NFL: Will Week 2 be kinder to rookie head coaches?
For a little while, it looked like Jon Gruden might break the streak. The Raiders played the Rams tough in the first half and went to the locker room with a 13-10 halftime lead. Gruden’s team came out and tried to do what they did in the first half for 30 more minutes.
That was a bad idea. There wasn’t anybody watching who hadn’t figured out the Raiders’ offensive game plan by then. The Rams made the adjustments and ran away with the contest.
It was probably for the best since a Raiders victory would have caused sportswriters to engage in hours of heated discussion about whether John Gruden constituted a “rookie coach” or not, paving the way for lesser articles about the record-tying 6 rookie coach losses.
Breaking records is always better and for that, I thank Mr. Gruden and his team.
In case you’re wondering, the six coaches in 2001 included Gregg Williams (Buffalo Bills), Butch Davis (Cleveland Browns), Dick Vermeil (Kansas City Chiefs), Herm Edwards (New York Jets), Marty Mornhinweg (Detroit Lions) and Marty Schottenheimer (Washington Redskins).
None of them are being fitted for NFL Hall of Fame jackets based on their head coaching prowess.
But that’s not what this article is about. It’s about guessing which rookie head coach will be the first to win a game in 2018. Let’s review the situation:
John Gruden, Raiders (13-33 vs LA Rams)
Oakland was my fashionable pick for a Week 1 upset before they traded away Khalil Mack. It wasn’t so much the loss of their best play maker as much as it was the wind lost from the other players’ collective sails that changed my mind.
Gruden was already challenged in trying to mix an old-school history of success with new-school players. Letting Mack go, even if it really wasn’t with Gruden’s blessing, threw another wrench into his relationship with his charges.
Of course, a serious lack of talent doesn’t help. The only thing worse would be if the head coach kept complaining about the lack of talent publicly. Oh…
Week 2 sees the Raiders traveling to Denver to face the Case Keenum-led Broncos. Keenum almost threw the game away last week with three interceptions marring an otherwise solid performance. Better yet, the Broncos look like they found a running game behind an improved offensive line and two rookie rushers.
Worse for Oakland, the Broncos' much-improved offense seems to have energized their defense. Derek Carr is in for another long day in Denver. Gruden will almost definitely start 0-2.
Pat Shurmur, Giants (15-20 vs Jaguars)
Starting the season against the Jaguars was kind of like buying a fancy new sports car and test driving it on a muddy, curvy, treacherous road in a blinding snowstorm with a series of red-flashing traffic lights and overly-aggressive mountain goats.
We still don’t know what to make of the Giants offense. Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham showed what could be, but Eli Manning and his offensive line were exposed by the Jaguars fearsome front 7.
Pat Shurmur, the only other “rookie” with previous head coaching experience (although we’re not sure coaching the Browns counts), brings his team to Dallas in Week 2. Dallas has some issues on their offensive line. The Giants’ defense has to take advantage of that.
Ezekiel Elliott poses his usual threat and the Giants Landon Collins saw fit to insult Dak Prescott’s talent, so it won’t be a walk in the park. It never is in Dallas. This game will come down to which passer steps up. That makes Pat Shurmur’s Week 2 fortunes too-close-to-call.
Mike Vrabel, Titans (20-27 at Dolphins)
It was a crazy day all around with two massive weather delays and a series of bad injuries for the Titans. Blaine Gabbert quarterbacked much of the game after Marcus Mariota took a hit to his elbow. Delanie Walker was lost for the season and Taylor Lewan was knocked out, too.
Vrabel’s troops will try to defend their home turf against the Houston Texans and their ticked-off quarterback, Deshaun Watson. New England exposed the Texans offensive line. Tennessee’s offense will have to keep their team in the game by controlling Watson and Lamar Miller as well as the Patriots did.
Beating Houston is a tall order with a healthy team. A rookie will step in at tight end for Walker and the offensive line will have to make some adjustments in front of Mariota, who might be limited. With Gabbert at the helm, the Titans' task gets tougher. . Mike Vrabel and Tennessee probably start out 0-2.
Frank Reich, Colts (23-34 vs Bengals)
Frank Reich’s debut was considered a success only because Andrew Luck’s arm was still attached at the shoulder after 53 passes and a few good hits. Luck was almost giddy after the game. If you didn’t know better, you’d think the Colts won.
