Sizing up the coaching situations

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After an offseason that featured eight new hires, odds favored a safer year for NFL head coaches.

As it's turning out, NFL owners could once again turn over 25 percent of the league's coaches. Gary Kubiak was the first to go, fired by Houston Texans owner Robert McNair after an 11-game losing streak. Although it's unlikely another coach will get fired before the end of the regular season, there could be at least seven more casualties in the offseason.

Some, like Mike Munchak of the Tennessee Titans, Rex Ryan of the New York Jets and Leslie Frazier of the Minnesota Vikings, entered the season with their seats warm. But the crazy twists and turns of 2013 put more coaches in jeopardy.

The hardest coach to handicap is Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys. Under normal circumstances, Garrett would be on the hot seat for the Cowboys' inability to beat teams with winning records and their track record of finishing around .500. The Cowboys' situation isn't normal. Owner Jerry Jones gives his total support to Garrett, and as it turns out, some of Jones' decisions have worked against Garrett.

For example, Jones decided to let Rob Ryan go as defensive coordinator and switch to Monte Kiffin's Cover 2 defense. The move backfired as the Cowboys are putting up historically bad numbers on defense. Then the offensive play calling was taken away from Garrett and went to coordinator Bill Callahan.

Because those were Jones' decisions, it's hard to predict whether Garrett will lose his job.

Unfortunately for Munchak, Ryan and Frazier, 2013 hasn't worked out. Ryan deserves to come back because he's getting the most out of the 6-8 Jets and continues to run a solid defense, but there are no guarantees.

The Titans invested a lot of resources in fixing their offense, but at 5-9, Munchak is in big trouble. The Titans don't do a great job finishing close games. In Minnesota, the fall from a 10-6 wild-card team to a 4-9-1 afterthought likely seals Frazier's fate.

The Detroit Lions' recent slide -- they've lost four of five -- could end Jim Schwartz's tenure in Detroit. The NFC North was there for the Lions' taking, but they keep beating themselves. They've had at least three turnovers in each of the past five games and their defense is tied with St. Louis' for the most penalties committed.

If the Lions can't win the division when Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler both miss more than five games, when will they ever win the NFC North?

The expectation in Washington is Mike Shanahan will not get to complete his five-year contract. He's in Year 4. Robert Griffin III regressed. The Redskins are 3-11 and the horrible season won't yield its reward because the St. Louis Rams have the Redskins' 2014 first-round pick.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had hopes of making the playoffs when they traded for cornerback Darrelle Revis and spent big money to bring Dashon Goldson in at safety. But a 4-10 record puts second-year coach Greg Schiano in a bad spot.

In Oakland, things are starting to look bleak for Dennis Allen. The defense has given up 124 points over the past three weeks. The Raiders have lost four in a row and a 4-12 season could cost him his job.

From the inbox

Q: I know he's won multiple times already, but why isn't Bill Belichick getting more love for Coach of the Year? Gronkowski has missed most of the year, Brady is having an off year, they have no stars on defense...yet they're 9-3 and fighting for the No. 1 seed.

Bob in Philadelphia

A: Because he has Tom Brady, the expectation is the Patriots will win 11 or 12 games a year. Clearly, Belichick's coaching is part of the reason the Patriots are so successful. Often, Coach of the Year honors go to a first-year coach. Andy Reid has guided a 2-14 team to an 11-3 record. That's hard for any longtime coach to beat. It's like trying to argue Offensive MVP voting when Peyton Manning is putting up record numbers. Belichick can expect to get a later honor five years after he retires. He's the leading candidate from the current group of coaches to go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Q: I have an issue with Mike Tomlin's sideline fiasco, hopefully you can help. We've all seen the play 100 times and he was obviously in the thick white line at the edge of the field. Why aren't Tomlin and the Steelers facing penalties comparable to the Patriots' Spygate saga?

Jeremy in Seattle

A: Simple. Spygate went on for years. Tomlin's sideline act was one play. He is getting penalized severely for the mistake. He loses $100,000. The team could lose a draft choice. It's pretty clear Roger Goodell didn't believe Tomlin's act was intentional because he kept Tomlin on the NFL's Competition Committee. Tomlin made a mistake -- a bad mistake. And the penalty fit the offense.

Q: Do you think the new collegiate playoff system will entice college players to stay in school longer? Maybe Marcus Mariota believes he has a better chance to make the national championship next year.

Charlie in New Canaan, Conn.

A: I don't think it will have much of an impact. Only two teams are getting an additional chance to play for a championship. If a player has a chance to make money and leave school, he's going to leave school. There is a possibility a quarterback or two might stick around. It sometimes benefits guys at that position to stay an extra year. But aside from one or two players, I don't think it will be much of an impact.

Q: There has been a lot of talk about the quality of play being worse in the NFL this season. Some blame it on injuries and others on parity. My question is two-fold: 1) In your opinion has the quality of play been worse than in recent years? 2) If so, could it have something to do with the "mid-market" of quality veterans giving way to a few top-paid stars and increasing numbers of younger, cheaper players?

Thomas in Sweeden

A: I think there is a drop off, but I wouldn't say football has been terrible this season. The salary cap and injuries have played a big role in the slight dip in quality of play. Teams that are tight against the cap are picking younger, cheaper players instead of higher-priced veterans. Because of that, depth at most positions are thin. Injuries are up 12 to 14 percent from last year, so teams are asked to use more backups, and therein lies the problem. Still, games have been close and exciting. The NFL doesn't have a major problem, but it needs to create a developmental league to help ease the depth problems.

Q: As a Broncos fan, Thursday's night game has me very concerned. Most of the games they've won, the defense played poorly but was bailed out because of a historically good offense. But Thursday's game showed what can happen if the Broncos' offense stalls, which is bound to happen in the playoffs, with the league's best teams preparing for them. The defense needs to be revamped quickly. Wouldn't it be a good idea to bring a new defensive coordinator, similar to Cam Cameron being replaced by Jim Caldwell for the Ravens last year? I understand Jack Del Rio did a solid job as interim head coach, but how hard is it to win two or three games with Peyton Manning as your quarterback? I fear the defense will let the team down when it matters most in the playoffs, just like it did last year and a dramatic change is necessary.

Derrick in Fairfax, Va.

A: The San Diego game was concerning, but it was just one game. John Fox is just settling back into his head-coaching job, but don't forget he's a great defensive mind. The advantage of having 11 wins is they bought time to get some things fixed. There is no need to bring in a new coach. Del Rio kept the Broncos afloat while Fox was recovering from heart surgery and kept them in position to be the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Caldwell was on the staff in Baltimore when they fired Cameron. Del Rio now has more time to work with the defense and cut down on some of the mistakes. Del Rio needs to be praised, not criticized. He's served the Broncos very well since coming to town.

Q: The Broncos looked exhausted on Thursday and are lucky they didn't suffer a major injury. I understand the ratings push behind Thursday Night Football, but three days' rest is simply not enough this late in the season. Here is my proposal: Thursday night games run until Thanksgiving. After that, since college football is over, replace them with Saturday night games. This will give teams enough time to recover late in the season.

From Matt in Astoria, N.Y.

A: This idea makes sense, but owners won't go for it. Thursday night is a more valuable television property than Saturday night. The NFL is considering offering some of the Thursday night games to other networks to draw in more money. Heck, owners might start to look to sell a Saturday package after the college football season is over (as you suggested) in addition to having the Thursday night games. The NFL considers the Thursday night games a success. They aren't going to go back to turning Thursday night dark for NFL games.

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