Week 15 was a good one for the NFL’s most embattled coaches. Pat Shurmur’s Giants got Eli Manning a win in what was likely his MetLife Stadium finale. Doug Marrone’s Jaguars found a way to ruin the Raiders’ farewell to Oakland. Jason Garrett and the Cowboys finally got a victory over a team with a winning record to wreck the Rams’ playoff hopes.
Those wins excised them from the list of the top five fireable coaches ... for one week, at least.
Two others weren’t as lucky. Matt Patricia and Freddie Kitchens felt their seats get a few extra BTUs in losses for two of the league’s most cursed franchises. They weren’t alone. A handful of teams saw their priorities flip from “Super Bowl” to “2020 draft” by way of Week 15 losses.
Even so, the brief triumphs of coaches like Shurmur, Marrone, and Garrett pushed a couple of surprising names into this week’s top five. Let’s start our list with two guys who don’t deserve to be fired after a disappointing season, but who could end up under scrutiny anyway.
5. Frank Reich, Colts
Reich’s 2019 has been a roller coaster. He started the season in a low place after Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement. Then he led Indianapolis to the top of the AFC South thanks to a 5-2 start that saw Jacoby Brissett compile a 14:3 TD:INT ratio and make his two-year, $30 million contract extension look like a bargain in the process.
Then Brissett got hurt. So did T.Y. Hilton. And the wheels came off.
Brissett missed just 1.5 games with an MCL sprain, but that was the catalyst behind a 1-6 slump that’s sloughed away the Colts’ playoff hopes. His passer rating has dropped from 99.3 in his first seven games to 79.1 in his last six. At the same time, the once-steady defense has gone from allowing 21.6 points per game to 25.4 — including 103 total points in their last three contests combined.
The nadir came on Monday night as Drew Brees shredded the Colts en route to a 34-7 shellacking. The veteran quarterback also set both the NFL’s all-time passing touchdown record and the single-game completion record (96.7 percent). That beating dropped the Colts’ chances of making the postseason to less than one percent and ensured the franchise’s fourth non-winning season in the past five years.
Reich did an admirable job of holding the Colts together early in the season, but he was always walking a tightrope. A litany of poorly timed injuries threw off that balance and forced Indianapolis down the AFC pecking order. The sudden disintegration of the team’s defense is another concern. While Reich doesn’t deserve to be fired after making the best of a bad situation, this recent slide has done enough to put his team under a microscope moving forward.
4. Anthony Lynn, Chargers
One year ago, Lynn was a legitimate coach of the year candidate. He’d revived the Chargers, producing their first season with double-digit wins since 2009. More impressively, he revitalized Philip Rivers, who had his most productive and efficient NFL season in years.
That set up big expectations for 2019. In true Chargers fashion, Los Angeles has fallen well short of them. Mistakes on both sides of the ball have doomed the club to a 5-9 record and no prayer of a return to the postseason. Lynn’s team ranks fourth in the league in yards gained per play but 20th in scoring offense. His defense is fifth in total yards allowed and just 13th in points given up.
How does that all happen? Because his team has turned the ball over 29 times in 14 games while forcing just 13 turnovers of its own. The Vikings plucked three interceptions and created five fumbles (four lost) in last week’s 39-10 shellacking in LA.
On the plus side, it did give us this delightfully self-aware opening line from Lynn’s postgame presser.
Anthony Lynn at the start of his press conference. “Seven turnovers. We got our asses kicked in all three phases. Any questions?” pic.twitter.com/VgIkARzkAp— Eric Williams (@eric_d_williams) December 16, 2019
Lynn is undoubtedly a talented coach who should not be axed due to one snakebitten season. He may also be the victim of uncontrollable circumstance in 2020. The Chargers will be moving into a new stadium (after failing to fill their 29,000-seat soccer arena with home fans the past two seasons). They may also be forced to begin their post-Rivers era.
The veteran quarterback has gotten full seasons from wideouts Keenan Allen and Mike Williams in the midst of a breakout from Austin Ekeler, who has proven himself as one of the league’s best pass-catching tailbacks. Despite all this, Rivers has thrown just three more touchdown passes than interceptions (21:18) and has regressed to the middle of the pack among starting QBs. He just turned 38 and will have to make a decision about his future — he’s a free agent next spring.
If he retires and the Chargers leadership wants a fresh start in its new stadium, Lynn could be unfairly fired. And if he is, he’ll immediately become one of the most sought-after candidates on the 2020 hiring carousel.
3. Adam Gase, Jets
Gase, purportedly an offensive genius after stops as a coordinator in Chicago and Denver and three season as the Dolphins’ head coach, has piloted New York to the league’s 28th-best scoring offense. He’s unlikely to finish 2019 with either a 1,000-yard rusher or receiver. His team’s 4.6 yards per play is the worst in the NFL.