But an uncharacteristic fumble by Jack Doyle ruined a comeback attempt and doomed the Colts and Frank Reich to an O-1 start.
This week, the team travels to Washington for the Redskins’ season opener. The Redskins’ offense looked pretty solid with a healthy set of receivers and Adrian Peterson handling the non-Chris Thompson plays. But I can't be sure if the Washington defense is as good as the Cardinals made them look last week, or if the team in the desert is just that bad.
This could be a shoot-out, which Luck can handle if he has enough targets to pass to. The jury is out on that. Another Adrian Peterson disappearing act after a big game would help the Colts’ cause, but Reich will probably lose a second game this week.
Steve Wilks, Cardinals (6-24 vs. Redskins)
Apparently, Sam Bradford needs to be refrigerated to remain good. He absolutely wilted in the Arizona heat last week. It would help if he had more than one wide receiver and if David Johnson wasn’t playing with a bad back, but Bradford did little to help his own cause.
With a trip to Los Angeles versus the Rams on tap, Bradford's is probably among the voices suggesting that maybe Steve Wilks should consider starting rookie Josh Rosen this week.
It is already likely an achy Johnson will yield some snaps to rookie Chase Edmonds. The Rams defense has to not only take out Larry Fitzgerald, but to close air routes to everyone else, too.
Arizona made the Redskins defense look like the Rams in Week 1. What will the Rams look like in Week 2? Steve Wilks is almost definitely looking at an 0-2 start.
Matt Patricia, Lions (17-48 vs. Jets)
Talk about a bad week, Matt Patricia’s Lions did nothing to dismiss the notion that ex-Patriots’ coordinators make bad head coaches. Then word leaked out of turmoil in the clubhouse. As expected, some players resent Patricia’s tough demeanor and expectations compared to the soft environment of Detroit's past few seasons.
That can take care of itself as we just saw in New York. There was a time when New York Giants players wanted to run Tom Coughlin out of town. When he returned on the Jaguars side this week, there wasn’t a person in New Jersey- including his former players- who didn’t want to hug the man.
But the wounded Lions face the equally wounded 49ers in the San Francisco home opener. Jimmy Garoppolo lost for the first time in his NFL career last week, and he didn’t like it. With two good quarterbacks looking to rebound from bad weeks, this could turn into a slugfest.
In games like that, the team more excited to play usually wins out. Stafford can deliver the ball, but he can’t put a better attitude in his teammates. Patricia probably starts 0-2.
Matt Nagy, Bear (23-24 at Packers)
Matt Nagy has the best opportunity to make me look for a different article to write this week. His Bears defense had the Packers on the ropes before allowing a limping, immobile Aaron Rodgers to stand tall and hit three different receivers for fourth-quarter touchdowns and an improbably victory.
It is the type of loss that can inspire a team or take the wind right out of them. Did Nagy’s defense run out of gas? Did he need to stay more aggressive offensively and look for more points? Nagy will figure it out before this week.
Seattle visits the Windy City with another miracle-working passer in Russell Wilson. Most favor the Bears’ chances, especially with the loss of Wilson’s favorite receiver, Doug Baldwin. But Wilson has no problem throwing to anybody who is open, as we saw with the five targets aimed at blocking tight end Will Dissly in Week 1.
The return of Earl Thomas lifted the spirits of the Seattle defense and Wilson will do whatever it takes to keep the Seahawks close. I picked the Seahawks as my Upset of the Week, but that means Matt Nagy has the best chance of the bunch to win his first game in Week 2.
But… I could be wrong
Nagy and Giants’ coach Pat Shurmur have the best chances to break the collective losing streak. So-called “experts” in Las Vegas have Mike Vrabel’s Titans listed as a one-point favorite, but what do they know?
Stafford has the receivers to pull out a high-scoring affair for Patricia in San Francisco, although he is always a lesser passer on the road.
Adrian Peterson had a great start in Arizona last year before disappearing for two weeks. A repeat tilts the tables Andrew Luck’s (and Frank Reich’s) way.
It could be time for Amari Cooper’s annual great game and David Johnson can always take over the offense and solve the debate over whether he or Todd Gurley should have been the number 1 NFL Fantasy draft pick.
That’s why they play the games. (But I’m still keeping my “Holy Cow! They’re 0-14” article on the table for Week 3.)