New Head Coaches: Time to Judge who’ll Rhule

By Sean Tyler (@SeanTylerUK)

After disappointing campaigns, three NFC East teams – the Redskins, Cowboys and Giants –as well as the Panthers and Browns decided it was time for a new Head Coach. A fortnight after the regular season finished, four of the five had filled their hot seats, and the Browns have since found their man too. Now that the game of musical chairs has stopped, let’s take a look at who’s landed where and how they might fare.


WASHINGTON REDSKINS


Fired: Jay Gruden
Hired: 
Ron Rivera 

The switch: Washington got a two-month head-start on the rest, setting the HC conveyor belt in motion in October. After going 0-5, they decided enough was enough and fired Jay Gruden, who made the postseason just once in his five years in the capital.

A day after they closed out their 3-13 season with a 47-16 humbling by divisional rivals Dallas, long-time team president Bruce Allen was given the order of the boot, not long after he’d told the world the team’s culture was “damn good” (no laughing at the back, please). They swiftly followed that by agreeing to make Ron Rivera, let go by the Carolina Panthers, their new HC.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The pros: Rivera is experienced, respected and no stranger to success, having led the Panthers to three consecutive NFC South titles from 2013. His hot streak culminated in a 15-1 regular season in 2015 and an appearance at Super Bowl L against the Denver Broncos. Having evolved from ultra-cautious to more progressive and forward-thinking, ‘Riverboat Ron’ could be the man to ensure Dwayne Haskins delivers on his early promise. The ‘Skins also need to sharpen up on the defensive side, but Rivera has form here too: he had five top-10 defences in Carolina. Bringing in former Raiders coach Jack Del Rio as his defensive coordinator can only help.

The cons: While his overall record stands up to scrutiny, it’s been tough going of late. Rivera’s last two seasons in Charlotte were both injury-affected and both went south after promising starts. Without Cam Newton, last year’s 5-11 saw them prop up the NFC South and the year before, they also finished with a losing record (7-9). That said, everyone to a man was complementary when he left.

The outlook: A fresh start was just what the doctor ordered and for Rivera’s sake, let’s hope the toxic Washington set-up is history. With the power to bring the crowds back to FedEx Field and reset the culture within the building, he’s already having a positive effect. Apparently, left tackle Trent Williams – who sat out last year because he lost trust in the medical staff and then the front office – has vowed to return to the fold because of the new HC and the organisational restructure.

The verdict: The pick of the bunch. He’ll have his hands full but with Allen out of the picture, there’s a distinct chance ‘Riverboat Ron’ will turn this ship around and steer the Redskins towards calmer waters.


DALLAS COWBOYS


Fired: Jason Garrett
Hired: 
Mike McCarthy

The switch: The Cowboys were the second team to make their move, eventually parting ways with Jason Garrett after nearly 10 years at the helm and an exit process that seemed to take just as long. Jerry Jones made it clear he wasn’t going to spend time bringing a college coach up to speed so they interviewed two experienced NFL guys: former Packers coach Mike McCarthy and long-time Bengals HC Marvin Lewis. Once Garrett was finally out the door, Dallas took less than 24 hours to announce McCarthy. 

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The pros: Of our five coaches, McCarthy has the best pedigree, having led the Packers to nine playoff appearances, six NFC North division titles and a Super Bowl win (ironically at Dallas’ AT&T Stadium) in his 13 seasons. Although his relationship with quarterback Aaron Rodgers deteriorated, it was effective for much of his tenure so McCarthy should be able to strike up a good rapport with Dak Prescott.

The cons: McCarthy was fired midway through Green Bay’s 2018 season and he didn’t work during 2019 so will having a year out of the game hinder him? He has allegedly spent the time studying the latest NFL trends but equally, he might have lost some momentum.

The outlook: McCarthy has also been developing a new playbook, which will hopefully compensate for Dallas’ failures over the last decade. McCarthy needs to hit the ground running and start securing the late-postseason appearances Garrett should’ve achieved with the talent at his disposal. His credibility and reputation are high, but so are the expectations on him to bring success pretty much straight away.

