lining: it's no longer your problem, Todd Haley!

Olindo Mare, Panthers

When Mare honked a 31-yard game-winning field goal in October, we gave him a pass because Cam Newton told us to.

“Whoever thinks this game came down the last possession is a fool,” Newton said at the time. “Offensively and defensively we had opportunities and we just didn’t finish it off.”

Week 14 Recap
Fair enough, and certainly wise words from the franchise's rookie quarterback. First-year head coach Ron Rivera also tried to be positive after Mare yipped the chip shot.

“The only thing I did for Olindo was I went and told him to keep his head up,” Rivera said. “He’s a heck of a football player and he’s going to get a chance to win football games for us and I believe that. We brought him in for a reason because we believe he can be our guy for the next few years.”

Yeah, about that…

The Panthers trailed the Falcons 24-23 with five minutes to go and the only thing between them and the lead was a 36-yard field goal. Again, a chip shot. Except that again, Mare somehow missed it.

"I haven't seen it. I don't need to see it. It didn't go in," Mare said, standing in front of his locker 45 minutes after the game. "Regardless of how good I think I hit it or how windy it was or whatever ... I've made kicks in windier conditions. I have no excuses. The only excuse is I just didn't do my job."

Rivera, presumably uninterested in pep talks, instead said "we will have to sit down and visit with him on [the miss]."

Worth pointing out: the Panthers led 23-7 before letting the Falcons back in the game. If Newton's “Whoever thinks this game came down the last possession is a fool" speech was ever relevant it was Sunday. It doesn't change Mare's failures, but it could be worse: he could be Ryan Succop (though Succop will probably have a job next week).

The Panthers signed Mare to a four-year $12-million deal before the season. Just a hunch: Mare isn't around for the life of the contract.

Carson Palmer, Raiders

Maybe Palmer wishes he stayed on the couch.
After Sunday's 1 o'clock games, we had Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky penciled in here. His rough outing against the Ravens wasn't unexpected (in fact, he thought he'd play worse), but the loss dropped Indy to 0-13, and Orlovsky, who started seven games for the Lions in 2008, ran his career record to 0-9. (Detroit, you may recall, went 0-16.)

But Carson Palmer's performance against the Packers guaranteed him a spot in this week's Killers. Green Bay's defense forced Palmer into four interceptions, including one on the opening drive and another in the Packers' end zone. This is the same Green Bay defense, by the way, that ranks 24th in the league, according to Football Outsiders, and headed into Week 14 having allowed more total yards than that hapless bunch in New England.

Palmer, who the Raiders acquired after sending a couple high-round picks to the Bengals earlier this season, has been a disappointment. In seven games (six starts), he has nine touchdowns, 13 interceptions and Oakland is 3-4.

Sunday's loss not only put them a game behind the Broncos in the AFC West, it dropped them to ninth in the wild-card hunt (behind the Titans and Bengals).

"I just need to be more patient, take what they give me and try not to score 14 points on one drive," Palmer said after the game, according to the Oakland Tribune. "Take it one play at a time, take the shot if it's there, and if not, live for the next down, and I didn't do that."

No, no you didn't. Raiders head coach Hue Jackson, the man who orchestrated the Palmer trade, obviously has a lot riding on this.

"I'm disappointed in the four picks, and I told him so," Jackson said. "I think you have somebody who's pressing, trying to make plays for a football team. There were times we made some ill-advised throws and we've got to do a better job of taking care of the ball, and he knows that."

The Raiders are long shots to make the playoffs. They face Detroit, Kansas City and San Diego and there's no telling which team shows up. They're just as likely to go 3-0 as 0-3.

Marion Barber, Bears

The Power of Tebow compelled Barber to fumble.
Poor Marion Barber. He seems like a hard worker and a solid dude but he was in the wrong place at the wrong time -- twice -- Sunday against the Broncos.

We watched in horror as Barber ran out of bounds with 1:55 left in the fourth quarter and the Bears leading 10-7. Denver was out of timeouts; if Barber goes down in the field of play, the clock continues to run, Chicago runs the ball again on third down, and by the time the Broncos get the ball back, they'd have about 25 seconds to get into field-goal range.

Didn't happen.

(Aside: In the 1986 World Cup, Argentina's Diego Maradona scored a goal against England on an obvious hand ball -- well, it was obvious to everyone but the officials. It became known as "The Hand of God" goal. Different circumstances Sunday, but we're pretty sure The Hand of God played a part in the outcome.)

Barber is a seven-year veteran who knows that you have to stay inbounds. And yet he didn't. Our theory: The Hand of God pushed him out of bounds. And it was the Hand of God that knocked the ball out of Barber's arms in overtime, just as it looked like he was about to break off a big run -- maybe even a touchdown -- and end the Broncos' six-game winning streak.

