The 2009 NFL Season is Finally Here as Everyone Celebrates America’s Game (Part II)

Coaches on the Hot Seat

Every year certain coaches and their teams know that the headman better get off to a good start and win or it will be curtains. With Super Bowl Champion coaches Bill Cowher, Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, Brian Billick, and Jon Gruden lurking in the weeds, coaches in tenuous situations better watch their back.

Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals – The Bengals have been horrible since winning the AFC North title back in 2005 – Lewis’ only winning season.  A lockerroom filled with malcontents and problem players plus the unneeded distraction of HBO Hard Knocks cameras surely will not increase Lewis’ job security.  Even though we know coaches are not banging down the door to coach in Cincy and owner Mike Brown has always been in Lewis’ corner, it is now or never for the head coach who was once the NFL’s hottest defensive coordinator.  The Bengals are coming off a putrid 4-11-1 in 2008 where Lewis’ defense allowing 364 points and his offense allowing 50+ sacks.  A season ending 3-game winning streak probably saved Lewis last year, but he may not be as lucky if his team is awful again in 2009.   Lewis’ record currently stands at 46-49-1 in the regular season and 0-1 in his lone playoff game.

Wade Phillips, Dallas Cowboys – Expectations are off the charts for the 2009 Dallas Cowboys.  Owner Jerry Jones has spent a fortune to open his new billion dollar Cowboys Stadium and the camera-seeking man in charge wants a winner on the field.  Amidst whispers that Phillips could not control the Cowboys in 2008, the team badly underachieved including being embarrassed with the playoffs on the line in Philly – lost to the Eagles 44-6  and allegedly there were a couple of players fighting on the flight back to Dallas.  After a 12-year playoff winning drought, it is now or never for the Phillips led Cowboys or changes are definitely coming.  Jones removed lockerroom problem players Tank Johnson, Terrell Owens, and Adam Pacman Jones, so there are no more excuses and the bull’s eye is firmly on the backs of Phillips and quarterback Tony Romo.  The duo on the hot seat better get off to a quick start in 2009 (at TB, NYG, Carolina, at Denver, and at KC) or Jones could quickly make a move by Dallas’ Week 6 bye.  Everyone around the NFL likes old Wade, but he might be a better coordinator than head coach.  Cowboys Record under Phillips:  27-10 in regular season and 0-1 in playoffs.

Brad Childress, Minnesota Vikings – Entering his fourth season as a head coach in the NFL, much like a high draft pick it is time for Childress to deliver or be cut in 2009.  Vikings owner Zygi Wilf is looking for a new stadium deal and he needs his team to produce to sway local politicians and fans.  Childress came to the Vikings from the Andy Reid coaching tree, but he has failed to live-up to his mentor’s winning ways producing a middle-of-the-road 24-24 record in the regular season.  It is not like Childress does not have any weapons on his team with All-World running back Adrian Peterson and the NFL’s best run defense led by the Williams Wall.  But some would say it has been Childress’ loyalty to developing quarterback Tarvaris Jackson that has been his downfall.  Childress on the suggestion of offensive coordinator Darrell Bevel has his future to former Packers great Brett Favre.  For Childress’ sake he better hope Favre plays more like he did in ’07 while leading the Packers to the NFC Championship Game than in ’08 as he looked every bit his age (almost 40) in quarterbacking the Jets to a 1-4 non-playoff finish and throwing an NFL-high 22 INTs.  Childress may also need to watch-out for young up-and-coming defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who is waiting in the coaches’ booth.

John Fox, Carolina Panthers – You might be saying, “How can a coach who’s team finished with a record of 12-4 last year be on a Host Seat?”  The answer is simple, expectations are very high for Fox and he must produce some wins in the playoffs to stay.  Sure the Panthers won the NFC South in 2008, but they were embarrassed at home in the playoffs by the Cardinals losing 33-13.  A lot of people that I have talked to in NFL circles have said Fox’s lockerroom message may have worn off on the Panthers after 7 seasons.  It will be on Fox to produce Carolina’s first back-to-back winning seasons ever – in their 14-year history the Panthers have never produced two winning seasons in a row.  Though his career record is a respectable 63-49 with a 5-3 playoff mark and he led the Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2003, Fox’s team better have a good season or owner Wally Richardson maybe looking to make a change.  Did I also mention that Steelers former Super Bowl winning head coach Bill Cowher relocated his home to the Carolinas.

