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Coach Killers, Week 1: Chris Johnson off to another slow start

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com
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)

Chris Johnson, RB - Titans

Three years ago, Johnson was about to embark on a 2,006-yard rushing season. That started inauspiciously enough with a 57-yard effort against the Steelers. And maybe that's the glass-half-full approach Johnson apologists should be taking after what happened against the Patriots on Sunday. Johnson's final line: 11 carries for four yards. That's not a typo. F-O-U-R yards. Twelve feet.

Doing the math, Johnson would need more than 275 carries to reach 100 yards. You know when you're watching a game and one of your buddies, trying to relive those high school glory years, makes some ridiculous statements about "I can do that." Well, when it comes to Johnson's performance, your buddy ain't joking. He could do that and probably more.

But even though Johnson looked hesitant in the backfield, the 0.36 yards-per-carry weren't entirely his fault.

"With some of the disguises some of (what the Pats') defense was doing, we ran into some looks that weren't optimal run looks," coach Mike Munchak said after the game. "So we got 1-yard gains and no-yard gains on some of those."

Fair enough. But if Johnson's no better than the average NFL back when it comes to making something out of nothing then why did the Titans give him a four-year, $53 million extension last offseason? This is a rhetorical question, of course. We've made our views crystal clear on this matter countless times.

Munchak continued: "Early he was, again, looking for a bigger run than was there instead of taking the four or five that are there. The cutback and the big one may come later if you get more touches. I'm sure he thought he was going to get a lot more than (11) carries ... but he didn't."

Funny how that happens when your feature back averages a third of a yard per touch.

So now what? Well, things can only get better. And it is Week 1; in a month the football landscape will look completely different than it does today. (Quick refresher: the 2011 Redskins opened the season with a win over the Giants and started 3-1. By the time it was over, they were 5-11. Just saying.) Worst case: Move Johnson to wide receiver. Not officially, but use him more as a pass-catcher coming out of the backfield than a traditional running back. There's no reason to waste everyone's time if he continues to run with all the authority of a pumpkin so why not mix it up?

Michael Vick, QB - Eagles

This might be the first time in Coach Killers history that a player from the winning team has earned this dubious honor. But here's the reality: Eagles coach Andy Reid's job is very much in jeopardy. We know this because owner Jeffrey Lurie said as much days before the season opener. And Reid's future in Philly is very much dependent on how Vick plays. So it must've been troubling to watch the $100 million franchise quarterback look a lot more like Brandon Weeden than, well, someone paid $100 million to be a franchise quarterback.

Vick had four interceptions, including a pick-six that gave the Browns the fourth-quarter lead. He also had two fumbles and spent the afternoon getting pummeled because he refuses to change the way he plays. And maybe injury isn't an issue since Vick's wearing his invincibility vest, but broken plays and mad scrambles aren't the most efficient way to run the Eagles' offense.

Like most things, Reid seems unconcerned. During his Monday news conference, he was asked if Vick had trouble recognizing the Browns' defensive sets.

“Like I said it's a combination of things," he began. "It starts with the plays that are dialed up. It starts with protection and then it comes back to decision making. All three of those things fit into what took place and you've got to add the route running in there too. If they're going to come up and bang you around then you've got to work like crazy to get yourself open and do the right thing. Everybody had a piece of that.

"It's always going to fall on the quarterback's shoulders and we have one that takes that responsibility and he takes it to heart. But in reality when you put on the tape everybody's got to do their job. You play an aggressive defense that's good against the pass, particularly last year, then you have to come and you've got to be ready to roll every snap and you've got to be aggressive every snap. We have to do a better job with that.”

Even if you're willing to concede that the Browns' D played exceptionally well, here's the thing: the Eagles face the Ravens next. That defense, even without Terrell Suggs, is legit. And unless Vick suddenly alters the way he plays, we could soon be talking about "new Philly quarterback Nick Foles." Either because Vick got knocked out of the game with an injury or because if he keeps playing like this Reid won't have any choice.

Brandon Weeden, QB - Browns

It might be unfair to throw a rookie quarterback on this list after his first NFL game. But Weeden looked dreadful against the Eagles. He finished 12-of-35 for 118 yards, 0 TDs and 4 INTs. As the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot pointed out earlier this week, Weeden's passer rating (5.1) looked a lot like his career ERA in five minor league seasons (5.02). This isn't a compliment to his proficiency in either sport.

Typically, first-start efforts should be taken with a grain of salt; young quarterback in a new system with new teammates against much better competition than they saw in college. One problem: Weeden ain't young. He's 28 and the Browns drafted him in the first round last April with the intention to have him play immediately.

Because this is Cleveland, where the football gods are still angry about some past transgression the rest of us have long forgotten, Weeden's struggles have prompted some people to call for -- you guessed it -- backup Colt McCoy.

Coach Pat Shurmur was asked after the game what he'd say to fans "clamoring" for McCoy's return.

"Clamoring for Colt?" he asked. "Brandon Weeden is our starter and he's going to get better, that's what I'm going to tell them."

