SportsPulse: Mackenzie Salmon breaks down the four teams that occupy the NFC North and discusses how each team will or won’t make it to the playoffs.
How can an NFL team effectively evaluate a head coach in 2020?
In any year, delving beyond records to determine responsibility or fault can be difficult. In a season already drastically altered by the coronavirus pandemic, however, the task is sure to be even more challenging. From navigating a new set of protocols to preparing for contingencies in case of outbreaks, all coaches will have to focus on much more than player development and game prep. And many of the scenarios they might face could be beyond their control.
Nevertheless, the NFL is not a league in which franchises typically afford mulligans to its top decision makers. Just eight teams have retained their current coach since 2014 or earlier, and 16 have made a change since 2018. And while this year’s unique landscape — including a playoff field expanded to 14 teams — might afford some coaches another opportunity, others won’t be so fortunate.
With Week 1 starting Thursday, here’s our look at the five coaches with the hottest seats entering this season:
1. Matt Patricia, Detroit Lions
New owner Sheila Ford Hamp backed down a bit from the organization’s declaration last December that it expects to be “a playoff contender” in 2020, but she maintained that the franchise wants to see “major improvement.” While Patricia might not be operating under a strict mandate, it’s clear the results he has produced in two years (9-22-1) aren’t up to par.
The coach has handed defensive play-calling responsibilities to new coordinator Corey Undlin, but the offense might be the key to jump-starting this group. Prior to being sidelined for the back half of last year’s campaign, Matthew Stafford unlocked Darrell Bevell’s deep passing attack with 8.6 yards per attempt, which ranked second only to Ryan Tannehill among starters. Closing out more effectively will also be critical for a team that blew six fourth-quarter leads in 2019. If Detroit improves in this area, then perhaps it can write off the previous results as a matter of bad luck. If the problem persists, however, the scrutiny on Patricia and his staff will only intensify.
2. Doug Marrone, Jacksonville Jaguars
Following a multiyear purge of the roster’s premier talent, Marrone is one of the few notable figures remaining from Jacksonville’s run to the verge of the Super Bowl in the 2017 season. The coach, too, might soon be dealt a fate similar to those of the many players whom the franchise cast off.
Marrone acknowledged he wouldn’t expect to be invited back to guide a rebuild, saying last Monday, “At the end of the day, if I don’t win enough games or I don’t do enough with this team, I don’t foresee me still being employed.” Given that the Jaguars have already stockpiled four picks in the first two rounds of next year’s draft and opted not to invest an early selection this spring in a passer who could challenge Gardner Minshew, Jacksonville already seems to be laying the groundwork for a different coach to take over.
3. Adam Gase, New York Jets
Before a trade to the Seattle Seahawks brought an end to his long-simmering feud with the Jets’ front office and coaching staff, safety Jamal Adams offered a pointed critique of Gase, telling the New York Daily News, “I don’t think he’s the right leader for this organization to reach the Promised Land.” Adams is gone, but his words might linger.
Gase was responsible for the league’s worst offense (273 yards per game) in 2019, though a spate of injuries and ailments — including to starting quarterback Sam Darnold, who missed three games with mono — took a considerable toll. With the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins each making strides in the AFC East, Gang Green faithful likely won’t tolerate excuses as easily this season, when the team is seeking clarity on whether Darnold can be trusted as its quarterback of the future.
4. Dan Quinn, Atlanta Falcons
Seemingly a lock to be shown the door by the end of the season after starting 1-7 in 2019, Quinn managed to reverse both Atlanta’s fortunes and his own by engineering a 6-2 finish. Key to that effort was the midseason staff reshuffling, which included moving former wide receivers coach Raheem Morris to co-lead the defense.
Quinn will need to rely on the unit to maintain its progress and protect an inexperienced group of cornerbacks against the likes of Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Otherwise, a third consecutive January spent outside of the postseason picture could spell the end for his run.
5. Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears
A dismissal during or after his third season would rank as a remarkable fall from grace for the 2018 NFL Coach of the Year. While Nagy might still have a fair amount of good will banked from that 12-4 campaign, last year’s 8-8 team displayed several alarming signs of regression, including finishing 29th in both total yards and points.
Ultimately, the coach’s fate might be tied to his ability to make a viable starter out of Mitchell Trubisky — or his willingness to bench the fourth-year veteran if the offense continues to flounder. GM Ryan Pace might be in more danger, especially if offseason trade acquisition Nick Foles can’t lift the team should Trubisky be pulled.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.
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