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Rookie NFL head coaches had impressive Week 1 debuts


This 12 months’s crop of rookie NFL coaches share some overriding similarities — which could be correlated to their unusual performance in Week 1, when the group bucked history to go 4-1.

Intentional or not — and within the opinion of executives and individuals involved on this hiring cycle, the trend was not happenstance — there have been commonalities within the five latest coaches landing where they did, once they did. Several teams that were ushering out an overbearing, defensive-minded or special teams-oriented head coach brought in a novice substitute with opposite characteristics. As a bunch, the brand new coaches differ from their predecessors not merely in football philosophy and dogma, but in approach and leadership style, with demeanors completely counter to those of the boys they replaced.

That is, in spite of everything, a people business … or in order that they say. And it’s most definitely a copycat league.

It looks as if no coincidence that Kevin O’Connell replaced surly Mike Zimmer in Minnesota; that Brian Daboll was deemed the proper man to interchange polarizing Joe Judge in Recent York; that it’s Mike McDaniel in for notoriously headstrong Brian Flores in Miami; and that Nathaniel Hackett, though immediately beleaguered, is now coaching Denver with curmudgeon Vic Fangio gone. All 4 franchises settled on a progressive, player-friendly, decidedly new-school offensive-minded teenager to interchange either an aging longtime defensive coordinator (Zimmer and Fangio) or a Bill Belichick disciple (Judge and Flores), all of whom had reputations for hotheadedness, confrontation and micromanaging.

(The opposite team to rent a latest head coach, the Bears, brought in former Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus to interchange offensive-minded Matt Nagy, a departure in background if not in personality).

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“Those owners were all purchasing for the identical thing,” said one individual who discussed coaching selections and potential hires with multiple owners in the course of the process but was not at liberty to debate those talks publicly. “It’s not a coincidence in any respect. It’s the reality. And the personality was a significant component.”

The brand new arrivals ushered in a fresh vibe, with players on the offensive side of the ball in several training camps feeling more freedom, authority and support from the brand new regimes. They weren’t apprehensive about an overbearing coach storming the sidelines, screaming of their headsets or threatening them at practice. Football appeared to feel fun again.

These culture improvements may prove temporary, and the trials of the season will invariably result in turmoil and tumult — to say nothing of defeats — but it surely seems price exploring how and why these decisions were made.

The connection between Zimmer and Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was shattered by the 2020 season, based on multiple individuals related to the team on the time, to say nothing of 2021, when the Vikings finished 8-9. “Beyond toxic,” one person near several players on the Vikings, who will not be free to disclose private conversations, put it to me on several occasions.

“Most underrated transaction of the offseason was eliminating Zim,” said one other well-placed individual. Players had tuned him out, the people said; his diatribes grew tiring.

O’Connell, one other offshoot of Sean McVay’s coaching tree (and one more former Washington assistant now an NFL head coach) has a much more reserved and player-friendly approach. Where former Vikings offensive assistants felt constrained by Zimmer’s throwback tendencies, O’Connell’s staff flexed creative muscles in a Week 1 thrashing of the Packers, scheming open top receiver Justin Jefferson everywhere in the field.

Flores was in a perpetual power struggle with Dolphins General Manager Chris Grier, one he eventually lost after churning through offensive coordinators and key offensive acquisitions. Quarterbacks bristled and wondered where they stood with him; QB-turned-broadcaster Ryan Fitzpatrick recently suggested as much. Flores dictated personnel changes in the general public relations and other departments, moves typical in Recent England. In got here McDaniel, one more McVay/Kyle Shanahan acolyte, as cerebral and new-school as O’Connell, with a gregarious and self-deprecating nature. He put a beating on Flores’s former mentor, Belichick, in his coaching debut, with a fourth-and-seven call for a touchdown — something unfathomable under Flores — leading the best way.

I asked one NFL team official, who worked closely with Flores and McDaniel at different times, if there have been any similarities of their personalities or leadership styles. “Zero,” he said, unable to talk publicly about this as a consequence of contractual limitations. “When it comes to personality, they’re total opposites.”

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If the Broncos had not hired an offensive-minded, approachable coach, then Russell Wilson wouldn’t be their quarterback. “If Fangio remains to be the coach there, the trade doesn’t occur,” said one person with direct knowledge of the situation who spoke to many individuals involved within the blockbuster trade. “The Broncos aren’t on the list [of teams Wilson would go to] if Hackett isn’t there, or someone like him.”

It was well-known in NFL circles that Wilson’s relationship with Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll — one other defense-first coach, and the oldest within the league — was fractured in his final years there, with philosophical clashes concerning the direction of the offense.

Hackett was the lone rookie coach to lose in Week 1, readily admitting his late-game decisions played an enormous role in Monday night’s setback in Seattle, but he did Let Russ Cook, with Wilson throwing 42 times (to twenty runs) and racking up 340 passing yards, with Denver averaging a whopping 6.77 yards per play, fourth-best within the NFL in Week 1.

Daboll’s Giants were third in that category (6.79 yards/play; O’Connell and the Vikings were sixth), doing so with Giants offensive players who had a pathetic output — together with strained relationships — under Judge. Like Flores, Judge was perpetually clashing along with his staff and flexing authoritarian muscles, which didn’t go over well within the locker room.