The verdict: The one with everything to prove. McCarthy is a fine choice but the control he might want or expect isn’t up for grabs. In Dallas, Jerry is King: he calls the shots and makes (and breaks) the rules. Where the lines are drawn will decide whether McCarthy leads Dallas back to the heights of old or if he’s just the next guy to be stifled by the Jones dynasty.

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CAROLINA PANTHERS


Fired: Ron Rivera
Hired: 
Matt Rhule

The switch: In early December, when the wheels were falling off another Panthers’ season, Ron Rivera was released. Owner David Tepper announced that he would be targeting an offensive-minded replacement, and did exactly that in hiring Baylor coach Matt Rhule. As it happens, Rhule was supposed to meet with the Giants (where he spent a year as an assistant O-line coach) after his trip to Carolina but never made it, having been made an offer he couldn’t refuse and the Giants couldn’t match. (For the record, I wouldn’t turn down $60 million over seven years, if anyone’s offering…)

Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The pros: The size of his contract suggests Carolina are all in on their new man. Rhule is a leader and has a knack for turning struggling teams around in double-quick time. He took Baylor from 1-11 in 2017 to 11-3 just two years later and, before that, transformed Temple from a 2-11 outfit to a conference-winning one.

The cons: It’s important to remember that Rhule has no league experience at HC (a red flag to some). He will need to make the not-insignificant leap from college to the big league if he is to bring the franchise some stability and, eventually, success.

The outlook: Rhule won’t need to repeat the complete turnabouts he managed in his college programmes. He’ll have assets to work with – not least a solid defence and one of the league’s top stars in running back Christian McCaffrey – but there is also work to do, with linebacker Luke Kuechly retiring and tight end Greg Olsen joining the Seahawks. It will also be interesting to see whether he plumps for Cam Newton, Kyle Allen or someone else as his long-term QB. In the draft, he might grab a couple of guys with potential and the right character traits, and take the time to nurture them.

The verdict: The slow-burner. If Rhule can get on top of things in the pro world, the Panthers could be back in the mix again. However, I suspect, as we saw with some of last year’s rookie coaches, we shouldn’t expect results overnight. It took him a couple of years to get to grips with Temple and Baylor, and he’s been afforded ample time to set things up the right way so peg him for a successful rebuild from 2021 and beyond.


NEW YORK GIANTS


Fired: Pat Shurmur
Hired: 
Joe Judge

The switch: Despite a strong finish by Saquon Barkley and a decent showing by young QB Daniel Jones, the Giants had a disappointing 2019 under Pat Shurmur. They could ill-afford to let another season slip by with such talent in their ranks so, after Shurmur’s two underwhelming seasons ended with a 9-23 record, the Giants were next to step up to the plate (to mix my sporting metaphors).

Just minutes after the Panthers announced Rhule, the Giants revealed Joe Judge as their man. Interestingly, New York ran the rule over Rhule too, and were given the opportunity to match Carolina’s massive offer. The Giants declined.

Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

The pros: Judge was a special teams assistant for Nick Saban at Alabama for three seasons and then spent eight years with the Patriots as special teams and wide receivers coach. He won three Super Bowls in New England and has been plucked right off the Bill Belichick coaching tree. Being a special teams guy, he’s used to having close contact with most players on the roster, which will stand him in good stead.

The cons: Compared to the likes of Rivera and McCarthy, Judge is a relative unknown. He also hasn’t held a head coaching role at any level, which to some might make him the weakest candidate on paper.

The outlook: Judge may be a rookie but the 38-year-old is a good communicator, has high standards and a blue-collar work ethic. Judge’s initial press conference suggested that New York have a good fit. He told the media to expect an intense, aggressive, old-school team that will reflect the community in which they play.

The verdict: The left-field choice. I don’t want to judge too early but he comes across as hard-nosed and disciplined. He can certainly talk the talk, so let’s see if he can walk the walk.