This could all end badly for Weeden, Shumer, general manager Tom Heckert and president Mike Holmgren. Days after new owner Jimmy Halsam took over the team last month his very first question to Holmgren was "Can Brandon Weeden play?" That's not a resounding vote of confidence in your team president's player-personnel skills. And the implication is that another four-win season could mean the latest house-cleaning in Berea. There is an upside, however: CBSSports.com's Dane Brugler has the Browns taking USC's Matt Barkley in the 2013 NFL Draft. In the meantime, start the Colt McCoy Countdown Clock.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB - Bills

We have a theory about the Bills: On paper, they're a legitimate playoff team. In practice, they're the 2010 Detroit Lions or Houston Texans -- everybody's dark horse candidate that in actuality is a year away from reaching their potential. There's also this, which we brought up on the last Pick-6 Podcast: despite all their talent, Buffalo seems to shrink in the big moments. That was painfully obvious against a Jets team that scored one touchdown all preseason and managed six against the Bills.

Forty-eight points later and the Bills had suddenly replaced the Jets as the AFC East's laughingstock (or, at the very least, fell into a last-place tie with the Dolphins). The outcome wasn't entirely quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's fault, but he certainly could've done more. Here's how Buffalo's six first-half drives ended: interception, interception, punt, touchdown, fumble, end of half (mercifully). By that point the Bills' trailed 28-7. For good measure, the first drive the second half ended in interception.

So, yeah, not exactly an outfit primed for a playoff run. Fitzpatrick, who finished the day with Weeden-ian numbers -- 18-of-32 for 195 yards, 3 TDs, 3 INTs -- called the loss a wake-up call but not a setback.

“As a quarterback and just as a player in general in the NFL you've got to be able to move along from games, whether they are great games or bad games," he said during a radio interview (via SportsRadioInterviews.com). This is obviously not the way we wanted to start the season. I definitely had a different vision in terms of how it was going to go and how we were going to start off, but you learn from this one and you move on and hopefully you don't keep saying that throughout the year. Hopefully you learn your lesson and we'll start winning some games and get on a little roll here.”

Now Fitzpatrick will have to do it without one of the Bills' most dynamic players, running back Fred Jackson, who could be sidelined for a month with a knee injury. It gets worse: wideout David Nelson's 2012 season is already over after he tore his ACL against the Jets.

“I'm sure that's hard for people to hear and believe, but I am a steady guy,” Fitzpatrick continued. “That's just who I am. I don't get too high and I don't get too low. For me and I know the guys in the locker room we are still excited about the year. We are still confident. We just got a lot of work to do. The game of football, especially in the NFL, is a very humbling game and when you think you have it it tends to humble you. This was a wake-up call for us.”

Travis Goethel, LB/LS - Raiders

Linebacker Travis Goethel didn't have a chance Monday night. Backup long snappers rarely do. Yet there he was, over the ball, set to send it some 15 yards into the backfield, hopefully without incident into the waiting hands of punter Shane Lechler.

Didn't happen.

Twice Goethel's snaps came up short and Lechler was tackled for a loss; another time a poor snap led to Lechler's first block punt in six years. It was hard to watch and even more difficult to live through.

"I'm just a linebacker," Goethel said after the game.

So how did we get to this point? Starting long snapper and Pro Bowler Jon Condo was knocked out the the game. Since NFL teams don't use roster spots on backups at the position, first-year head coach Dennis Allen turned to the guy who showed some ability during training camp.

"He asked if I knew how to long snap," Goethel said of Allen via CSNBayArea.com, "and I was the only one at camp that stood out. That's kind of how I got put in there."

Word of advice for Goethel: Next time act like you don't understand the question before changing the subject to anything other than long snapping.

The Chargers scored after each of the botched snaps and those nine points, you could argue, proved to be the difference in a game that ended 22-14. But that's not the entire story, nor does it explain Carson Palmer's shaky showing.

"My hat's off to him just for doing it," Lechler said. "That (stuff) ain't easy. You know, he went out and did his best. That's all you ask from a guy (who is) put in a situation like that."

Worth mentioning: Goethel was money on Sebastian Janikowski's 19-yard field goal attempt just before the half. (This makes us think that Lechler, who also serves as Janikowski's holder, should've gotten down on one knee, placeholder style, to receive the snap in punting situations. It couldn't have turned out any worse.)

But this isn't about Goethel's shortcomings as the emergency long snapper, it's about why the Raiders would continue to put him out there. The first flub came on a 4th-and-7 from the Raiders' 39. You punt there because you don't yet know about the mayhem that will soon play out. Fine.

But the next series Oakland faced a 4th-and-1. Granted it was from their own 29-yard line, but what do they have to lose? Either way, the Chargers were probably looking at pretty good field position.

Think about it this way: What's the probability the Raiders convert in situations where they need a single yard? Has to be 50-60 percent at minimum, right? What's the probability Goethel executes a passable long snap? Well, based on Monday night, it's 25 percent. (Thankfully, Goethel's one successful effort came when Oakland was on its own 17 and Lechler boomed a 52-yarder.)

Goethel isn't the first guy in this position to fail. It happens to Pro Bowlers, too. In 2008, Steelers linebacker James Harrison was forced into duty and sent one snap roughly 60 feet over the punter's head and out of the end zone for a safety. Pittsburgh lost that day too.

So yes, it was a crappy night for Goethel but we hope this serves as a valuable lesson for everyone involved: Allen needs to have a contingency plan for such eventualities, and Goethel should keep his hand down the next time the coach asks for volunteers. Don't be a hero, Travis.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to the Pick-6 Podcast on iTunes. You can follow Ryan Wilson on Twitter here: @ryanwilson_07.

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