NFL

Bad NFL coaches in 2020: Eternal Sunshine of Adam Gase’s Mind

Week 1 of the 2020 NFL season provided some great coaching. But we’re not here for that.  We’re here for the horrendous coaching.

Adam Gase should not be fired by the Jets. Firing is too good for him.

You know how the NCAA obliterates all records of a team’s existence from world history if a player gets a free pack of gum or utters a word that rhymes with “agent?” (There was once something called the Fab Five … but saying any more would be double-plus ungood). Or how ancient pharaohs would chisel away the cartouches of hated predecessors from the obelisks?

That’s what the NFL should do to Gase’s entire head-coaching record. He never existed. It was all a fever dream.

Gase leads through belligerent incompetence, compensating for his inability to do anything right by treating everyone who questions him like they’re the stupid ones. It’s a popular and (sadly) prevalent management technique in 2020.

But after Sunday’s 27-17 Jets loss to the Bills, Gase may finally be losing the few remaining undecided voters.

Let’s briefly recap the first half of the game:

  • The first Jets possession on Sunday started at the 10-yard line due to a penalty on the opening kickoff. It consisted of a scrambling Sam Darnold incompletion, a three-yard Le’Veon Bell run up the gut, a Darnold sideline wobbler out of bounds, and a punt.
  • Their second possession, coming after a Josh Allen fumble to kill a Bills drive, consisted of a short run by Frank Gore, a Bell stuff for a loss by about three Bills defenders, a wide receiver screen to Chris Hogan on 3rd-and-9 (think about that for a moment), and a punt.
  • Their third possession, with the Bills leading 7-0, consisted of three straight off-target incomplete passes, with Darnold flushed from the pocket on two of them.
  • Their fourth drive, with the Bills leading 14-0, started with two Bell plunges for a first down. (Yay!) A third-straight Bell run set the Jets up with 2nd-and-12; a Darnold pass over the middle was then broken up, and he shot-putted a throw as he was getting devoured by a defender on third down. Punt.
  • Their fifth possession, with the Bills leading 21-0, started with a delay of game penalty on first down. Then came a sack (holding, declined), a short completion, and Darnold throwing an interception away from his body into the middle of the field as if he was a JV quarterback making his first start under the Friday night lights.

Finally, after a Josh Allen fumble to kill a Bills drive (“Josh Allen fumble to kill a Bills drive” is ctrl-shift-A in the C’mon Coach autofill), the Jets showed some signs of interest in playing football. But even after a few cobbled together drives and lots of missed Bills field goals and munch-the-clock tactics, the Jets never really made things interesting.

They stunk in all phases. Their defense jumped offside, committed playground pass interference and got pushed around at the line of scrimmage. Their punt coverage teams were shoddy. It was embarrassing.

In the back of his over-caffeinated, sleep-deprived mind, Gase likely knew his Jets were unprepared but guessed that play would be sloppy all across the NFL due to COVID restrictions, giving him safe harbor to field a preseason-caliber team. In fact, the Jets were the only team in the league that looked like it rolled off the couch and out of quarantine last Tuesday.

Adam Gase makes football worse. If the Men in Black purged all memories of his existence, we would all be happier people. Until such technology exists, you may want to avoid Jets football altogether and hope ownership figures out what a huge mistake they made by hiring him so they can take steps toward making their next huge mistake.

Great Garrett’s Ghost

If you thought the Cowboys would stop calling idiotic plays in high-leverage situations now that Jason Garrett is gone, wait until you see what Mike McCarthy has been dreaming up during his midday massages.

Having reached the red zone in the fourth quarter while trailing the Rams 20-17, McCarthy called an outside zone run to Tony Pollard for four yards on first down. So far, so good, if you are OK with Ezekiel Elliott being on the bench in the red zone.

The second-down call was a vintage McCarthy Packers design: the old “spacing” concept from Madden 04, with all receivers drifting into short zones, stopping and turning around. Dak Prescott forced an incomplete pass to a well-covered Dalton Schultz, then made an Aaron Rodgers rancid tuna salad face.

That set up 3rd-and-6. Zone read? Zone read! Prescott handed off to Elliott to set up 4th-and-3 and McCarthy’s piece de resistance: a shallow mesh concept to Ceedee Lamb, crossing the field in front of the sticks. Rookie defender Jordan Fuller read the play from the snap, perhaps because colleges run it about a dozen times per game, and stopped Lamb for a gain of precisely two yards.

So far, McCarthy’s new playbook looks suspiciously like his old playbook enhanced with some Air Raid diagrams from a 2008 high school coaching seminar and a few scribbles he jotted down while watching the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. Maybe the Cowboys just need a little time to shake things out.

Maybe offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, a wunderkind this time last year, is part of the problem. Or maybe no head coach can concentrate with Jerry Jones yammering at him all week.

Taysom Hill is a Controlled Substance

Sean Payton is addicted to Taysom Hill gadget plays, and the C’mon Coach staff is at peace with that. The wrinkles sometimes work, and they are extending Drew Brees’ shelf life a bit: better to run a Wildcat now and then than to pretend Brees is still 30 years old and can win games single-handedly through sheer brilliance and precision (also known as The TB12 Method).