CLEVELAND BROWNS


Fired: Freddie Kitchens
Hired: 
Kevin Stefanski

The switch: Armed with Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb and Myles Garrett to name but a few, the Browns were many people’s top tip for a playoff run or even a Super Bowl appearance in 2019. Even Sports Illustrated ran with “Bold prediction! Cleveland’s first division title in 30 years” on one cover. As it turned out, The Ill-Advised Freddie Kitchens Experiment was abandoned after a year, with a disappointing 6-10 season ending with a three-game losing streak. As they say, “If you can’t stand the heat, get Kitchens out” (or something) so they did, with GM John Dorsey also sent packing.

Cleveland interviewed a host of candidates – Patriots OC Josh McDaniels, Ravens OC Greg Roman, Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy, 49ers DC Robert Saleh, Eagles DC Jim Schwartz, Uncle Tom Cobley and all – but in the end, they plumped for Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski.

Jason Miller/Getty Images

The pros: Part of the furniture in Minneapolis since 2006, Stefanski is a schemer, an analytical thinker and someone who can maximise offensive talent. The Vikes had a 10-6 season and a Wild Card win over the Saints, and their attack was largely effective under Kirk Cousins.

The cons: Initial reactions to the hire were mixed at best, not least because he wasn’t McDaniels – seemingly the fans’ preferred choice – and because of Minnesota’s poor offensive performance in their playoff loss to the 49ers. He’s untested as an HC, and was second choice when Kitchens was ultimately hired 12 months ago, which makes him feel like a consolation prize.

The outlook: Only time will tell whether this was the right move, but Cleveland seriously need an experienced, attack-minded guy to take their offence by the scruff of the neck and sort it out. But hiring an unproven Head Coach won’t give the long-suffering fans in Cleveland much confidence that they’ve got one right for a change.

The verdict: The jury’s out. How many times have the Browns been primed to turn things around at last, only to fail? They haven’t kept an HC for more than four seasons over the last 20 years. Stefanski may succeed where others before him have fallen by the wayside but he isn’t a safe bet. It’s a coin-flip for me but at least he shouldn’t be any worse than Freddie…

Season in Review – Cleveland Browns

By Shaun Blundell (@Shaun_F10Y)

Next stop in our whistlestop tour of the NFL 2019 season, today we head to the AFC North and breakdown the laughing stock of the NFL over the last few years, the Cleveland Browns.


entering the season

Has there ever been more hype around a team as there was regarding the Browns this past off season?

Buoyed by an encouraging end to the 2018/2019 campaign and the acquisition of a certain Odell Beckham Jr, big things were expected of Baker Mayfield in his second season behind center.

The trenches on both sides of the ball were a concern going in but the volume of quality skill players meant a first winning season of the decade was the absolute minimum expectation with playoff football being the realistic aim.


During the season

It unfortunately unravelled pretty quickly. The Titans trounced the Browns in week 1 at home was a sign of things to come.

Despite evening up their record at 2-2 with a huge road win against the Ravens no less, the inconsistencies on the team were obvious. Cue a 4 game losing streak and all of a sudden the Browns were in a hole.

Playoff hopes were reignited after wins over the Bills and Steelers but that November 14th game effectively ended the Browns season.

Myles Garrett was suspended for the rest of the 2019 season, at least, in response to the fight he participated in on Thursday.
Image Credit – Ron Schwane / AP

With the game wrapped up a mass brawl ensued on a meaningless garbage time play. It ended with Myles Garrett, who had been the Browns stand out defender on the year, swinging his helmet at Mason Rudolph. An indefinite suspension followed and with it, any realistic hopes that the browns retained of the playoffs vanished.

Further inconsistent play, riddled with baffling coaching decisions and play calling mean the Browns finish the decade as the only NFL team without a winning record. 


offseason outlook

It feels like it is said every off season, but make no mistake this is a huge one for the browns. A coaching change already in the books with Vikings OC Kevin Stefanski replacing Freddy Kitchens. Not quite the veteran presence to control the locker room and stamp out the indiscipline that is required but we’ll wait and see.