Dick Jauron, Buffalo Bills – At age 90, Buffalo Bills owner and 2009 hall of famer Ralph Wilson wants a winner now.  Over the last three NFL seasons, Wilson has been very patient with Jauron.  But three consecutive 7-9 season and no playoff appearances have turned up the heat in Buffalo like a plate of hot wings.  You can tell that Wilson has gone-all-in for the 2009 season by signing NFL bad boy receiver Terrell Owens and giving defensive tackle Marcus Stroud a healthy extension.  The Bills even had a pretty good draft bringing in Penn State DE Aaron Maybin and Louisville C/G Eric Wood, but Jauron needs to get his team all on the right page since the AFC East is loaded from top to bottom.  For the sake of quarterback  Trent Edwards and Jauron hopefully “good”  T.O will be shuffling his way to Buffalo or it will be over Niagara Falls in a barrel for the beleaguered head coach.  The desperate coach already fired offensive coordinator Turk Schonert, replacing him with QBs coach Alex Van Pelt, a week before the start of the 2009 season.

Impact Rookies to Watch 

 Minnesota Vikings WR/KR Percy Harvin

Denver Broncos RB Knowshon Moreno

Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford

Miami Dolphins Cornerback Vontae Davis

Houston Texans LB Brian Cushing

Washington Redskins DE/LB Brian Orakpo

Philadelphia Eagles safety Victor “Macho” Harris

Records to Watch in the 2009 season: 

Minnesota QB Brett Favre – With his first start, the graybeard thrower – 270th consecutive game —  will tie former Vikings great Jim Marshall for the longest starting streak in NFL history.  Favre will also add to his existing records of most career NFL touchdown passes (464), most career NFL passing yards (65,127), most career pass completions (5,720), most career passing attempts (9,280), most career NFL interceptions thrown (310), his “iron man” most consecutive starts quarterback streak (269 and you can make it 291 if you include the playoffs), and most career victories as a starting quarterback (169).

Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning can become the first quarterback with ten 4,000-yard seasons and needs 10 TD passes to move into third place all-time

San Diego Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson can extend his NFL-record streak of consecutive 10-TD seasons to begin a career to nine

Buffalo Bills WR Terrell Owens and New England Patriots WR Randy Moss, who meet on Monday night of Kickoff Weekend (ESPN, 7:00 PM ET), need 11 and 15 receiving TDs respectively to join future Hall of Famer Jerry Rice as the only players with 150 TDs

Atlanta Falcons’ TE Tony Gonzalez needs 84 catches to become the first TE in NFL history with 1,000 receptions.  Gonzalez can also added to his existing tight end records of career touchdowns by a tight end (76), career receptions by a tight end (916), and reception yards by a tight end (10,940).

The Green Bay Packers, who celebrated the organization’s 90th birthday in August, need seven wins to join the Chicago Bears — Green Bay’s Kickoff Weekend opponent (Sunday, NBC, 8:30 PM ET) — as the only teams with 650 regular-season victories.

It will be interesting to see if the Indianapolis Colts, with new head coach Jim Caldwell at the helm, can extend their NFL record for consecutive seasons with 12 wins or more (6). 

Chicago Bears kick returner Devin Hester, even though he is playing more receiver, needs two kick or punt returns for a touchdown to tie former tough return man Brian Mitchell’s record of 13.  Did I mention that Mitchell’s record was set over 14 years and Hester has scored 11 touchdowns in only three seasons.  Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub said of his mercurial returner extraordinaire, “Its an event every time Hester touches the football”. 

