Bad Coaching in the NFL: the Foolish Texans Coup

C’mon Coach has spent time on the Houston Texans before, but now, the organization deserves our attention more than ever.

If the phrase “team chaplain-turned-executive-vice president” doesn’t set off warnings in your brain that something fishy is going on within the Houston Texans organization, then you have never seen Aladdin. Or Anastasia. Or The Three Musketeers. Or encountered any work of fiction where the spiritual adviser turned out to be a shadowy puppet master.

Or, for that matter, worked in any office setting where the sweet-talker turned out to be a power-hungry manipulator.

Former Patriots “character coach” Jack Easterby now wields considerable power for the Texans in the wake of Bill O’Brien’s October firing. And like many executives given temporary power, Easterby appears bent on keeping it.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported on Sunday that Easterby may be “at the helm for several years until things settle.” Easterby is in charge of the search for a new general manager and doesn’t seem inclined to look very hard.

Per Rapoport, the organization is toying with the idea of elevating Romeo Crennel from interim to full-time head coach; after all, promoting a 73-year old from within is a great way to avoid hiring a potential rival. And the Texans made the wrong kind of news last week by firing well-respected public relations director Amy Palcic for not being (per Adam Schefter’s report) a “culture fit.”

It sure looks like the Texans have gone from O’Brien to someone even more preoccupied with power consolidation and career advancement than O’Brien, but without any real coaching or football operations background.

NBC Sports’ Tom Curran, a long-time New England Patriots insider, profiled Easterby last week in terms that should make Texans fans shudder.

Curran wrote about Easterby’s  “Machiavellian knack for collecting power,” and described the Texans as being under Easterby’s “guidance/spell.” (Cue Jafar using his scepter to mesmerize Jasmine’s father). Curran concedes that many of his sources vouch for Easterby’s character, and C’mon, Coach has heard fine things about Easterby as well.

But Easterby appears to have positioned himself at Cal McNair’s ear as the Texans underwent their ownership transition, waited for O’Brien to demolish the team’s infrastructure and uncoil enough rope to hang himself, then slipped comfortably into O’Brien’s “Only Guy With Any Authority” chair and began issuing decrees.

This is French Revolution-level skullduggery, and things will likely get worse before they get better. Slow-rolling the GM search, floating Crennel as a long-term solution and firing Polcic are signs that Easterby doesn’t want any challengers to his authority within the organization, which is terrifying, because anyone with a year or two of coordinator or “assistant director of scouting”-level experience is a potential challenger to the staggeringly-underqualified Easterby.

The Texans’ roster is depleted and they lack first or second round picks next year. They desperately need football people, not a self-help guru and his yes-men.

Easterby is probably not really Jafar/Rasputin/Svengali/Machiavelli/Cardinal Richelieu, just an ambitious guy with lots of connections who talks a good religiously-flavored “Patriots Way” game. But he ain’t Bill Belichick either. And the Texans are in real trouble if they have deluded themselves into thinking that he is.

Four Faces of Fourth Down

A bad decision on fourth down cost a team a victory. Let’s listen to the thought processes of four coaches who made really bad fourth-down decisions on Sunday:

John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Baltimore Ravens: “Let’s see: it’s 4th-and-1, I have the best running game in the league and the reigning MVP at quarterback, so all we have to do is call a routine handoff or zone-read with Lamar Jackson to keep the drive alive. But that’s just what Bill Belichick WANTS us to do, isn’t it?

“Let’s outsmart him by lining Jackson up at wide receiver and dialing up a direct snap play to Mark Ingram, even though it’s pouring and shotgun snaps have been tricky to handle all night.

“Whoopsie! It seems that Matt Skuta’s snap was a knuckleball, Ingram tried to one-hand it like a rookie catcher, and we lost 11 yards. No worries: everyone will just blame Jackson for the loss!”

Romeo Crennel and offensive coordinator Tim Kelly, Houston Texans: “Hmm, 4th-and-goal from the two-yard line, trailing 3-0 on a windy, rainy day. What would Bill O’Brien do? What does Jack Easterby want us to do? What do modern newfangled coaches do? Why, they go for it! What’s more, they empty the backfield, spread out the receivers and call a quarterback draw, because it is still 2008 and that’s a bold, unpredictable strategy.

“Oh dear, the Browns kept both linebackers in the box and are pinching the interior gaps, leaving Deshaun Watson nowhere to run and resulting in a stuff. How did they know what was coming? Do they watch film or something?”

Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks: “It’s 4th-and-inches near midfield. I’m trailing in the third quarter, and I have a mobile, resourceful Hall of Fame quarterback under center. Let’s go for it!

“Hahahahahahaha just kidding. I’m an old-school defensive coach, and I still think I have a great defense. Let’s try to draw the Rams offsides instead. Russell Wilson can try a few hard counts with 25 seconds left on the clock, then look around uncomfortably like a bombing comedian until the play clock expires because I never bothered installing one of those silly fake-shotgun/fake-motion concepts other teams use om this situation.

“Then we can punt the ol’ pigskin back to the Rams. What are the odds that they will march 88 yards on 14 plays against the Legion of Boom cosplayers?”

Matt Rhule and Special Teams Coordinator Chase Blackburn, Carolina Panthers. “Gosh, this game has really gotten away from us in the second half. Nothing is working. Let’s try a fake punt that risks handing Tom Brady the ball deep in our territory! Yes, we ran a fake punt last week, but that’s the brilliance of this call: no one would expect us to do it again.

