Posted on: January 9, 2012 11:46 am

Crennel: No-brainer of a choice

Romeo Crennel is the right coach at the right time for the Kansas City Chiefs for a couple of reasons: 1) The team responded to him the last three weeks of the season, with the Chiefs inflicting the only loss on Green Bay, and 2) he gets along  with general manager Scott Pioli.

I'm not sure which is more important, but I know that the issues that were apparent this season when there was friction between coach Todd Haley and the front office will not be there with Crennel. The two know what to expect of each other, which makes life a lot easier for the organization as a whole.

Now, will that translate to victories? We'll just have to wait and see, but the early returns were encouraging. Not only did Kansas City win two of its three starts under Crennel, it hung the only defeat on Green Bay in its last 22 games. The Chiefs also knocked off AFC West champion Denver ... in Denver, no less ... and could've beaten Oakland before succumbing in overtime.

In short, they were a tough out again, and that's what you want from your ballclub.

In only three games Crennel found something in the Chiefs that was missing in the first 13, and that's encouraging for next season. But so is his relationship with Pioli, with whom he was teamed when Crennel was the defensive coordinator in New England. The Patriots were a dominant franchise then -- as they are now -- and the hope is that Pioli and Crennel can recreate that success in Kansas City.

Can it happen? Sure, it can. I mean, it was only a year ago that Kansas City won the division at 10-6. Plus, this year's winner was 8-8, so the field is wide open.

But will it? That's another matter. Crennel had only one winning season in four years as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, which doesn't sound like much, except the Browns have had only two since returning to the NFL in 1999.

As I said, the right guy at the right time.

Category: NFL
Posted on: January 8, 2012 3:57 pm

Now come questions for Falcons

The New York Giants didn't just beat Atlanta. They destroyed the Falcons, and I can already hear the second-guessing of Mike Smith and his quarterback, Matt Ryan.

Both were involved in critical plays that sent Smith and the Falcons hurtling to another playoff loss. Twice Smith had the Falcons go for the first on fourth-and-1 when a field goal could have been tried... and made ... and twice it was Ryan who failed on quarterback sneaks.

Then, on third-and-1, Atlanta tried something ... or someone ... else, calling on Michael Turner, and the result was the same. He was thrown for a one-yard loss.

In essence, the Falcons never showed up for this one. In fact, their only score was produced by the Giants' Eli Manning, called for a safety when he intentionally grounded a pass in the end zone. The Falcons were outscored, outplayed and outclassed in every phase and deserve the criticism they'll absorb.

With the loss, the Falcons are 0-3 under Smith and Ryan in the playoffs, and the question must be asked: Can Atlanta go to the top with these guys?

We already know about the Giants. They won a Super Bowl with Eli Manning, and they're on their way to Green Bay, site of Manning's OT victory in the conference championship game of the 2007 playoffs.

These Giants are not those Giants, but Manning's not that Manning, either. He's better.

Nevertheless, the Giants will be decided underdogs, and they should be. They have the worst record among the teams in the NFC playoffs.

But this just in: They won four of their last five, their defense allowed 28 points in the past three games and Manning isn't making mistakes. The Packers shouldn't be nervous. But they should be wary.

Category: NFL
Posted on: January 7, 2012 3:15 pm

Bucs looking for stern disciplinarian

Discipline is the password to the next head-coaching hire in Tampa Bay.

Sources said the Bucs are -- and will be -- insistent in interviews that their next head coach run a tight ship to make all associated with the Bucs accountable on and off the field. The feeling, they said, is that former coach Raheem Morris lost control of the club, players became undisciplined and the Bucs suffered for it.

Their record is the best evidence. Not only did they lose their last 10 straight to finish 4-12; they committed the fourth-most penalties, with 123, and led the league in turnovers with 40. In 2010 they had 19.

They also had the league's worst takeaway-to-turnover differential at --16.

The Bucs have interviewed former Green Bay and Texas A&M head coach Mike Sherman and Tennessee defensive coordinator Jerry Gray for the opening. Sherman led the Packers to five consecutive winning seasons and three divisional titles

Category: NFL
Posted on: January 7, 2012 3:00 pm

Lynn out in Philadelphia?

In the first of what could be a series of offseason moves, it appears that secondary/cornerbacks coach Johnnie Lynn is out in Philadelphia. In fact, a source I trust told me he's been fired.

The Eagles have not made an announcement, but the club is expected to make sweeping changes in the wake of a disapppointing 8-8 season -- made possible only when the Eagles won their last four games.

While the Eagles ranked 10th vs. the pass, and opposing quarterbacks completed only 58 percent of their passes against them, they did allow 27 touchdown passes. Nevertheless, that was four fewer than 2010.

Lynn was hired prior to last season after coaching the secondary in San Francisco.


Category: NFL
Posted on: January 7, 2012 2:49 pm

Looks like Pagac next out Vikings' door

Defensive line coach Karl Dunbar is out in Minnesota, and defensive coordinator Fred Pagac can't be far behind.

The team hasn't announced the firing of Pagac, but all signs point in that direction. In fact, a league source I trust said that the Vikings have four candidates lined up to interview for the coordinator's job -- Raheem Morris, formerly head coach of Tampa Bay; Steve Spagnuolo, former head coach of St. Louis; Mel Tucker, interim head coach and defensive coordinator at Jacksonville; and Mike Singletary, the linebackers coach and assistant head coach with the Vikings.

