We’re less than three weeks from Black Monday, the day when coaches at the helm of struggling teams find out whether they’ll be retained for the 2020 season. The NFL is loaded with coaches young and old who’ll be waiting to see whether they’ve earned one more chance at a turnaround, or if they’ll need to update the resumes and figure out who needs an experienced assistant.
There are already two vacancies waiting to be filled in Washington and Carolina. A handful of franchises will join them atop this offseason’s “buyers” list as the rest of the league either readies for the postseason or begins sorting out their offseasons.
Here are the five coaches who gambled — or, more notably didn’t — and lost the hardest as Black Monday looms.
5. Pete Carroll, Seahawks
No, Carroll isn’t getting fired. He’s got a job for life in Seattle and has his team on track for its eighth playoff appearance in his 10 years in charge.
But we should talk about the clock management and drive-killing penalties that destroyed a potential comeback in Los Angeles. The Seahawks faced a must-win showdown in their quest to earn the NFC’s top seed after the 49ers left New Orleans with a thrilling 48-46 win. Despite that, Carroll’s team displayed a curious lack of awareness while trailing 28-12 with 4:32 to play in the fourth quarter. Seattle needed 11 plays and nearly three minutes of clock to drive a total of 31 yards before Russell Wilson lobbed a game-ending interception.
How does that math work out? Because the Seahawks played some extremely undisciplined football to get there. Every drive in the fourth quarter Sunday night featured at least 10 yards lost to penalties. More than half of those penalties were holding calls that effectively dug a moat between the Seahawks’ offense and the Rams’ end zone.
This was all a function of the team’s typically deficient offensive line. Wilson was sacked five times Sunday, bringing the total number of yards lost either by penalty or poor blocking up to 107 yards for the Seahawks. And 71 of those lost yards came in the game’s final 16 minutes — right as Seattle was failing to kick-start its comeback.
This all reflects poorly on Carroll, who may have had the fatal flaw that keeps his team out of the Super Bowl exposed in Los Angeles. The Seahawks lacked both urgency and discipline when it came to toppling the Rams. That’s something the veteran head coach will have to fix moving forward.
4. Matt Patricia, Lions
How do you judge Patricia in 2019? This was a season in which he coaxed the most efficient season of Matthew Stafford’s career before losing the quarterback to a back injury. That forced Patricia to start a Bengals castoff and an undrafted free agent over the final half of the year, and the Lions have understandably gone 0-5 in that time.
There were cracks in Detroit’s facade even before Stafford and his 19:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio hit the injury report. None of the team’s three victories have come against teams with a winning record (Chargers, Eagles, Giants). Their lone tie came after surrendering a 18-point lead (and a 99.1 percent win probability) in the fourth quarter of their season opener against the Cardinals.
The franchise handed over $134 million in contracts this offseason to rebuild its defense in Patricia’s image, bringing Trey Flowers, Justin Coleman, and Mike Daniels to Michigan. Those upgrades, playing under the Patriots’ former defensive coordinator, have seen the team’s points per game jump from 22.5 to 25.8. After allowing 5.7 yards per play in 2018, that number has risen to 5.9 this fall.
In the end, the Lions have faced many of the same problems the Steelers have: an injured veteran QB, a third-string undrafted rookie at the helm, and significant injuries to their running backs and wide receivers (Kerryon Johnson and James Conner; Marvin Jones and JuJu Smith-Schuster, most notably). Pittsburgh is 8-5 and has an inside track toward a playoff spot despite a 1-4 start. Detroit is 3-9-1 and careening toward the top of the 2020 NFL Draft.
That could be enough for ownership to pull the plug on the NFC North’s first attempt to turn one of Bill Belichick’s assistants into a star head coach.
3. Jason Garrett, Cowboys
Garrett is 3-7 in his last 10 games and still has a 61 percent chance of winning his division. The NFC East is a mess.
Fortunately for the long-tenured coach (and, quite possibly, unfortunately for the Cowboys themselves), he can still make his case for continued employment by limping into the postseason at 9-7 (or worse!) and then using one of the league’s most talented rosters to make noise in the playoffs. The problem is that his team has at no point looked like a worthy contender in 2019.
