The Schein Nine  

 

Midseason tips: Jim Caldwell must go, Melvin Gordon must run

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It's the midway point of the season. And your team is awful.

Don't worry: That's why I'm here.

Here are nine moves I would make to fix -- or at least responsibly manage -- nine teams:

1) Jim Caldwell should be next to go in Detroit.

On Thursday, the Lions fired general manager Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand. Can't say I'm surprised, especially when it comes to Mayhew -- I've been talking about his inevitable canning on my SiriusXM show, "Schein On Sports," for quite some time. The GM simply wasn't getting the job done. It's one thing to let Ndamukong Suh leave via free agency, but it's another thing to not have a plan. Prior to the 2014 NFL Draft, the Lions knew Suh's eventual departure was a possibility and they decided against exercising the fifth-year option on Nick Fairley's contract. Thus, one of the team's biggest strengths -- defensive tackle -- appeared rife with uncertainty beyond the 2014 campaign. Regardless, Mayhew and Co. picked tight end Eric Ebron over defensive tackle Aaron Donald. In a related story, the Lions' defense currently ranks 31st against the run.

With these firings coming a week after the Joe Lombardi ouster, we're in the midst of an extreme makeover in Detroit. For now, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport, Jim Caldwell is keeping his job. But the head coach needs to go, too.

Getting crushed by the injury-riddled and underachieving Chiefs in London was horrible, dropping the lowly Lions to 1-7. But only the Lions, rebuilding since 1958, could make it worse. On Tuesday -- again, two days after a five-touchdown loss to a sub-.500 football team -- Caldwell lectured the fantastic Detroit media about negativity, referring to the Lions' media room as the "dungeon of doom." So not only is Caldwell a bad in-game coach, but he is totally tone-deaf on how to deal with the press outside the lines. Is it the media's fault that the 2015 Lions have been outscored 245-149? Is it the media's fault that the Lions rank 26th in total offense, 27th in total defense and last in turnover differential?

I didn't think the Lions would make the playoffs again this year. It was pretty easy to see 2014 was a fluke. This team hasn't made the postseason in back-to-back years since the mid-1990s. In fact, here's a jarring fact: This franchise, which has been around since 1930, has never enjoyed consecutive regular seasons of double-digit wins.

The Lions are taking a new direction in the front office -- and they need to follow suit on the sideline. The long-suffering fan base deserves better.

2) Lovie Smith should let Leslie Frazier call defensive plays in Tampa.

The Buccaneers notched a nice win over the Falcons on Sunday. But don't let that distract from the fact that Tampa Bay is giving up 28.4 points per game (28th in the league).

Want more than stats and scores? Head to Sidelines, where NFL Media reporters dig deep to find the compelling, thoughtful stories that are the heartbeat of this game.

Lovie Smith took over defensive play-calling duties prior to this season. Obviously, he wasn't satisfied with the unit's performance in his debut campaign with the Bucs, when Tampa Bay went 2-14 and ranked 25th in total D. Well, it appears that was a mistake.

Here's a fun fact, courtesy of PewterReport.com: With Lovie calling plays in 2015, the Bucs have give up 30-plus points in four of their seven games. That matches the 16-game total from 2014.

Frazier should be calling the defensive plays, while Lovie should focus on managing the team. The head man already has too much on his plate, given that he has full autonomy on the 53-man roster.

Yes, the Bucs are currently 3-4. But they should be 4-3. Two weeks ago, Tampa Bay inexplicably blew a 24-0 lead over the Kirk Cousins-led Redskins. That's a devastating loss that just can't happen. And since Lovie picks the players and calls the defensive plays, it's a devastating loss that falls squarely on his overloaded shoulders.

As the head man, Smith needs to delegate duties. It's time for Lovie to return the reins to Leslie.

3) Texans need to make sweeping changes on defense.

Credit my "Inside The NFL" teammate Boomer Esiason for being ahead of the curve on this, but Romeo Crennel should be removed as the Texans' defensive coordinator. Linebackers coach Mike Vrabel could provide energy for this seemingly defunct unit.

OK, so the Texans just authored their best defensive performance of the season, holding the opposition to six points and recording seven sacks. But who was the opposition again? The Zach Mettenberger-led, one-win Titans. Yeah, let's not go too crazy here.

J.J. Watt, the most imposing defensive force in the NFL today, knows that this unit has vastly underachieved on 2015: "We need to be consistent," Watt said Monday, per the Houston Chronicle. "Obviously, we haven't been that, but we're in a position right now where everything is in front of us and we need to play our best football during the second half of the season."

I think swapping out Crennel for Vrabel could help the Texans do that. Another guy who's holding this defense back: Vince Wilfork. One of my favorite players in recent memory, Wilfork just isn't the same. He has been a liability for the Texans and is hurting the team.

In the horror show that is the AFC South, the Texans are tied for first place at 3-5. But let's not pretend all is well in Houston. It's time to make some changes that will allow the Texans to, as Watt said, raise the level of play down the stretch.

4) Colin Kaepernick needs to play through these woes.

The San Francisco 49ers have benched Colin Kaepernick. And this decision is absolutely stunning.

It's not stunning because of Kaepernick himself. Let's be honest: He's been terrible this season, regressing in a major way (see: career lows in yards per attempt and passer rating). It seems like a lifetime ago that he took the Niners to the Super Bowl. Kaepernick's passing and decision-making have been gruesome in 2015.