His take? Spagnuolo could be the frontrunner. Of course, he could be the frontrunner in a lot of places, too, including Philadelphia, where the Eagles almost certainly shake up their defensive staff.

Under Pagac, the Vikings' defense plummeted to 21st overall, 26th against the pass and 31st in points allowed. The run defense ranked 11th, which doesn't sound bad except Minnesota hadn't finished out of the top five since 2005.

Things got so dreadful that Frazier took over the play-calling for a stretch last month from Pagac, whose approach didn't appear in synch with his head coach's. Apparently, it wasn't in synch with players, either. According to one report, defensive backs sometimes refused to execute the plays he was calling.

In any case, it appears he's out -- which, considering this year's results, would be no surprise.

Category: NFL
Posted on: January 3, 2012 2:49 pm
Edited on: January 3, 2012 5:08 pm

No shocker that Turner, A.J. back

Dean Spanos' decision to retain Norv Turner and A.J. Smith wasn't exactly a surprise. There were rumblings following last weekend's defeat of Oakland that Spanos was considering retaining them, with one source on Monday telling me he thought both would be back.

And that's precisely what happened.

Turner had two more years left on a contract that pays him $3 million per, and Smith has three more years left on a deal that pays him $2 million annually. But money was not the consideration here, I was told. Spanos is simply resistant to change, reluctant to make a sweeping overhaul unless he feels he must, and with the Chargers winning four of their last five he believed Turner deserved another chance.

It couldn't have hurt, either, that star quarterback Philip Rivers spoke out in favor of retaining his coach after the Chargers finished the season. Rivers is not only the club's best player; he's the spokesman for the team. And when he defended Turner, he had to make an impression with Spanos.

This doesn't mean that Turner is in the clear. On the contrary, the club missed the playoffs the last two years, and that's a problem. Spanos won't tolerate another 8-8 season, so Turner has been put on alert. My guess is that he either wins the AFC West next season or it's on to another coach.

But at least he has the chance.

A week ago, I never thought that was possible. But Spanos' move is made in the name of continuity, something the Chargers lacked over the years, and he must figure that if it can work for others maybe, just maybe, it can work for him. If you believe in your head coach -- and Spanos is fond of Turner -- then you give him every opportunity to prove you right.

Spanos just gave Turner his last chance.

Posted on: January 2, 2012 8:46 pm

Irsay looking for new direction

Apparently, Jim Irsay decided enough was enough.

People close to the Colts tell me that Irsay's decision to fire Bill and Chris Polian was the Indianapolis owner's way of saying it was time for the club to find a new direction.

For 14 years the Colts operated -- and successfully, I might add -- under the tutelage of the senior Polian. But it was never easy, as things seldom are with the mercurial Polian. He was tough for some persons to abide, but they could put up with him and his legendary temper as long as the Colts were winning -- which they were the past decade.

But that changed this season with the exit of Peyton Manning, and even though Polian was semi-retired he still was the voice of the Colts -- keeping his radio and TV shows and appearing at annual owners' meetings.

His son had been groomed to run the franchise, and was inserted as the team's GM -- but, according to people within and without the club, he was tough to work with. Again, that might have been excused if the Colts had won. But they didn't.

In fact, they were the league's worst team. Plus, the shortcomings of the team became apparent once Manning stepped aside -- and I'm talking about a lack of talent.

That was an indictment of Polian's drafts, which haven't yielded much in recent years. Polian built a considerable reputation on marvelous drafts, but some of the team's moves lately didn't pay off -- with Indianapolis gaining little. With Irsay wondering where the Colts were headed, he looked at where they are ... and he didn't  like what he saw.

People tell me the decision had nothing to do with Polian's comments about Manning or Irsay choosing his quarterback over his vice chairman. What was involved was Irsay wanting to send his team in a new direction -- one where new people brought new ideas and a vitality to a club that seemed to have stagnated.

Bill Polian did a magnificent job in Indianapolis, just as he had in Buffalo when he built the Bills into a Super Bowl franchise. But Irsay was dismayed over what happened this season -- with Manning's absence exposing the team's warts.

So he made the change, hoping to invigorate the franchise with an "energy," as he put it, he thought it was missing. I don't know if it works, but I do know it's a bold maneuver that is bound to shake up the franchise -- on and off the field.

Category: NFL
Posted on: January 2, 2012 5:11 pm

AFC's top seeds should prevail

Now that Rashard Mendenhall is out of the playoffs, Pittsburgh's chances of repeating a 2005 playoff run as the wildcard appear compromised. Meaning ... meaning that the AFC's top seeds look better than ever.

Here's why: Let's say Pittsburgh beats Denver this week, which most people assume. Then the Steelers play either Baltimore, which beat them twice this season, or New England. Pittsburgh overcame the Patriots in October, but it was in Pittsburgh and it was with Mendenhall, who had 70 yards rushing that afternoon.

Let's say Cincinnati beats Houston, too. The Bengals then would play New England, and, sorry, I'll take Tom Brady over Andy Dalton. If Houston were to prevail, then it's Pittsburgh that travels to Foxborough and the Texans that go to Baltimore. Houston couldn't win there with Matt Schaub. So why should it win there with an injured T.J. Yates?

It shouldn't.

The missing team, of course, is Denver, but expectations are low for the Broncos. If they somehow win this weekend, there is virtually no shot of them beating a New England club that won in Denver last month or a Baltimore team that won 18 of its last 19 home dates and was 8-0 at home this season.

Bottom line: The top seeds are in good shape.

Category: NFL
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