It sounds ridiculous, we know. But there is no rational explanation for what happened Sunday. Or for the five Sundays before that. But that's the Power of Tebow.

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Posted on: December 6, 2011 11:55 am
Edited on: December 6, 2011 12:20 pm
 

Coach Killers, Week 13: Dumb penalties are dumb

Coach Killers is your weekly look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that put the guy in charge squarely on the ol' hot seat.

By Ryan Wilson

Caleb Hanie, Bears

This makes two weeks in a row that Caleb Hanie, who has two career starts, has appeared in Coach Killers. Of course, no one expected him to even be in this position; after a slow start, the Bears and Jay Cutler had found their groove only to have Cutler suffer an injury to this throwing hand against the bad-luck Chargers in Week 12. Now Chicago's playoff hopes lie with Hanie, who turned out to be the worst quarterback on a field Sunday that also included Tyler Palko and Kyle Orton.

By the time it was over, Hanie was 11 of 24 for 133 yards with three interceptions. In two games against, he has six picks. Exacerbating things: Matt Forte suffered a knee injury and he could be out 2-4 weeks. If it's any consolation (and we suspect it isn't), wide receiver Roy Williams takes responsibility for one of the interceptions since, you know, he gift-wrapped it for the Chiefs defender … in Kansas City's end zone.

"It was my fault. I’ve got to make those plays," Williams said. "Did that lose the game? Nope. There were a lot of things that happened before that that [could have made a difference]. But in my mind, yes, it [did]. In the fans’ mind, yes, it [did]."

Week 13 Recap
Well, it didn't help, that's for sure. The Chiefs won 10-3, the only score coming on and end-of-half modified "Hail Mary" touchdown pass from Palko. (We're calling it "modified" because the ball only traveled 38 yards as measured from line of scrimmage to goal line. For any other NFL quarterback, that's a flick of the wrist. For Palko, it was a throw that required everything he had. Whatever you call it, it counted, and that was the difference.)

Despite Hanie's second uninspiring performance, head coach Lovie Smith doesn't plan to change things going forward.

“That’s our group,” Smith said, referring to Hanie, rookie Nate Enderle and veteran Josh McCown. “We’re going to make improvements with our group, like all positions. We’re not looking on the outside. We’re not having a quarterback tryout or anything like that. These are our guys and they’re all going to get better.”

There was some speculation that Donovan McNabb, released by the Vikings last week, might be an option but as Devin Hester pointed out Monday on ESPN Radio, "That would be a waste of time." Not so much because McNabb has nothing left (which is probably true), but because he wouldn't have time to learn Mike Martz's offense.

And things don't get easier for Chicago: they face Denver this week. A month ago, everybodyhad the Bears and Cutler wiping the floor with the Broncos, the team that sent him to Chicago in 2009. Now, with Tebowmania on track to be a national holiday, the Bears will have the worst quarterback on the field for the third game in a row.

Nate Burleson, Lions

Here's the good news for Detroit: unlike the Bears, their NFC North rivals, the Lions are able to move the ball on offense. And while they may not have beaten the Saints in New Orleans Sunday night, the game should've been a lot closer. Which leads to the bad news: the Lions have all the self control of a fat kid locked in candy store. Except instead of stuffing their faces with caramels, they're incapable of not committing personal foul penalties after the whistle.

Nate Burleson, it turns out, didn't have such problems, but he did have three (THREE!) offensive pass interference calls against the Saints, all big plays that cost the Lions field position. And even though he wasn't penalized 15 yards for slapping an opponent in front of an official or inadvertently hitting an official while trying to get at an opponent, his was a mental mistake too.

By the time it was over, Detroit had committed 22 penalties (to New Orleans' six) despite outgaining the Saints in total yards, 466 to 438. The silver lining: mental mistakes are easier to correct than physical mistakes. In theory this makes sense, right? "Hey, don't slap a player on the other team right in front of the ref" or "For the love of all that's holy, do not push off when coming out of your break, Burleson" seem straightforward pretty easy to fix.

Then again, the Lions were without their best defensive player, Ndamukong Suh, because he was serving a two-game suspension after stomping on a Packers player after the whistle.

We mentioned it on the Pick-6 Podcast, but head coach Jim Schwartz has to fix this. We're guessing he's had similar conversations with his players in recent weeks but to rack up personal-foul penalties like they did against the Saints is a sign that they didn't hear him.

But in terms of the postseason implications, it could be worse. See the Bears, for example. They'd love to have their franchise quarterback and a franchise wide receiver if that meant only fixing the dumb penalties. As it stands, they're stuck with Caleb Hanie. Of course, maybe we're giving Detroit too much credit. Why should we think that now, after three-quarters of the season, they'd suddenly stop making back-breaking mental mistakes?

