|Coach Killers is your weekly look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that put the guy in charge squarely on the ol' hot seat. (US Presswire)|
Ike Taylor, CB - Steelers
Ike Taylor spent much of his nine-year career as one of the league's unheralded cornerbacks, overshadowed in Pittsburgh by names like James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu. But he was always matched up against the opponents' best receiver and he almost always came out on top. That abruptly changed in the time it took then-Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow to complete a slant to wideout Demaryius Thomas who then galloped 80 yards for a wild-card-deciding touchdown last January. Taylor was in coverage and helpless to do anything about it.
The poor play has carried over into 2012; Taylor leads the league in pass interference calls (four) and teams have identified him as the weakest link in a decidedly weak Steelers defense. He's been targeted 44 times in five games, allowing 24 catches for 392 yards and four touchdowns. Pittsburgh fans are quite familiar with mediocre cornerback play but never from Taylor. The drop-off in productivity is alarming, particularly since the other corner, Keenan Lewis, is in his first year as a starter.
The low point of an already low season came last Thursday against a hapless Titans team. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Mark Kaboly wrote Friday that "Taylor allowed eight catches by four different receivers and gave up 115 yards and a touchdown. He was penalized twice for 30 yards (a third flag was declined). And he would've allowed 20 more receiving yards had Kenny Britt not dropped two passes. Taylor was targeted 15 times."
The solution? For starters, Taylor's teammates could help him out. Specifically: the front seven, which has been generating as much pass rush this season as a yard full of garden gnomes.
"While the three sacks might suggest they made a decent fist of it, they only pressured (Titans QB Matt) Hasselbeck on nine of his 48 drop-backs," wrote ProFootballFocus.com's Ben Stockwell of Pittsburgh's defense. "They may have turned a third of that pressure into sacks, but only getting pressure on 18.8 percent of passing plays is undoubtedly a poor return, even against Hasselbeck whose release time for this game was on average 2.4 seconds."
During Sunday's pregame show, former Steelers coach Bill Cowher suggested that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau would have to give Taylor help over the top with a safety. Whether that will magically solve everything -- especially with Polamalu not playing back this week -- is another matter. Also not helping: Pittsburgh faces Cincinnati this Sunday night and unless something changes, that means that Taylor will be matched up against A.J. Green.
Philip Rivers, QB - Chargers
It's time we had that talk.
In the span of approximately 22 games, Philip Rivers has gone from one of the NFL's top-10 quarterbacks to over-the-hill sad sack who throws a football like T-Rex. And his decision making is somehow worse than that. By now, we've all relived the Chargers' agonizing frame-by-frame Monday night debacle against the Broncos. San Diego blew a 24-point halftime lead to lose 35-24 thanks in no small part to Rivers' six (SIX!) turnovers.
And while it's one thing to pin blind-side strip-sack fumbles on the quarterback (we put that on left tackle Jared Gaither last week), the three second-half interceptions were entirely on Rivers.
|A perfect end to a perfect evening: Rivers fumbles his mouthpiece. Make that 7 turnovers.|
Here are how the Chargers' final six drives ended: fumble, punt, interception, interception, interception, fumble. Thank you and good night! When punting is considered a moral victory something has gone horribly wrong.
It's also fair to ask: what the hell happened to Rivers? If we're going to rip Michael Vick for winging the ball all over the yard without regard for the outcome, then Rivers deserves that ridicule, too.
We can also quit making excuses for him as an elite quarterback without a Super Bowl ring. Rivers was drafted in 2004, after Eli Manning and before Ben Roethlisberger and for years the three of them, in random order, had been ranked as the best in their class. That conversation is officially over -- forever. The other QB taken in the first round that year, J.P. Losman, is now Rivers' stiffest competition and that's for the third-best quarterback from the '04 draft class. (In related news: J.P. Losman is out of the NFL).
We can't envision a situation where Chargers coach Norv Turner keeps his job after the 2012 season, but it's also reasonable to ask about Rivers' future. His physical skills seem to have vanished but great players can work around those shortcomings (see, for example, Peyton Manning). But it's the above-the-neck failings that should have the Chargers worried. Not only does Rivers look like he just learned to throw a football, he acts like he's never seen an NFL defense. The conversation is no longer about where he ranks among the NFL's franchise quarterbacks, it's whether he should have a job at all.