“Nobody was buying his Belichick impersonation,” said one one who discussed the previous coach privately with several Giants players.

While Daboll was not above difficult beleaguered QB Daniel Jones on the sideline during Recent York’s comeback upset of the Titans — in what can have looked Judge-ian — he also empowered his offense with a choice to try a two-point conversion to win the sport on the road. (Such daring decisions bond this group). And the unbridled joy between the coach and his players dancing within the postgame locker room, as captured on social media, was unlike anything you’ll see in Recent England.

Through one week, the collective about-face in people skills, approach and disposition is already yielding considerable dividends for franchises that hired latest coaches. Time will tell how long that honeymoon lasts.

The Ravens’ offensive line miscalculation

One AFC GM contacted me this summer to ask if the Baltimore Ravens were really going to enter a season with Ja’Wuan James — a long-injured right tackle with no pedigree on the blind side — atop their depth chart at left tackle, with former all-pro Ronnie Stanley still not near getting back from his most up-to-date ankle procedures.

“What are hell are they doing?” said the GM, who will not be permitted to talk on the record about other team’s personnel decisions. “I’m watching the film [of James in the first two preseason games], and he can’t play left tackle. What are they watching? Do you actually consider they’re going to begin the season with him? Will he still be there once we play them?”

Seems, that is not going to be the case.

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James, who had not played an NFL game because the end of the 2019 season, struggled mightily in Week 1 against the Jets, and his season was over by halftime; he tore his Achilles’ after being driven back nearly into the feet of Lamar Jackson. In keeping with multiple individuals who discussed the matter with James, the veteran repeatedly expressed discomfort and angst to Ravens staff about moving to the left side, yet the team gave him virtually every starting rep during training camp and preseason. The situation seemed destined to finish poorly.

Stanley remains to be working his way back from one other major surgery after Week 1 a 12 months ago — a repeat of what he underwent in 2020, when his season was cut short that November — and is practicing sporadically. It’s removed from certain Stanley will return to form, or how much football he’ll have the ability to play this 12 months. Jack-of-all trades lineman Patrick Mekari is the starting left tackle for now, with almost no depth behind him.

For a team with Super Bowl aspirations — and a quarterback in Jackson who’s unsigned beyond this 12 months and suffered a season-ending injury behind a suspect line a 12 months ago — it’s a situation price close monitoring.

“They took a nasty left tackle situation a 12 months ago,” one other AFC personnel exec said, “and someway made it worse.”

Derek Carr’s ‘predictable’ favorite goal

There was a natural tendency in Week 1 for teams that acquired elite veteran receivers to force-feed their latest weapons. But one team and quarterback took it to eye-catching lengths — with middling results.

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was elated to get his college teammate, Davante Adams, in an enormous trade with Green Bay, and understandably so. But there’s something to be said for every little thing carefully, and a few noteworthy tendencies emerged within the Raiders’ opener (hat tip to a former NFL personnel exec who suggested I have a look at where the ball went to open every Las Vegas drive).

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The Raiders called nine passes to simply one run on their 10 drive-opening plays; there was one sack allowed, and of the opposite eight plays, six went to Adams. Of Carr’s 37 passes, nearly half (17) went to his former Fresno State teammate, while no other Raider had greater than six targets or 4 catches. “It got to be slightly predictable,” the previous exec said. While Adams grabbed 10 of those targets for 141 yards, it wasn’t all great; Carr also threw an interception directed to him and had a lowly 80.8 rating when throwing to his pal.

Yes, the Dolphins featured Tyreek Hill early and sometimes and the Eagles did the identical with A.J. Brown. But their quarterbacks had far higher rankings when going to them, and, well, each teams won. With so many talented pieces who can win for them within the passing game — tight end Darren Waller, receiver Hunter Renfrow, running back Josh Jacobs — we’ll see if Carr is kind of as Adams-centric this week against the Cardinals.

Notes from across the league

Early buzz in NFL executive circles about options for the Bears to interchange longtime team president Ted Phillips includes agent Trace Armstrong, a former Bear, and Rod Graves, the pinnacle of the Fritz Pollard Alliance and a former NFL GM and Bears exec. The Bears’ latest coach and general manager are Armstrong clients, and though he denied it last winter, several individuals with direct knowledge of the situation told me in early 2022 that Bears officials had conversations with the agent a couple of potential role with the franchise. …

The Packers have been notorious for slow starts and Week 1 pratfalls. But Aaron Rodgers — with a weak line and lack of proven playmakers — looked slightly indifferent at times to some who watched the film of last week’s loss to the Vikings. His passer rating (67.6) was unbecoming of the back-to-back MVP winner, and while he was actually worse within the opener a 12 months ago (36.9), one can’t help but wonder about his supporting solid. Only 5.9 percent of Rodgers’s attempts went 20 yards or more within the air (similar to, gulp, Jacoby Brissett) and he was twenty eighth in air yards per attempt (5.59). That’s not him. For the reason that start of 2016, Rodgers has began and finished 87 games, and only twice did he register a worse rating than he did Sunday.

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