Vikings third year running back Adrian Peterson after leading the NFC in rushing in each of his first two seasons running for 3,101 yards — the fourth-highest total in NFL history for a player in his first two years. has set his sights on a mythical record.  Peterson and his big offensive line led by Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson wants to surpass Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record of 2109 yards, which just happened to be set in his second season for the Los Angeles Rams.

Trends

Close Games — Last year, almost half the games (46.1 percent) were decided by one score (eight points or less).  Fourteen percent were decided in the final two minutes or overtime.  And for the 13th consecutive year, at least five teams made the playoffs after missing out the year before.

Passing, Passing, and more Passing – I am a smash-mouth run the football kinda guy, but NFL teams are looking to chuck it more than ever. Last season six quarterbacks threw for more than 4,000 yards.

Scoring way up – Around the NFL last year scoring was at a 43-year high as games averaged 44.1 points, the most since 1965 (46.1)

 Kickers More Accurate — My favorite players, kickers, made 84.5% of overall field goal attempts in ‘08

Wildcat Formation — In 2008, the Miami Dolphins showed the world it’s version of the Single Wing formation called the “Wildcat” and pretty soon the entire National Football League (NFL) jumped on board.  After the Dolphins had success against the Patriots in Week 4 (38-13 win where they churned out 216 rushing yards – eventually ran 12 percent their entire offensive plays in 2008 out of the formation), the tricky Wildcat popped up everywhere.  The Wildcat was incorporated in some fashion in almost every NFL team’s playbook including the Philadelphia Eagles who ran eight times out of formation with receiver DeSean Jackson.  And to think the  Dolphins only tried the Wildcat formation after their quarterbacks coach David Lee (coached the formation at the University of Arkansas under the name the “WildHog”) got inventive trying to find a way to utilize running backs Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown on the field at the same time.

Versatility from linebackers – NFL defenses are now built on hybrid players and schemes at the linebacker area. 4-3 teams often incorporate 3-4 schemes and pass rushing into their systems, because the 3-4 has come back in vogue in the NFL due mainly to the success of teams like the Super Bowl Champion Steelers for generating pressure. 3-4 defenses rely on interchangeable players, who can rush the passer and cover, so defensive coordinators want guys that can play all three positions (SAM, MIKE, WILL). The key is an athletic player with the ability to stay on the field for all 3 downs (think Patriots LB Adalius Thomas).  We are also seeing versatile defensive players like Chiefs LB Mike Vrabel on offense in certain packages.

Fresh Defensive Linemen should equal Pressure, Pressure, and More Pressure – Taking a page from the 2007 Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, defenses are trying  go at least six guys deep on their defensive lines.  The increased depth and versatility allow for fresher pass rushers, which leads to sacks and turnovers. Look for more natural pressure from team’s front four and less blitzing, which often times leaves the secondary exposed to big plays.   We will see if any team’s D-line can duplicate the NFL high 53 sacks that Steve Spagnuolo’s 2007 Giants defense produced.

Calling a timeouts just as a kicker is swinging for a game-winning kick – I am appealing to the NFL Competition Committee and Titans Head Coach Jeff Fisher a prominent member of the committee to change the rules around coaches calling timeouts as a kicker is swinging his leg.  To me it is not “gamesmanship” or being tactical, it is just a plain abuse of rules. 

Athletic Safeties Wanted – With teams trying to limit big plays (30 yards or more), safeties have also become main cogs in defenses. This has caused teams to search for the next “Brian Dawkins” in their “back two”. An athletic player like Washington Redskins 2007 first round pick Laron Landry is in vogue, because he can cover, tackle, and be interchangeable enough to play both Strong and Free Safety. Deception is also a big factor with interchangeable safeties as shown by the Colts, who employ a system where a safety can lineup at ether spot when the huddle breaks, causing “match-up” problems for offensive coordinators who try to isolate slower safeties in space.