But Payton sometimes goes too far. Facing 3rd-and-2 while clinging to a 24-17 lead late in the third quarter, Payton inserted Hill, emptied the backfield, and called the slowest-developing, least-surprising quarterback sweep in NFL history.

Buccaneers Pro Bowl defender Lavonte David looked almost offended by the call as he strafed through traffic and stuffed Hill for a loss, though if David didn’t make the play, at least three teammates were in position to prevent a first down.

Tune in next week when Hill underthrows a bomb, Michael Thomas reaches back over two defenders to haul it in, and the broadcast team swoons over the call.

Pathetic Stat Line of the Week: Leonard Fournette, Buccaneers: 5 carries for 5 yards.

Fournette, recently acquired by the Bucs after the Jaguars experienced a rare moment of clarity and chose not to overpay him, spelled starter Ronald Jones midway through a long second quarter drive and rumbled for six yards on his first carry; defender Marshon Lattimore shoved receiver Mike Evans away from the ball at the whistle, earning the Bucs 15 more yards.

Fournette earned a second carry and was promptly stuffed for a loss of four by Cameron Jordan. Fournette’s few remaining touches followed a formula familiar to Jaguars fans: slow developing run to the outside, broken tackle of a pursuing defender, no gain.

Fournette did leak out of the backfield for a 14-yard gain, so there’s still hope that he will do a little more this year than waste opportunities, take years off Tom Brady’s life and leech just enough touchdowns to ruin your fantasy season.

Fullback Give, Fullback Take Away

The fullback give is a fine play in theory: as a burly runner lined up as the blocker in an I formation, the fullback is in perfect position to plunge into the line for one or two yards.

The problem is coaches only call the fullback give in short yardage situations these days, teams rarely line up in the I-formation unless they are planning a fullback give, and fullbacks only touch the ball when plunging into the line. Put it all together and it means that everyone knows what’s coming, yet the most important person for the plan to work isn’t really ready for it.

The Ravens, with an offense of approximately 300 more dynamic weapons, called fullback Alan Ricard’s number on 3rd-and-1 deep in the red zone in the second quarter against the Browns. Ricard fumbled, and Myles Garrett pounced on it to briefly keep the Browns in the game.

But the Ravens blunder was nothing compared to how the Panthers loss to the Las Vegas Raiders ended. Trailing 34-30 late in the fourth quarter, Matt Rhule elected to call a series of handoffs to Christian McCaffrey and milked the clock, almost as if the Panthers were leading 34-30. Dubious strategy aside, McCaffrey ripped off a 14-yard run, then took three more handoffs to set up 4th-and-inches near midfield.

The Panthers lined up in an I-formation. Guess who got the ball? Not McCaffrey. Not Teddy Bridgewater. It was Alex Armah, a fullback with 15 career carries.

Armah was stuffed. And if Rhule keeps handling late-game situations like he did on Sunday, his NFL honeymoon will be over in a hurry.

This Week in Bill O’Brien Nonsense

Bill O’Brien looked like a genius for nearly 19 minutes on Thursday night. The Texans offense was cruising early against the Chiefs. Running back David Johnson and the new “spread the ball” philosophy were making the decision to trade away DeAndre Hopkins look like addition-by-subtraction differential calculus.

And then O’Brien punted on 4th-and-4 from midfield early in the second quarter. Because, you know, it makes lots of sense to play field-position football against Patrick Mahomes, and O’Brien has never been burned by such tactics before, in the playoffs, to the amusement of millions.

EdjSports calculated that the decision to punt cost the Texans 2.4% of their Game Winning Chance, which was a problem, since they didn’t have much of a chance in the first place. Anyway, the punt yielded predictable results: the Chiefs drove on their next possession and kept on driving until their eventual 34-20 win was assured.

As for Hopkins’ departure, Cris Collinsworth performed stenographer duty for O’Brien as the game got out of hand in the third quarter, explaining the controversial (read: incomprehensibly foolish) trade in terms the coach/GM no doubt gave him during prep interviews.

“He knew what he had to do financially. He knew what he had to pay Watson. And he was trying to go, ‘well, can I afford to pay Hopkins $20-million?’ And determined he didn’t.”

(Meanwhile, the team that managed to pay Mahomes AND Chris Jones AND Travis Kelce this offseason climbed out to a 31-7 lead.)

“As a matter of fact,” Collinsworth continued, “he said ‘we can only shop him to teams that had quarterbacks on a rookie deal because nobody else could afford him either!’”

O’Brien thinks of the salary cap as a cub scout troupe’s juicebox budget, doesn’t he? Sorry lads, only $3 left in the account. Looks like you’ll be drinking swamp water during the camping trip! You can almost picture Bill Belichick muttering into the phone to his former protege to drive the Hopkins market down.

“Don’t even bother calling teams with veteran quarterbacks, Billy. Speaking of which, you may have heard that Tom Brady left. Can I tempt you with some compensatory picks and a gently-used Sony Michel in exchange for Hopkins?”

O’Brien and the Texans will face the Ravens and Steelers over the next two weeks, meaning they could easily start the year 0-3. But what were they supposed to do: backload some contracts to keep their best players? O’Brien is hearing none of that mathematical mambo-jumbo, Nerdlinger.