No, this decision is absolutely stunning because of the man San Francisco has promoted to the starting lineup: Blaine Gabbert. The No. 10 overall pick by Jacksonville in 2011 has been an epic bust at the NFL level, owning a career passer rating of 66.8 and starting record of 5-22. In my opinion, Gabbert entered this season as the worst backup quarterback in the NFL. You're telling me that this guy gives the 49ers the best chance to win? You're telling me that starting Gabbert against a porous Atlanta pass defense on Sunday is a better move than allowing Kaepernick to play through his struggles?

This is what comes from the Niners prioritizing harmony over winning, and jettisoning the great Jim Harbaugh -- one of the best coaches in sports today. Harbaugh didn't want to play nice in the sandbox with his superiors, and consequently, the Niners are now coached by Jim Tomsula. It has set San Francisco back years.

5) It's time for the Colts to be open to change -- great change.

The well-reported toxic relationship between Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano has put a dark cloud over the Colts' season. It has engulfed the team. So has the lack of talent, which comes back to Grigson. Firing offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton this week was akin to putting lipstick on a pig. The team doesn't have a defense or a reliable offensive line. Andrew Luck has been hurt and is making awful in-game decisions.

If the Colts get run out of their own building by former franchise face Peyton Manning on Sunday, they need to reconsider everything.

If it's inevitable that Pagano and Grigson will be fired at the end of the year, do it now. Consider benching veterans. Trent Cole and Andre Johnson have been bitter disappointments.

Yet, Indy can still win the awful AFC South, even as a current three-win team. But, like the Texans, the Colts' season could continue down a dark road if they don't proactively change course in some manner.

6) San Diego needs to feed Melvin Gordon despite the rookie's struggles.

The Chargers failure to seriously address the offensive line this past offseason was borderline criminal; Philip Rivers could sue for malpractice. And another outstanding season from Rivers is being wasted. I feel terrible for the future Hall of Famer.

San Diego was flawed to begin with, and now the injury bug has struck. Keenan Allen is done for the year. It's rather depressing if you are a Chargers fan.

San Diego needs to look to the future.

It would be good for the players and coaches if they had clarity on whether or not the team is moving to Los Angeles, but that's out of their control. What Mike McCoy and Co. can control is finding out what they have in their disappointing rookie runner who has been in and out of the lineup, banged up and seemingly mentally fried. In Weeks 6 and 7, Gordon logged just seven carries apiece. That doesn't help anyone, now or in the future.

On Monday, offensive coordinator Frank Reich said, via ESPN: "There's something about having just to dig deep when it feels like everyone's questioning you and the world's caving in around you. That's when the great ones really start to build something up that you find surfaces over weeks and years.

"And it becomes part of their makeup and what defines their greatness in the long run."

This is instructive. Give Gordon a chance to grow, despite the fumbling issues, despite the 3.7 yards per carry. With San Diego at 2-6, the rest of this season needs to be about building for the future. Speaking of which ...

7) The Ravens need to be the Ravens -- but start thinking about 2016.

Despite bad luck and bad play in 2015, Baltimore remains one of the best franchises in the league. The attitude and demand to win still permeate the organization. So, with all that said, it's hard to imagine the Ravens, at the outset of November, already thinking about next season. But with Baltimore at 2-6 and facing a challenging slate in the second half of the season, that's the wise move.

Now, I'm not saying it's time to mail it in. And Baltimore would never do that anyway; the franchise is too proud. The Ravens will keep grinding every practice, keep competing every Sunday.

But these Ravens need to operate with an eye toward 2016. Explore the roster, play the youngsters and do things that will make you better in the long run. Generally, Baltimore should proceed with the goal of winning another title in 2016. Because that's exactly where I expect them to be next fall: right back in the Super Bowl hunt.

8) Johnny Manziel needs to play beyond Week 9.

CHARGERS AT RAIDERS

With Josh McCown battling a painful rib injury, the Browns are starting Johnny Manziel in Thursday night's game against the Bengals. This is obviously a tough spot for the second-year pro, hitting the road on a short week to take on an undefeated football team. It's hard to imagine this game going all that well for Manziel and the Browns, facing a team that ranks third in scoring offense and seventh in scoring defense. Regardless of what happens, though, Cleveland should keep No. 2 in the lineup.

It's definitely fair to talk about Manziel's off-the-field concerns. How important is football to Johnny Football? That's a valid question. BUT, all that chatter has kind of distracted from the most basic question with the former Heisman Trophy winner:

Does his game translate to the NFL level?

We still don't know. Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer, who drafted him in the first round last year, don't concretely know, either. This is something that the franchise must pin down by the end of this season.

9) The Bears need to ... keep on keeping on!

Wait, what? My suggestion for the Bears is to continue forging on? How does this make sense in a "Mr. Fix-It" column? Maybe I'm getting a little slap-happy in the last entry of a "Schein Nine." Or maybe I just think this is a franchise headed in the right direction, contrary to popular opinion entering the season, contrary to conventional wisdom when it comes to a 2-5 team.

I don't think I've ever been so impressed with a bad team. After last season's epic disappointment, Chicago's energy in 2015 has been noteworthy. And as I wrote on Monday, Jay Cutler has re-emerged as a legit quarterback and should be the Bears' guy again next year.

The first half-season under John Fox has been far more positive than most anticipated, despite trades and injuries. Chicago has been competitive, particularly in the last four games. Now, the Bears need to keep it going and carry momentum into next year.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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