Rookies making an impact – Joe Flacco (Baltimore Ravens) and Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons) became the first rookie QBs in NFL history to start all 16 games and lead their teams to the playoffs; Running backs Steve Slaton (Houston Texans), Matt Forte (Chicago Bears), and Chris Johnson (Tennessee Titans) became the first rookie RB trio to each rush for at least 1,200 yards in a season. There was a long list imapact rookies including Eagles WR DeSean Jackson, Raiders RB Darren McFadden, Rams DL Chris Long, Broncos WR Eddie Royal, and Chiefs DB’s Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr plus a host of other outstanding NFL freshmen.

Rookie head coaches shining — Last year, new head coaches John Harbaugh (Baltimore), Mike Smith (Atlanta) and Tony Sparano (Miami) all led their teams to the playoffs, only the second time in NFL history that three rookie head coaches reached the postseason

Two-headed monster in the backfield – Around the NFL there is a growing trend of having at least two quality running backs playing in games to keep defensive coordinators guessing.   Last year several teams including the Carolina Panthers, Tennessee Titans, and  NY Giants (Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward both over 1,000 yards in 2008) utilized two backs keeping constant pressure on defenses with fresh legs in the backfield at all times.  Who could blame them as today’s NFL usually necessitates having two running backs because the position is so demanding (inside power runs, match-ups, mismatches, hands, blitz pickup, etc).

NFL is all about discipline – We already knew about Commissioner Roger Goodell’s stance on cleaning up player misbehavior, but now clubs are dealing with their own problems first.  A new “team” first view is spreading throughout the NFL and coaches are going forward with the players they have without their malcontent superstars.  We saw Carolina Panthers WR Steve Smith, Kansas City Chiefs RB Larry Johnson and former Giants WR Plaxico Burress all sat down by their teams at points during the 2009 season for conduct detrimental to their teams.  Hope Broncos WR Brandon Marshall is listening.

Spreading the field on offense – The NFL game is now all about match-ups on offense. Offensive coaches now know that if they can get a player like Brian Westbrook (RB with speed and hands) in a foot race with a safety or linebacker they will almost find a big play every time. They are willing to put four wide receiver sets on the field causing a defense to use all of their DB’s in coverage leaving the running back one on one. This trend can work, but it can also fail if your running back cannot pick a blitz or your quarterback doesn’t get the ball out in rhythm. Eight running backs rushed for at least 1,000 yards and caught 40 passes. 

 IN

Cris Collinsworth – Will take over for retired John Madden on NBC broadcasts

Jon Gruden – Joins Mike Tirrico and Ron Jaworski in ESPN’s Monday Night Football booth

Rodney Harrison and Tony Dungy – Football’s new odd couple joins NBC’s Pre-game Show

NFL Network Insiders Jason La Canfora and Steve Wyche – NFL Network added two new faces to replace former main information man Adam Scheftner (ESPN)

Michael Irvin – The Hall of Famer joins NFL Network’s NFL GameDay coverage beginning Sunday, September 13.

 Herm Edwards – Former Jets and Chiefs head coach now is working for ESPN

Michael Vick — Everyone’s hot button player is back in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles (suspended until Wk 3).  Vick has not played in an NFL game since December 2006

New Coaches — There are 11 new head coaches in 2009 – nine “rookies” in their first job as the head man – Tom Cable (Oakland Raiders, interim for 12 games in 2008), Jim Caldwell (Indianapolis Colts), Todd Haley (Kansas City Chiefs), Josh McDaniels (Denver Broncos), Raheem Morris (Tampa Bay Bucs), Rex Ryan (New York Jets), Jim Schwartz (Detroit Lions), Mike Singletary (SF 49ers, interim for nine games in 2008), Steve Spagnuolo (St. Louis Rams), Eric Mangini (Cleveland Browns) and Jim Mora (Seattle Seahawks).   

Familiar players in new places – QB Brett Favre (Vikings), QB Jay Cutler (Bears), OT Orlando Pace (Bears), DT Albert Haynesworth (Redskins), WR Terrell Owens (BillsO, LB Bart Scott (NY Jets), TE Tony Gonzalez (Falcons), S Brian Dawkins (Broncos), WR TJ Houshmandzadeh (Seahawks), Matt Cassell (Chiefs), RB Fred Taylor (Patriots), WR Tory Holt (Jaguars), and OLB/DE Jason Taylor back with the Dolphins.