Garrett’s latest sin was making Mitchell Trubisky look like a franchise quarterback in a 31-24 loss to the Bears. The volatile Chicago quarterback has had only four games this season when he’s had a passer rating above 90. Three of those matchups came against teams with three wins or fewer (Washington and familiar face Matt Patricia’s Lions twice). The other was against Dallas, who watched him throw three touchdown passes and run for one more in Week 14. Chicago led by as many as 17 points before the Cowboys added a pair of garbage-time scores to make this one look a bit more respectable on paper.
That defeat dropped Dallas to 0-6 against teams with winning records in 2019. It also made Jerry Jones swear so much on live radio he was automatically disconnected by the station’s censoring software. That’s ... not a great sign for Garrett’s future.
2. Pat Shurmur, Giants
Shurmur nearly pulled off a win against the Eagles in primetime, yet somehow looked worse than ever. How? It all starts with Eli Manning.
Manning was pressed back into action in Week 14 thanks to Daniel Jones’ ankle injury, and for two glorious quarters looked like the QB who could snap the team’s eight-game losing streak. The veteran quarterback finished his first half with more passing yards (179) than Tom Brady had in his entire Week 14 game against the Chiefs (169), slinging two touchdown passes and turning Darius Slayton into a low-yield supernova in the process:
RT for 10 more years of Eli pic.twitter.com/fbpOeAjUxv— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) December 10, 2019
However, Eli’s throwback performance may have cheapened the progress of the rookie Jones, at least from an optics standpoint. The 38-year-old, who was replaced by Jones after Week 2, was able to carve up the Eagles’ beleaguered secondary through a significant chunk of the game, realizing the potential of an understaffed receiving corps.
If a declining Manning could do this, should Jones be better? Was switching quarterbacks in an eminently winnable NFC East the right decision earlier this season? While Shurmur made sensible decisions at quarterback this season, the Giants’ most promising half of football since September threw all his choices under a microscope.
The bigger problem is that none of this was sustainable. Not a single Giants drive in the second half lasted more than four plays before ending in a punt or the end of regulation. A 17-3 lead became a 23-17 overtime loss thanks to an offense that gained 29 yards over the course of seven drives after halftime. All 154 of Slayton’s receiving yards came in the first half.
Manning’s brief comeback — just like Jones’ four-touchdown games against the Lions and Jets — failed to result in a victory. That’s a net win for the Giants. They now stand alone with the league’s second-worst record, which should put them in prime position to snag Ohio State Heisman nominee Chase Young in the NFL Draft. But it’s a loss for Shurmur. At 2-11, it’s tough to envision a scenario where he keeps his job.
1. Doug Marrone, Jaguars
Another week, another blowout loss for Jacksonville. Marrone made the reasonable choice to bench $88 million man Nick Foles in favor of Gardner Minshew, but the switch-up behind center didn’t create any appreciable change for the Jags. They still managed to get blown out, 45-10, to a Chargers team that was eliminated from playoff contention Sunday.
That’s a massive stain on the resume of a once-resplendent defense. While many of the primaries aside from Jalen Ramsey — Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, Abry Jones, Myles Jack, and A.J. Bouye — remain from 2017’s playoff team, that unit has plummeted from its formerly lofty ranks.
The decline of the Jaguars’ defense, 2017-19
|Jaguars defense||Yards allowed/play||Opp. QB rating||Opp. yards/rush||Points allowed|
|Jaguars defense||Yards allowed/play||Opp. QB rating||Opp. yards/rush||Points allowed|
Marrone could likely explain away another year of shaky quarterbacking — that’s been a rich Jacksonville tradition since Mark Brunell’s departure (with apologies to the injury-dense career of Byron Leftwich). This defensive downturn is much more concerning. The Ramsey trade and Jack’s recent injury have played a role, but this sudden disintegration of his team’s biggest strength is something that threatens to doom the fourth-year coach.
And, much like Patricia and his awful defense, Marrone can’t even get his area of specialization right. The former offensive line coach is overseeing a unit that ranks a middling 15th in sack rate and has been flagged for holding 35 times in 13 games. That’s by far the worst rate in the league (the second-place team, the Jets, have only drawn 26 holding penalties).
Marrone isn’t just losing games; he’s getting crushed in them. The Jaguars’ five-game losing streak has come by an aggregate score of 174-57. Their closest defeat in that span was 17 points. Jacksonville looks hopeless, and the only way out of this death spiral may be a large-scale rebuild — starting with the head coach.