Rams special teams
Ah, to be a special teamer, specifically one who makes his living kicking a football. You're almost an NFL player -- you attend practices and wear the uniform on game days, but there's no variation to what you do. See ball, kick ball through uprights, repeat. That's it. It's great work if you have the mental toughness -- or if you're Rams' rookie Greg Zuerlein, whose right leg has earned him all sorts of cute nicknames through the first five weeks of the season.
Zuerlein came into Sunday's game against the Dolphins having made his first 13 field goals, including a 60-yarder. In Miami, he was 2 of 5 and suddenly the "Legatron" nickname wasn't quite so funny. His first miss was from 52 yards and it's hard to fault him from that distance. But then Zuerlein honked a 37-yarder just before half that would've cut the Dolphins' lead to 10-9. His final miss came with four seconds in the game and the Rams trailing 17-14. It was from 66 yards out and had virtually no chance. Upside: the attempt had plenty of leg. Downside: it sailed left. Game over.
It's almost unfair to mention Zuerlein here at all. At worse, he should've made the 37-yarder and maybe the game would've been tied late in the fourth quarter. But when you couple his performance with that of special teamer and fullback Brit Miller, a clearer picture starts to take shape.
Miller, for reasons that remain a mystery, fielded a kickoff at the St. Louis 8-yard line late in the first half that easily could've been taken by the team's regular returner, Chris Givens. Unintentional comedy ensued. Miller was hit, fumbled, and Miami recovered at the 25. Three plays later, the Dolphins kicked a field goal to take a 10-6 lead. And 12 plays after that, Zuerlein missed the aforementioned 37-yarder.
“You know what, it happened so fast,” Miller said according to the St Louis Post-Dispatch. “Just the whole situation, we were expecting a pop-up really. …And looking back, letting it hit the ground probably would've been the best thing to do, to see if it would've (rolled) out of bounds. It was such a duck. But that's the first time I touched the ball (all season) and I fumbled it.”
Could be worse, Brit. You could be Philip Rivers. Every time he touches it he fumbles.
Cowboys two-minute offense
If nothing else, coach Jason Garrett's infatuation with making kicker Dan Bailey's life as difficult as possible takes the spotlight off America's second-favorite punching back (after Philip Rivers, naturally) Tony Romo.
We have a soft spot for Romo, and we're still convinced that he's a top-10 quarterback, despite the occasional five-interception performance and the weekly "WHY DID YOU THROW IT THERE?" lamentations. But against the Ravens, Romo was more than serviceable. Partly because the Cowboys spent much of the afternoon running all over the 11 stuffed shirts passing as Baltimore defenders, but also because Romo completed enough throws to win the game.
|We have no idea why you didn't call timeout, either. (AP)|
Of course, Garrett would have none of that. Instead, after the Cowboys cut the Ravens' lead to 31-29 and recovered an onside kick with 30 seconds left on the clock, Garrett treated those final seconds will all the urgency of someone savoring the last Krispy Kreme doughnut as they lounge in their La-Z-Boy getting ready for Wheel of Fortune.
With one timeout remaining and the ball on the Ravens' 34-yard line, Romo completes a pass to Dez Bryant for a 1-yard gain. Instead of burning that last timeout, everybody stood around for what felt like 24 seconds, finally deciding that burning that final timeout might be prudent. By then, two ticks remained on the clock and Bailey came on the field and promptly missed a 51-yard game-winning kick.
Not to worry, however. Garrett takes full responsibility for only coaching his team for 59:30.
"It starts with me," he said.
You don't say.
"(Calling timeout is) my responsibility,” he continued. “I made that play call and I got to do a better job of that. We left too much meat on the bone there. We need to get more than one yard when we had the one timeout and 26 seconds.”
Glad we cleared that up. If this sounds familiar it should. A year ago, Garrett managed to ice his own kicker by calling a timeout milliseconds before Bailey split the uprights with what would've been the game-winning field goal. Instead, Garrett burned a timeout, mumbled something about the kicking team "still settling in," and then watched helplessly as Bailey honked his second attempt.
At the time, CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco raised a question that was just as valid last Sunday.
"What I can't understand is not trying to get more yards with two timeouts to make the kick easier. Last time I checked, a 49-yard field goal isn't a chip shot."
Don't worry, Pete. Garrett knows he messed up and one of these days he may actually do something about it. When, however, is anybody's guess.
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