What’s more damning than that? The fact his former players have thrived when freed from his influence.
By the way, Drake balling. Tannehill balling. Parker balling. Bell worst season of career.— Jake Ciely (@allinkid) December 15, 2019
Psst. There’s a commonality
This year, several of the skill players from Gase’s Dolphins days level up away from him. Jarvis Landry has averaged a full five more yards per catch this fall than he did with Gase in 2017. Ryan Tannehill has put up MVP-caliber numbers after ascending to the starting QB role in Tennessee. DeVante Parker stayed behind in Miami and is having the best season of his career — one that earned him a four-year, $40 million contract extension.
Meanwhile, Le’Veon Bell is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry and 5.9 yards per target, both career lows. His 87 rushing yards in Week 15 against the Ravens were a season high. Robby Anderson and Jamison Crowder, the team’s top two wideouts, have been better but still trail their career highs in production. The Jets are 5-9 as a result and have lost games to the Bengals, Jaguars, and Dolphins.
Gase has team owner Christopher Johnson’s blessing for a second season in New York. If his past results are any indication, it’ll be the Jets’ fifth straight losing campaign.
2. Matt Patricia, Lions
Detroit hasn’t won a game since before Halloween. The good news for Patricia is that Jeff Driskel and David Blough were his starting quarterbacks for six weeks of that seven-game losing streak.
The bad news is that his defense may not have been good enough to win even with a healthy Matthew Stafford in the lineup. The Lions have given up 495 yards or more in three of their last nine games. They rank 31st in the NFL when it comes to yards allowed and 28th when it comes to opponents’ third-down conversions. They’ve only held foes to fewer than 20 points twice; once when the Chargers couldn’t stop shooting themselves in the feet, and again against an awful Washington team (to whom they still lost).
The team’s prized free agent acquisitions this offseason have been unable to help, but aren’t to blame. Trey Flowers currently has career highs in both sack and pressure rate in his jack-of-all-trades spot along the defensive line. Justin Coleman hasn’t been as efficient as he was in Seattle after being promoted to a larger role in Detroit. Still, he is allowing a sub-60 percent completion rate when targeted, has a career-high 12 pass breakups, and has greatly improved his tackling.
So who’s to blame? While that spinning wheel may eventually land on Patricia, there’s no doubt his embattled unit would have been better had the Detroit not traded away veteran leader Quandre Diggs, who has three interceptions in five games with the Seahawks. He was shipped away back in October, which turned out to effectively be a white flag.
Are the losses of Stafford and Diggs enough of a caveat to justify another year of Patricia? Ownership says yes — they committed to another year of their second-year head coach and general manager Bob Quinn.
Patricia was dealt a bad hand by both the injury gods and his own front office. He’s spent his year trying to bluff through it with Chuck E. Cheese tokens instead of actual money. Unsurprisingly, opposing teams have seen right past him. Now it’ll be up to the front office to supply him with a little extra backup next spring.
1. Freddie Kitchens, Browns
The Browns lost to the Cardinals in Week 15. This, somehow, was not the worst part of Kitchens’ day.
In the 14-point road loss — one that all but eliminated Cleveland from the AFC playoff race — the Browns were completely helpless in the face of (checks notes) Kenyan Drake. The Dolphins castaway scored four touchdowns, after having just one in the first 14 weeks, and also won his first game in 2019. Odell Beckham Jr. turned 13 targets into just 66 yards, while leading wideout Jarvis Landry gained 23 yards on five catches.
It was Landry’s worst performance of an otherwise stellar season and a game where he was outgained by second-string teammate Damion Ratley. He wasn’t shy about expressing his displeasure about Kitchens’ woeful offense either.
That confrontation came after Kitchens opted for a field goal on fourth-and-3 from the Arizona 27 in the fourth quarter of a 28-17 game. Austin Seibert missed that 45-yard attempt, and the Browns wouldn’t get any closer than 11 points for the remainder of the game.
Landry didn’t just complain to his first-year head coach. He was one of “multiple” Browns who yelled “come get me” to the Cardinals sideline in a fruitless plea to be freed from the swirling vortex of football misery. Kareem Hunt, playing his first season with Cleveland after his release from the Chiefs, vented about his teammates “taking plays off” in the loss.
Kitchens’ players are unhappy with him and he’s in danger of losing his support from within the locker room. He’ll need to beat the Ravens and Bengals the next two weeks to avoid the Browns’ 12th straight losing season. There aren’t a lot of factors working his in favor, and Sunday’s defeat may be what pushes the franchise to find a more stable barycenter for its galaxy of young stars to revolve around.