Out

Tony Kornheiser – Replaced by Jon Gruden on ESPN’s MNF

Jerome Bettis – Not renewed on NBC’s studio show

Fired Offensive Coordinators – Chan Gailey (KC Chiefs), Jeff Jagodzinksi (Tampa Bay Bucs), and Turk Schonert (Buffalo Bills)

Coaches that fell off the merry go round – Mike Shanahan (Broncos), Jon Gruden (Bucs), Rod Marinelli  (Lions, now Bears D-line coach), Scott Linehan (Rams), Jim Haslett (Rams, now in the UFL), Lane Kiffin (Raiders, now the University of Tennessee head coach), Romeo Crennel (Browns), Mike Holmgren (Seahawks, now semi-retired), and Herman Edwards (Chiefs)

Must See Games

There are 256-regular season games, but here are some of my favorites.

THU, SEP 10 Tennessee at Pittsburgh 8:30 PM (ESPN)

SUN, SEP 20  NY Giants at Dallas 8:20 PM (NBC)

SUN, SEP 27  Atlanta at New England 1:00 PM  (FOX)

SUN, OCT 4  San Diego at Pittsburgh 8:20 PM (NBC)

MON, OCT 5  Green Bay at Minnesota 8:30 PM (ESPN)

MON, OCT 19  Denver at San Diego 8:30 PM (ESPN)

SUN, NOV 1  Minnesota at Green Bay 1:00 PM (FOX)

SUN, NOV 1  NY Giants at Philadelphia 4:15 PM (FOX)

SUN, NOV 1  Carolina at Arizona 4:15 PM (FOX)

SUN, NOV 8  Miami at New England 1:00 PM (CBS

SUN, NOV 8  Dallas at Philadelphia 8:20 PM (NBC)

THU, NOV 12  Chicago at San Francisco 8:20 PM (NFL Network)

SUN, NOV 15  New England at Indianapolis 8:20 PM (NBC)

SUN, NOV 22  Washington at Dallas 1:00 PM (FOX

SUN, NOV 29  Pittsburgh at Baltimore 8:20 PM (NBC)

SUN, DEC 6  Dallas at NY Giants 4:15 PM (FOX)  

SUN, DEC 6  Minnesota at Arizona 4:15 PM (FOX) 

SUN, DEC 13  New Orleans at Atlanta 1:00 PM  (FOX)

SUN, DEC 13  Green Bay at Chicago 1:00 PM (FOX)  

SUN, DEC 13  Philadelphia at NY Giants 8:20 PM (NBC)

SAT, DEC 19  Dallas at New Orleans 8:20 PM (FOX)

SUN, DEC 20  New England at Buffalo 1:00 PM (CBS)

FRI, DEC 25  San Diego at Tennessee 7:30 PM (NFL Network)

SUN, DEC 27  Baltimore at Pittsburgh 1:00 PM (CBS)

SUN, DEC 27  Denver at Philadelphia 1:00 PM  (CBS) 

MON, DEC 28  Minnesota at Chicago 8:30 PM (ESPN)

SUN, JAN 3  Philadelphia at Dallas 1:00 PM (FOX)

SUN, JAN 3  Atlanta at Tampa Bay 1:00 PM (FOX)  

SUN, JAN 3  NY Giants at Minnesota 1:00 PM (FOX)

 

 Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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One Response

  1. ESPN killed MNF. These folks are a joke. I am sorry but ESPN is bad. I used to respect them but not anymore. What they did to a certain few folks shows a total lack of class. They say one thing in public and another to your face and another thing behind your back. EPSN talks out of both sides of their collective mouths.
    I will miss John Madden. Chris Collingsworth I can’t stand. Bring back Merlin Olsen and Dick Enberg. Lewis will get fired. The Cowboys can go to hell. I hope they lose every game. The Raiders are a joke. Davis needs to turn the reigns over to someone younger. Davis has lost it. Cable is a joke as a coach. T.O. will probably bring the Bills house down around him.

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