Dunta Robinson, Julio Jones, Falcons

Without a doubt, the Philadelphia Eagles are the NFL's most disappointing team this season. The Chargers are second. After that, though, it's a wide open race. Depending on the week, it could be the Giants or the Titans or maybe even the Rams. We're going with the Falcons. At 7-5, they're right in the mix for a wild card spot. And Football Outsiders says their relatively consistent from one week to the next, but that's sort of the problem. If you're consistently mediocre you're still mediocre.

They were probably expecting something more than that after giving up a ton to get Julio Jones during the draft. Their latest loss came against the Texans, down to their third-string quarterback, T.J. Yates. And while Houston's offense is built to lean heavily on the run, the Falcons had their chances. Two series in particular stick out.

On the second play of the fourth quarter with the game tied 10-10, Yates threw a pick-six to linebacker Mike Peterson. Huge play … except that Dunta Robinson -- on the other side of the field away from the play -- was flagged for defensive holding. It was the right call and it cost the Falcons six points. (Linebacker Sean Witherspoon was called for defensive holding, as well. Apparently, it's contagious.)

Then, with a minute to go in the game and Atlanta trailing 17-10, quarterback Matt Ryan needed to lead a touchdown drive. After a 17-yard completion to Harry Douglas Ryan wanted to spike the ball to stop the clock. Except he had to wait while Julio Jones made his way back to the line of scrimmage. Jones was a good 40 yards downfield with Douglas was tackled but instead of, you know, hustling back to line up for the spike, he looked confused about what was going on.

Two plays later, Jones was penalized for an illegal touch pass, and then on the final play of the game, he dropped what would've been the game-tying touchdown. It wasn't an easy catch, but you don't trade away your draft to acquire a guy who only makes the easy grabs.

Richard Seymour, Raiders

This really isn't about Seymour, who was ejected for the second consecutive season after throwing a punch at a player. It's about the entire team on both sides of the ball getting thoroughly outclassed by a Dolphins outfit that began the season 0-7. Oakland's defense couldn't stop Reggie Bush (!) and the offense didn't get on the board until the fourth quarter after trailing 34-0.

And now the Raiders, 7-5, not only drop out of the lead in the AFC West (they got Tebow-ed), but they're also behind the Titans for the final wild-card spot.



Head coach Hue Jackson didn't make excuses after the loss and that includes the play of his de facto franchise quarterback Carson Palmer, who finished the game 20 of 41 for 273 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT.

"He's our quarterback and today we lost," Jackson said. "He didn't produce a win for our football team. We didn't play well. I'm not going to say it's because he's fatigued or anything. This is the National Football League. When they say 'set hut' you gotta play."

This never would've happened if the Raiders drafted Tebow. (That's a joke.)

The Raiders' schedule over the final month of the season doesn't help, either: at Green Bay, Detroit, at Kansas City, San Diego. Meanwhile, the Broncos have Chicago, New England, at Buffalo, Kansas City.

That Dolphins loss could prove to be huge.

Dan Bailey, Cowboys

This is "Coach Killers." Presumably, Princeton trained head coach Jason Garrett wasn't trying to get himself fired in Dallas. But as has been well documented the last 36 hours, Garrett did manage to ice his own kicker by calling a timeout milliseconds before Bailey split the uprights with what would've been the game-winning field goal.

Instead, Garrett burned a timeout, mumbled something about the kicking team "still settling in," and then watched helplessly as Bailey honked his second attempt.

By the way, you know you messed up when the opposing coach, without cracking a smile, says after the game, "I was glad they iced their kicker so I didn't have to."

We brought it up on the podcast and Grantland.com's Bill Barnwell wrote about it Monday: research suggests that icing the kicker doesn't work. But that research didn't account for the coach of the kicking team calling the timeout because, well, why would anybody do that?

Barnwell continues: "So if Garrett deserves a pass for his timeout, why should we be excoriating him? Well, because of what Garrett did before the timeout. On Dallas' final offensive play, Tony Romo hit Dez Bryant over the middle for a 15-yard gain to pick up an essential first down on third-and-11. When Bryant hit the ground, the Cowboys still had 23 seconds left on the clock and two timeouts to work with. The ball was on the Arizona 31-yard line, which is within makeable range, but far from a chip shot; the average kicker will boot that through less than 65 percent of the time."

Which was the point CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco made. "What I can't understand is not trying to get more yards with two timeouts to make the kick easier. Last time I checked, a 49-yard field goal isn't a chip shot."

As CBSSports.com's Will Brinson pointed out Sunday night, that's something you'd expect from Wade Phillips, not Jason Garrett. And yet here we are.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com