They still have unquestionable young talent throughout the roster in the likes of Nick Chubb (NFL rushing leader), Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward and assuming no trades, they will bring back OBJ and Jarvis Landry again.

Image result for baker mayfield
Image Credit: Stacy Revere/Getty

The bigger question is who is Baker Mayfield? The cocky and arrogant gunslinger who let his play do the talking in year 1, or the often sulking, off target and off timing thrower we saw in year 2.

The offensive and defensive line should be the priority in the off season. The tackle positions on the offensive line have been a liability all year and 2 quality starters are required there. On the defensive side, it is a case of adding quality depth to the 4 starters, assuming Myles Garrett is reinstated into the league. The browns are likely to move on from a few higher earners in Damarious Randall and Christian Kirksey so look for another aggressive off season from the front office.

Many of the reasons for optimism at the start of this campaign roll over into next year. The Browns have a young core to build around and with the right guidance and additions on the lines, should be primed for a nice bounce back campaign.

This is the Browns though, so please, don’t quote me on that!

AFC North Breakdown

By Thomas Rowberry (@Rowberry_)

Last Season

Baltimore Ravens 10-6

Pittsburgh Steelers 9-6-1

Cleveland Browns 7-8-1

Cincinnati Bengals 6-10

Baltimore Ravens

Draft Selections: Marquise Brown, WR (1.25), Jaylon Ferguson, OLB (3.85), Miles Boykin, WR (3.93), Justice Hill, RB (4.113), Ben Powers, G (4.123), Iman Marshall, CB (4.127), Daylon Mack, DT (5.160), Trace McSorley, QB (6.197)

Offseason Key Additions: Earl Thomas, S (Seattle Seahawks), Mark Ingram, RB (New Orleans Saints), Seth Roberts, WR (Oakland Raiders)

Offseason Key Departures: Terrell Suggs, OLB (Arizona Cardinals), CJ Mosley, LB (New York Jets), Eric Weddle, S (Los Angeles Rams), John Brown, WR (Buffalo Bills), Za’Darius Smith, OLB (Green Bay Packers), Joe Flacco, QB (Denver Broncos), Michael Crabtree, WR (Free Agent)

Super Bowl Odds: 40-1

Analysis: Eric DeCosta’s first offseason as ‘the guy’ was spent overhauling the Ravens roster to fit the skills of their young signal caller. DeCosta completely overhauled the offensive threats around Lamar Jackson, ridding the team of starting receivers John Brown and Michael Crabtree whilst adding former Saints running back Mark Ingram to be a bell cow back and drafting college standouts Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown and Miles Boykin as downfield threats.

Defensively the Ravens lost as much talent as any team in the league, losing stalwarts Terrell Suggs, CJ Mosley and Eric Weddle as well as pass rushing specialist Za’Darius Smith. That being said they may now have the best defensive backfield in the league thanks to the addition of former All-Pro Earl Thomas who joins Marlon Humphrey, Travon Young, Brandon Carr and Tony Jefferson. The one area that remains a concern for the Ravens is the front seven, the losses of CJ Mosley, Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith haven’t really been addressed in the offseason meaning the likes of Tyus Bowser, Kenny Young and third round pick Jaylon Ferguson are going to need to have big seasons to cover the losses.

Don’t get it wrong, Baltimore still have one of the best situations in the league. There is talent at the offensive skill positions, they have one of the best offensive lines in the league and arguably the best defensive backfield in the league. Baltimore will be good.

Look Out For: The thing everyone is looking out for regarding the Ravens is the evolution of Lamar Jackson, will he take the steps to become a true passer in the NFL or will the Ravens zig whilst the league zags and lean into the running game that served them so well last year? One team played the Lamar Jackson led Ravens last year, the Los Angeles Chargers, they figured the Ravens out and forced Jackson to throw the ball to disastrous results so unless Jackson has improved the Ravens could struggle offensively even with the talent around him.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Draft Selections: Devin Bush, LB (1.10), Diontae Johnson, WR (3.66), Justin Layne, CB (3.83), Benny Snell Jr, RB (4.122), Zach Gentry, TE (5.141), Sutton Smith, LB (6.175), Isaiah Buggs, DE (6.192), Ulysees Gilbert III, LB (6.207)