“Now for undrafted rookie Joseph Charlton to convert a first down for us, because we don’t think veteran quarterback Teddy Bridgewater can do it. Oops, it looks like the Bucs sniffed out the play, blew up Charlton’s receiver and sacked the poor kid. That’s fine: we’re a rookie coaching staff, so dumb moves like this are written off as charming and innovative.”

Down-and-Distance Fiascos

Any defensive coordinator who rushes three defenders against Tom Brady should be summarily fired and have his car impounded from the parking lot.

Brady picked apart the Green Bay Packers defense in Week 6 because Mike Pettine insisted on rushing just three (and sometimes just two) defenders against a Hall of Famer who can pick apart any zone defense when given time but turns into Grandpa Wobblejittters when pressured. But just because Pettine’s gonna Pettine doesn’t mean that other coaches should not learn from his mistakes.

Panthers defensive coordinator Phil Snow busted out a three-man pass rush on 3rd-and-19 with the Buccaneers leading in the third quarter and driving on Sunday. Brady drifted around a pocket the size of a hotel lobby for several seconds before slinging the ball to Cameron Brate in the flat. Despite the fact that eight Panthers dropped into coverage, no one was within 10 yards of Brate as he knifed up the sideline for a first down.

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles allowed the New York Giants to take a 14-3 lead because they were trying to fling the ball all over the field as if Carson Wentz was still playing like he did in 2017, then came back because Doug Pederson actually committed to the running game against a terrible Giants defense for a few series.

But when the Eagles tried to drive out of the shadow of their end zone while trailing by four in the fourth quarter, Wentz took a sack after a bad snap on first down and tried to force a pass to Dallas Goedert on second down. Guess what Pederson called on 3rd-and-18? Yup: a running play to Miles Sanders, dressed up with some option decorations which fooled absolutely no one.

What would happen if the Eagles offense faced the Panthers defense on 3rd-and-long?

C’mon Coach thinks the Panthers would try to rush zero defenders. But Wentz would still somehow take a sack.

Blameless in Buffalo

C’mon, Coach wants to state for the record that Sean McDermott and his coaching staff are blameless for DeAndre Hopkins’ miraculous Red Sea touchdown at the end of the Arizona Cardinals 32-30 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

The Bills had two Pro Bowl defenders (Tre’Davious White and Micah Hyde) in position to break up the pass, with a third defender (Jordan Poyer) en route. They rushed four defenders and flushed Kyler Murray from the pocket. The Bills called a timeout before the play to see how the Cardinals lined up (it was like a basketball timeout before an important inbounds pass) and set their defense.

The Bills defense even handled the previous plays well: they only allowed short passes over the middle until Larry Fitzgerald caught a dump-off when the Cardinals were out of timeouts. McDermott and his coaches did everything right. Murray just launched an improbably-perfect pass on the run, and Hopkins out-jumped the world.

If you see any squiggle jockeys breaking down the Hopkins touchdown and spouting coaching jargon about what the Bills did wrong on the Internet, just ignore them. Sometimes, a team gets out-executed. That’s what happened to the Bills on Sunday.

Chip Kelly is trapped in the micro world. Send Ant-Man.

Chip Kelly really looked like he would be a fresh air in the NFL when he led the Philadelphia Eagles to 10-6 records in 2013-14 with an option-heavy no-huddle offense and what appeared to be a player-friendly team culture.

Then it turned out that he was one of those overgrown freshman-dorm philosophers or self-impressed podcasters who only sound brilliant when no one is there to challenge them, and Kelly’s career has been on a downward trajectory ever since.

While defending his 7-19 record with the UCLA Bruins since 2018, Kelly fell back on that old coaching standby: repeating the word “process” over and over again and hoping the press pool would lapse into a mass fugue state. To those who managed to keep paying attention, however, it sure sounded to some listeners like Kelly was suggesting that the team’s record didn’t matter because the “process” was working.

“I didn’t say that at all,” Kelly replied when questioned, per Ben Bolch of the L.A. Times. ”I said our that whole process is about the process. I think if you study people that are successful, people that focus on the outcome get distracted.”

Kelly continued: “When you focus on the process—and what I mean by the process is, how do we improve on a daily basis? How do we improve on a Wednesday and what do we do on Wednesday? So we’re not thinking about the game on Saturday, we’re thinking about Wednesday.”

Bolch further pressed Kelly on the team’s record and the need to eventually focus on the outcome. “Well, again, we’re focused on Wednesday. We’re in the micro world—I know we’ve gone back and forth about this the whole time, but our focus is on Wednesday.”

Kelly’s remarks are the football coaching equivalent of stoner philosophy: instead of an atom containing a whole “micro world” where all the inhabitants possess atoms containing micro worlds, it’s a process of a process of a process within a process.

It’s like Kelly hosted a Zoom meeting, saw a reflection of himself in one of the cameras, saw a reflection of himself within the reflection, and went gibberingly insane. That press conference sequence belongs on The Midnight Gospel, playing behind Pendleton Ward’s animated images of aliens eating ice cream cones which are also aliens.

Kelly’s Bruins ended up winning a rare COVID-rescheduled Sunday game against Cal this week. Maybe Kelly brought back some wisdom from the micro world. Or maybe his players have learned to tune him out the way their predecessors tuned out Jim Mora and Rick Neuheisel.

College kids are smart that way. And they can also tell when someone sounds really, really high.

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