|Please, Chan, give this man the ball. (US Presswire)|
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.
Bills running game
A week ago, we blasted Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron for not using running back Ray Rice enough. On Monday, he was fired. Bills coach Chan Gailey could be in line for a similar fate if he insists on letting C.J. Spiller collect dust while quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick wings the ball all over the yard.
On Sunday, a day before Cameron was let go, one of his former players in San Diego, running back LaDainian Tomlinson, said on NFL Network that Cameron sometimes fell in love with the pass at the expense of the run. Think about that: The man had Tomlinson and Rice at his disposal, and it still wasn't enough to get him to commit to the rushing game.
|The home of the Super Bowl|
Gailey appears to suffer from the same affliction, a fact that has flown under the radar nationally because the Bills haven't been relevant since the first month of the season. Still, it doesn't make it any less ridiculous. In Buffalo's 15-12 loss to the Rams Sunday, Spiller touched the ball a whopping eight times, and that was with Fred Jackson sidelined midway through the fourth quarter of a tight game.
The Buffalo News' Tim Graham says it all in his opening paragraph: "On a day when eight Pro Football Hall of Fame running backs appeared in The Buffalo News to recommend C.J. Spiller get the ball more, Spiller had his fewest touches in two months."
Spiller didn't have much to add, presumably because he's as confused as the rest of us.
"I really can't control how many times I touch the ball, guys," Spiller told reporters after the game. "I keep saying it over and over. I don't know what you want me to say."
Gailey explained this thinking on the Bills' backs-by-committee approach to not running the ball.
"[Spiller] had two good runs on that first drive, and he gets winded and comes out," Gailey said after the game. "We keep Fred in there, and it worked out [that] the next couple carries we got behind the sticks on the runs we called.
"It wasn't happening there after the first drive of the second half. We were trying to run the football, and when it's Fred's turn, it's Fred's turn to be in there. We're trying to keep them both fresh."
Uh huh. This isn't the first time there have been complaints about Spiller's usage. Look, it's one thing if he's standing next to Tom Brady or Peyton Manningn back there -- but he ain't. And you know what? The Patriots and Broncos aren't afraid to run the ball.
There was an old joke that the only person who could hold Michael Jordan under 20 points was Dean Smith. The difference between Smith and Gailey: Smith won.
We'll see if Gailey's perspective changes now that Jackson's season is over. While it doesn't really matter for the final three weeks of 2012, it would be nice to have at least one backfield position settled heading into the offseason.
The NFL is a passing league. This isn't news. But unless things change drastically, there will always be a place for the running game. It's all situational, of course, but sometimes something as simple as having the quarterback turn around and give the ball to the big/fast/strong guy standing behind him is lost on the offensive coordinator (see Cameron, Gailey).
|Shoulda run it more. (Getty Images)|
The Bengals are 7-6 after Sunday's home loss to the Cowboys in what should've been an eminently winnable game. Leading 19-17 with 6:35 to go, Cincinnati could've used the opportunity to run some time off the clock. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had 12 rushes for 89 yards and it was reasonable to assume that his 7.4 yards per carry might help move the sticks at this stage in the proceedings.
Instead, quarterback Andy Dalton dropped back on five straight plays. The results: 5 yards, 5 yards, incomplete, 6 yards, and a 10-yard loss after Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer sacked Dalton on third-and-4 from the Bengals' 36. Cincinnati punted, Dallas took over on its 28, and 13 plays later, kicker Dan Bailey striped a 40-yard game-winning field goal as time expired.
To his credit, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden took responsibility for not feeding Green-Ellis on that last drive.
"Toward the end of the game when you are trying to run the ball and eat up the clock, a lot of times defenses aren't just going to let you run the ball for nine yards up the middle, Gruden said, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy. "In hindsight, I wish I maybe would have tried it.
"We tried to take advantage of some short game and use our big bodies and use some plays we had some success with early in the game. We got a first down on the first two plays, then the next three we just failed."
The problem: the Bengals really needed that win. With three games left, including AFC North matchups against the Steelers and Ravens, there was no margin for error. Now Cincy will need to win out, which would include a win over Pittsburgh in Week 16.
Steelers wide receivers
Heading into the season, Pittsburgh had the best group of wide receivers in the league. It's fair to say that, with just three weeks left, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown have been a big disappointment. The problems started for Wallace over the summer when he didn't sign his restricted free agent tender offer while holding out hopes for a long-term deal. The Steelers instead paid Brown.
|Brown has to make this catch. (AP)|
Wallace eventually showed up before the regular season and proceeded to play like your run-of-the-mill NFL wideout. Nothing special and nothing certainly worth more than $10 million a year. Part of the issue could've been Todd Haley's new offensive scheme, but still, if you're looking for Vincent Jackson money, you have to play like Vincent Jackson.
"I've never been a guy who dropped balls or just lose focus," Wallace told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review last Thursday. "The first three years I was always involved, so you just warmed up in games and were just into it.
"But when you don't get the ball for two-and-half quarters, you lose focus. But that's the type of offense this is. We're spreading it around, so you're not going to get as many targets. When you get them, you have to make the best of them."
Wallace's numbers (seven catches, 112 yards, two TDs) against the Chargers suggest that he found some of the focus that had been lacking, but he had a huge drop in the first half that could have, at the very least, changed the field position battle the Steelers were losing to that point.
Which brings us to Brown, who also dropped a deep ball (pass interference could've been called on the play but Brown's still got to make that catch). More damning: his inexplicable ability to kick a Ben Roethlisberger backwards pass out of the end zone late in the third quarter.
The backstory: The plan was for Big Ben to throw a quick screen to Brown on the first play of a drive that started at the Steelers' 8-yard line. But Chargers linebacker Jarret Johnson pushed tight end David Paulson into the path of the ball, which ricocheted off Paulson's back and bounced into the end zone. Brown had an opportunity to fall on the ball, kick it out of the end zone -- pretty much anything other than "miss ball completely while a Chargers defender falls on it for a touchdown." Guess what happened.
Obviously, it's not Brown's fault that Roethlisberger threw a backward pass, or that Paulson couldn't hold his block, but he is solely responsible for the outcome on the play. At worst, it should've been 22-3. Instead, it was 27-3.
Either way, the game was probably over, but in a league where winners and losers are decided by a handful of plays, little things like what Brown didn't do can have much bigger implications than losing to a hapless Chargers bunch.
Two teams allowed at least 50 points last week: The Seahawks hung 58 on the Cardinals, and the Giants beat the Saints, 52-27.
In general, we think the "running up the score" complaints don't apply in the NFL -- these are grown men and professional athletes -- but you know what's worse: the opposing coach apologizing. Not for scoring so much, but because your team is so bad that it couldn't be helped.
“It was unfortunate for those guys,” Carroll said during a radio appearance of the Cardinals' eight-turnover afternoon. “That's terrible when it goes that way. … They fumbled the ball five times. Once it goes that way and it gets rolling it's hard to stop. We didn't have to do much.”
As for the Saints, critics will say they had it coming for -- take your pick (we'll go with last season's 45-16 win over the Falcons; Brees stayed in late to set the season-season passing record). Supporters, on the other hand, will say that despite the players in the Saints scandal being cleared, the damage has already been done, from the 0-4 start, to Brees' five-pick performance against the Falcons late last month, to the blowout loss to the Giants last Sunday.
Congratulations to our players for having the suspensions vacated. Unfortunately, there are some things that can never be taken back— Drew Brees (@drewbrees) December 11, 2012
So you might say that karma had something to do with the Saints' situation, but we have no explanation for why God hates the Cardinals.