Every team hits the proverbial roadblock game at some point during a long NFL season. One of those weeks when nothing goes right and the game plan needs to be wadded up and thrown in the garbage can. It’s nobody’s fault, per say- just part of the business. As a General Manager in the NFL I always feel as though your job just might be toughest in these circumstances. Let’s use the Philadelphia Eagles, fresh off a beat down of division rival Dallas on Monday Night Football as our example.
It’s a fact that the Eagles have a very young, by age and experience, staff of coaches. They are going to be long on ideas but short on perspective because of it. Howie Roseman, Eagles GM, has to turn up his communication skills and use these next couple days to build up confidence and egos around his building. There is no time for any negative reactions, dropping your head, not making eye contact with any and all in the hallway, and surely not placing blame. Not at this point. I have learned through being around some great leaders that positive leadership, when teams are down, is the most important vibe you can send.
During my last year as the GM of the Dolphins, I remember a time when we were winless at the time and had lost a tough game, in London to the eventual Super Bowl Champs, New York Giants. We had the ball inside the 5 late in the second half and fumbled a snap that cost us a chance to take the lead. The next morning in the banquet room of the hotel in London, where we brought and dropped off our luggage for customs, I encountered team owner Wayne Huizenga, god rest his soul. I will remember this forever. Mind you, this is the guy who founded and took 3 separate companies to fortune 500 statuses, he’s the only one on this list. He walked up to me, he smiled, he met my eyes with his and shook my hand. He said “let me help you with that suitcase, you look like you could use a hand”. That to me was leadership. He knew I was down, he knew I was hurting but that little bit of positive reinforcement was all I needed. His tone set my tone which helped me set a better tone for everyone in the organization.
Sure, the Eagles got drubbed, but it was only one game. Running 52 plays in an entire game with only 3 rushing plays (by a RB) is being questioned by all the experts both nationally and locally. Nick Sirianni must hold his chin up and be accountable but also flush it all ASAP. You cannot allow belief and confidence to wane. It’s easy to criticize, as the boss, but sometimes a pat on the back is what everyone needs. These seasons are long for everyone in the NFL. Let the hot take people have their day, yours is coming.
QB’s HOLDING THE BALL
I have seen lately a lot of armchair QB talk of Quarterbacks around the league holding the ball too long resulting in a sack. There is no doubt that QB’s fresh out of college struggle with the concept of getting the ball out quick, as much as anything in their learning curve process. But before you yell at the QB, make sure you see what his options were/are. No check down receiver, no safety valve, nowhere to dump the ball…that is not the QB’s fault. That’s a design flaw. I have seen this more this year than I can remember. Passing game routes designed to get the ball downfield versus a certain coverage but no RB or bail out provided. There are a lot of reasons these young guys are getting sacked but it's not always their fault. It could also be tight coverage or a potential target just flat out not having the skill set to separate from a defender. The QB needs options that some teams are supplying better than others.
PLAY ACTION PASSES COME WITH LIABILITY
Most fans love to see a good run game compliment a QB’s ability to be a productive passer. To do that the “play action pass” is vital to take advantage of the human element of the defender's eagerness to stop the run. I love a good play action design where the linebacker bites and vacates an area or gets a late jump to run with his man to man responsibilities as much as the next guy. The Cleveland Browns have used this as well as anyone in the league the last couple years under HC/play caller Kevin Stephanski. The downside is, and they found this out in the first half last week vs the Chicago Bears last week. When a QB is play faking he can’t read hot vs a blitz, and receivers can’t sight adjust their routes based on coverage because the QB’s back is turned to the coverage/secondary. So, with play action comes a predetermined route in most cases. The other negative is that the QB cannot use instincts and feel to move within the pocket to adjust to pressure. Blitzing in this case comes at you- blindly- as the QB. Just some things to think about.
BEARS BIGGEST FEAR HAS COME TO FRUITION
During the preseason, I wrote a column for Foxsports.com as part of a preview we did on all 32 NFL teams where I listed my biggest fears for each team from the perspective of the GM entering 2021. My fear for Chicago was, If I was Ryan Pace, their GM, that the locker room might tune out the head coach at some point due to his handling of the QB position. Three weeks in and I have zero doubt that is happening. One of the biggest mistakes that NFL decision makers make is to take for granted that players in the locker room will believe everything you say. That might be the case in college football but at this level NFL players know WHO is good, they know what STRATEGY will work and they really know when someone is BS’ing them.
Head Coach Matt Nagy has led this group on what I view as a wild goose chase from the start of the season until now with what has come out of his mouth regarding his QB situation. The latest of which came this week after a six 1st down, 47 total net yards assault of the record books for offense vs the Cleveland Browns. Nagy said yesterday “all QB’s might play next weekend”. Further evidence, IMO that he has no answers. Trust me, the players are way smarter than that. They get it. They saw the game plan Nagy rolled out that did not suit the skill set of his rookie QB at all. Hopefully for the Bears organization's sake and its fan base, he is singing a different tune behind closed doors because if he isn’t honest about his latest game plan design and execution, the defense might just cause a mutiny. Anything less than a full acknowledgement of fault will turn an already doubting locker room and a defense who has some individuals, already making “business decisions” when it comes to putting your body on the line, resulting in a very early exit in mind and spirit from the 2021 season.