The regular season is just nine short days from ending. At that point, 12 teams will begin to prepare for their playoff experience, while the remaining 20 squads will lick their wounds and make plans for 2013.
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For many of those non-playoff teams, future plans will begin with finding a new coach and new quarterback. But with so many teams needing both -- and so few qualified quarterbacks available -- how will every interested team satisfy this burning desire? The simple answer: They won't.
But the potential head coaches who will garner the most attention as viable hires will be the ones who best address the quarterback issue in the interview. Some will have plans on paper -- quarterbacks that interest them, etc. Others, like Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator/interim head coach Bruce Arians, will have fresh tape of a rookie signal-caller excelling in their system -- fine evidence to bolster their case as a qualified candidate. And Shanahan will have an additional ace up his sleeve: Kirk Cousins.
Whenever a coach can take two rookie quarterbacks and produce positive results, he must be given strong consideration. Kyle Shanahan's work with Robert Griffin III has been great, but we all know RG3 has unique talent. Some of the concepts and plays with RG3 behind center are more talent plays than the real work of Shanahan. Shanahan certainly deserves credit for developing an offense that highlights RG3's skill set, but this only goes so far. However, his work with Cousins in last week's crucial win over the Cleveland Browns has made everyone in the league stand up and notice -- especially those teams in dire need of a quarterback and a coach.
Shanahan's work this year has been really impressive overall. In the past, many thought the Redskins' offense was solely designed by Kyle's father, Mike, who is still one of the best offensive minds in football. But this year's Washington offense is the work of Kyle. Now, understand the concepts and principles of the offense are still from dad, but the game plans and the play calling are all Kyle.
Any team that hires Shanahan as its next coach might be able to pry away Cousins for a modest price -- considering he was just a fourth-round pick in last April's draft -- addressing two huge problems at once. Every father wants his son to succeed. Thus, if Kyle does land a head-coaching job, he would have a great in with his dad and the 'Skins in terms of making a trade for Cousins -- as long as it is an AFC team that hires Kyle. I strongly doubt that Kyle would ever take a job in the NFC East to compete against his father. (Imagine how awkward the holidays would be in the Shanahan home ...) But going to an AFC team makes sense, and makes the trade for Cousins seem doable.
Now, honestly, I have no idea if Shanahan would actually want to bring Cousins along as his next quarterback if he gets a head job. He could decide to draft his own quarterback, as one of his many strengths is his ability to develop the position. Yes, I know it didn't work out with Rex Grossman and John Beck in Washington, but he sure did a fine job with Matt Schaub in Houston and this year's work speaks for itself.
One week from next Monday, the NFL will begin a period of great change. There are at least six head-coaching jobs that could come open on that day alone. And the main reason for most of those gigs becoming available will be the lack of quality play at quarterback on each franchise. If the Redskins make the playoffs, the spotlight will be even brighter on Kyle Shanahan, and perhaps, Kirk Cousins.
Ten thoughts around the NFL
1) Sometimes when you watch a great player play, and he is not performing well, you know he must be injured. And that's how I feel watching Haloti Ngata these days. The Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle does not have the same power, quickness or explosiveness as he has had in the past. This clearly is due to health, not his age (28).
2) The Dallas Cowboys are 5-1 over the last six games, winning a pair of overtime nail-biters and taking two more games with fourth-quarter comebacks. With 137 fourth-quarter points, Dallas ranks second in that category to the New England Patriots. Obviously, the 'Boys have learned how to win close games; earlier in the season, they would have blown these opportunities. But Dallas must find ways to score in the opening quarter. As good as they are in the fourth, they're horrendous in the first, ranking 29th with just 39 points on the season.
3) The Cincinnati Bengals also are 5-1 over the last six games, losing a one-point heartbreaker to the Cowboys two weeks ago. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers this week, the Bengals must play their best game of the season. The last time these teams faced off, back in Week 7, Cincy accumulated just 13 first downs and 185 total yards. In fact, the Bengals have consistently lacked production in their last three games against Pittsburgh, averaging just 232 yards of total offense. Can this change on Sunday? Not if the Bengals' defense can't get off the field. The Steelers have controlled the game and the ball over that span, averaging 35 minutes in time of possession. Hard to move the ball when you don't have it.
4) Do great teams ever get shut out? My answer is almost always no, but the New York Giants did the unthinkable last week, putting a goose egg up against the Atlanta Falcons. Was this a one-game stinker? Not really. When the Giants' offense is out of gear -- not scoring 20 points or more -- New York normally loses. In addition, the G-Men are last in the NFL in negative offensive plays -- another trait not usually associated with great teams.
5) Does anyone really believe there is trade value in Mark Sanchez? I am sure the New York Jets will make some calls, but what team is going to take a quarterback who has turned over the ball more times in the last two years than any other quarterback? Had Sanchez retained his starting job for this week's game against the San Diego Chargers, that contest would have featured the two NFL quarterbacks with the most turnovers over the last two years, as Philip Rivers ranks second.
6) Do you realize Houston Texans defensive tackle J.J. Watt is tied for ninth in the NFL in passes defended with 15? Every player in front of him plays cornerback; the No. 1 pass defender is Pittsburgh Steelers CB Keenan Lewis with 21. When you add up Watt's passes defended, sacks and forced fumbles, he has created 37 opportunities for turnovers -- which equates to more than 2.5 chances per game. Remarkable.
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7) Since being held to just 79 yards against the Washington Redskins in Week 6, Adrian Peterson has eclipsed 150 rushing yards in six of the last eight games. What makes Peterson's work most amazing is that he has only received 19 carries on third down (out of 289 total totes), and 13 of those 19 have come in short-yardage situations. Can you imagine how many yards he might have accumulated if the Minnesota Vikings gave him nickel runs?
8) One of the many problems for the Detroit Lions this season has been their inability to simply catch the ball -- they lead the NFL in dropped passes with 40. They also lead the NFL in passing attempts with 642. Hard to be a consistent offense with dropped balls, especially with an attack that is so heavily reliant on the pass. This also helps explain why Matthew Stafford has gone from 41 touchdown passes last season to just 17 in 2012.
9) Over the first eight games of the season, the Redskins' defense gave up 20 touchdown passes, allowing a robust 7.93 yards per pass attempt. However, in their last six contests, the 'Skins have yielded just eight touchdown passes and 6.86 yards per attempt. RG3 and Cousins deserve plenty of credit for the current five-game winning streak, but don't overlook the fact that Washington's defense has made huge improvements.
10) I thought Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco would have a big day against the Denver Broncos last Sunday, but I also thought he would have a great year in 2012. Neither turned out to be true. When it comes to personnel, my strongest belief is to always evaluate your players on how they perform away from home, as great players always play great on the road. So far this season, Flacco has been at his all-time worse on the road in terms of completion percentage (57.1). However, the most disturbing metric is his average yards per pass attempt, which sits below 6.0 on the road. After almost beating Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in last season's AFC Championship Game, I expected Flacco to continue his improvement. Boy, was I wrong.