Key Offseason Additions: Donte Moncrief, WR (Jacksonville Jaguars), Mark Barron, LB (Los Angeles Rams), Steven Nelson, CB (Kansas City Chiefs)

Key Offseason Departures: Antonio Brown, WR (Oakland Raiders), Le’Veon Bell, RB (New York Jets), Morgan Burnett, S (Cleveland Browns), Jon Bostic, LB (Washington Redskins)

Super Bowl Odds: 20-1

Analysis: Has a team ever lost two of the best players at their respective positions in one offseason before? Because that’s what happened to the Steelers this offseason. Following a 9-6-1 season that saw Le’Veon Bell sit out the year and Antonio Brown ‘quit on the team’ the Steelers parted ways with both, allowing Bell to sign as a UDFA for the New York Jets and trading Brown to the Oakland Raiders for a pair of draft picks (2019 third and fifth round picks).

In Bell and Brown’s absences last year the Steelers saw running back James Conner and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster breakout as two of the best young players at their respective positions, they’re hoping for similar jumps from their supporting casts. Ben Roethlisberger remains one of the best quarterbacks in the league so with Conner, JuJu and a supporting cast that features Vance McDonald, Eli Rogers and James Washington the Steelers offense should remain one of the best in the league.

In Devin Bush the Steelers have one of the most highly touted rookies in the league and look to have finally found someone to have filled the gap created by Ryan Shazier’s devastating injury a few seasons ago. Reports suggest that Bush is already showing up as a leader for the Steelers defense, a unit which has been missing a true leader in the middle of the field.  The Steelers defensive backfield should be much better in 2019 with the additions of Steven Nelson from the Chiefs and rookie Justin Layne, both of who should feature somewhat heavily after seeing disappointing play from the likes of Artie Burns in 2018.

Look Out For: In order for the Steelers to be great this season they’re going to need Big Ben to have one of his best seasons, their schedule looks one of the most difficult in the league with them typically facing three tough games to every ‘easy’ game this season – First four quarter of the season see them play the Patriots, Seahawks, 49ers and Bengals, the second quarter sees them play the Ravens, Chargers, Dolphins and Colts, the third quarter they play the Rams, Browns, Bengals and Browns before finally ending the season with games against the Cardinals, Bills, Jets and Ravens.

This team is still one of the most talented in the league, and they still haven’t had a losing record with Mike Tomlin as Head Coach but the schedule is rough, the offensive skill position players surrounding Conner and JuJu are mostly unproven at this point so if Big Ben doesn’t have a big season the Steelers could be in for a long season.

Cleveland Browns

Draft Selections: Greedy Williams, CB (2.46), Sione Takitaki, LB (3.80), Sheldrick Redwine, S (4.119), Mack Wilson, LB (5.155), Austin Seibert, K (5.170), Drew Forbes, T (6.189), Donnie Lewis Jr, CB (7.221)

Key Offseason Additions: Odell Beckham Jr, WR (New York Giants), Kareem Hunt, RB (Kansas City Chiefs), Olivier Vernon, DE (New York Giants), Sheldon Richardson, DT (Minnesota Vikings), Morgan Burnett, S (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Key Offseason Departures: Kevin Zeitler, G (New York Giants), Jabrill Peppers, S (New York Giants), Emmanuel Ogbah, DE (Kansas City Chiefs), Brien Boddy-Calhoun, S (Houston Texans), Breshad Perriman, WR (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

Super Bowl Odds: 20-1

Analysis: After a 7-8-1 season that saw Hue Jackson, Todd Haley and Gregg Williams given their marching orders and Baker Mayfield break the rookie touchdown passing record the Browns & John Dorsey have spent the offseason building arguably the most talent laden roster in the entire league. This offseason has seen the Browns acquire arguably the best receiver in the league in Odell Beckham Jr, one of the best but most troubled backs in the league in Kareem Hunt, beefed up a defensive line that already featured Myles Garrett and Larry Ogunjobi with the additions of Olivier Vernon & Sheldon Richardson.

The Browns offense has the potential to be one of the best units in the league, Baker Mayfield threw 27 touchdowns in just 13 games last season as a rookie. With a full offseason working as ‘the guy’ in Cleveland it’s fair to expect him to make a leap this season, especially when you look at the talent Dorsey has put around him. Odell Beckham Jr, Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Antonio Callaway, David Njoku as receiving targets, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in the backfield…. There isn’t a more talented offensive roster in the league.

The Browns defense isn’t to be laughed at either, Dorsey and his staff have put together a defense that could be every bit as good as the offense. There aren’t too many defensive lines better than the Browns in the league right now, the linebacking group is solid without having a true superstar and now their secondary has a cornerback tandem that could develop into one of the best in the league with rookie second round pick Greedy Williams partnering sophomore Pro Bowler Denzel Ward.

Look Out For: Is it wrong to say the Browns as a whole? A team that went 7-8-1 last year probably shouldn’t be as high on people’s radars as the Browns are but they became one of the most fun teams to watch once Baker Mayfield took over last year and now have a roster full of blue chip talent. This Browns team could go onto win the Super Bowl as early as this year BUT they also have the potential to implode.

As good as Mayfield has been he runs his mouth a lot and could rub his teammates, will Odell Beckham continue to be as divisive as New York media would have you believe he was for the Giants? Can he co-exist with Jarvis Landry? Is Freddie Kitchens up to being a Head Coach after only a handful of games experience as an offensive co-ordinator? Will suspensions for Kareem Hunt and Antonio Callaway hurt in the early part of the season? And will the weight of expectations be too much for the Browns young roster to handle?

Cincinnati Bengals

Draft Selections: Jonah Williams, OT (1.11), Drew Sample, TE (2.52), Germaine Pratt, LB (3.72), Ryan Finley, QB (4.104), Renell Wren, DT (4.125), Michael Jordan, G (4.136), Trayveon Williams, RB (6.182), Deshaun Davis, LB (6.210), Rodney Anderson, RB (6.211), Jordan Brown, CB (7.223)

Key Offseason Additions: John Miller, OG (Buffalo Bills), Kerry Wynn, DT (New York Giants), B.W. Webb, CB (New York Giants)

Key Offseason Departures: Vontaze Burfict, LB (Oakland Raiders), Michael Johnson, DE (Free Agent)

Super Bowl Odds: 100-1

Analysis: Has a team had as bad an offseason as the Bengals this offseason? The Bengals FINALLY made a good move in letting Marvin Lewis leave, replacing him with 36-year-old Zac Taylor but since then they have done very little to inspire confidence going into this season.

They spent very little in the offseason, John Miller will likely start at guard for them but he isn’t exactly great. Kerry Wynn and BW Webb were both backups for the Giants and will likely struggle to get into the Bengals rotation in the defensive line and secondary respectively. Many have questioned the quality of the Bengals draft class, which is now under more scrutiny with top pick Jonah Williams likely missing the entirety of the 2019 following surgery on a torn labrum. Star receiver AJ Green suffered ligament damage in a preseason practice session and will now likely miss 6 to 8 weeks, oft-injured speedster John Ross was expected to have a bigger role this year but he’s been out with a hamstring injury since July.

There just isn’t a lot to talk about with the Bengals, their draft was underwhelming, their offseason additions don’t inspire confidence and they’ve suffered injuries to two of their most important players this season. The only real positives for this team is that they do have talented young players and have one of the best running backs in the league in Joe Mixon. This could be a long year.

Look Out For: The Bengals aren’t going to be good in 2019, I know it’s a bit harsh to be so blunt but they play in a division that features the Ravens, Steelers and much improved Browns. In Andy Dalton you could argue they have the worst starting quarterback in the division and a have an unproven 36-year-old at Head Coach, that’s just not a recipe for success in 2019.

2019 Season Prediction

Browns 10-6

Ravens 10-6

Steelers 8-8

Bengals 3-13