NFC South Coaches Feeling the Heat


Sean Payton, you’re excused from the discussion here since you’re a top-five NFL Head Coach and the sole blemish on your record this season was due to a last-second pass by Tom Brady. As Brady has been known for late-game heroics his entire career, there’s no “shame” in being on the receiving end of such a loss. It doesn’t take much of the sting out for sure, but there’s definitely not any shame in it.

As for the other three Head Coaches, you guys better start thinking about wearing some asbestos britches.

Atlanta Falcons: Mike Smith

Of the three others, Smith’s job security is the least tenuous – for now. The only week I could guarantee they wouldn’t lose was last week since they were on a bye. Smith has at least built the Falcons into a contender and got over one hump last season when he led the team to their first playoff victory in eons. I do recall a Falcons team led by Michael Vick win at Lambeau Field, which is never a small feat in the playoffs. However, with the “Matty Ice” era in full swing and with an offense completely loaded at the skill positions – even upgraded by adding Steven Jackson – the expectations for the 2012 NFC South Division winners for this season were to get to the NFC Championship Game at a minimum.

Well….someone forgot to tell the rest of the NFL that tidbit. After drafting heavily on defense for 2013, the Falcons are 19th in overall defense in terms of yards per game. Their run defense seemed particularly soft and this year they’re ranked 6th in the NFL. That’s a false statistic, however, as they allow 4.2 yards/carry while the other 12 in the top 13 all allow less than four per tote of the rock. They are also allowing a league-worst 50% on third down conversions, and that is completely horrible, so a lot of their better statistics just do not stand up to scrutiny.

Add in the injury bug to Julio Jones, Steven Jackson and Roddy White and suddenly this team has been more beatable than the Jekyll/Hyde Carolina Panthers and have no real strength to fall back on in any phase of play right now and have a single win in five outings. They beat the stalling St. Louis Rams in the Georgia Dome, hardly anything to hang their helmets on. In fact, the injury to LB Sean Weatherspoon may be the toughest of all for them since they have nobody like him on that side of the ball.

Sep 22, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith looks on during the second half against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

In their case, the only thing “good” out of their four losses is that they were all to at least pretty good teams as it turns out…Miami, New England, New Orleans, and the improving New York Jets.

All five of their games have been decided by 7 points or fewer, losing 4 of 5, which gives them a taste of the Carolina Panthers’ lives in the Newton era. With continued losses and a finish below .500, Mike Smith will definitely be feeling the heat and will have to face a number of difficult questions that he hasn’t even seen yet.

But the season’s only a third over and they have time to turn things around. Assuming they don’t in 2013, Smith’s job should still be safe, but the spotlight will really heat up for him in 2014 and he likely won’t survive consecutive losing seasons with all the talent there and the direction he had them heading through 2012.

Thermometer: 85 degrees

Carolina Panthers: Ron Rivera

Since this IS a Carolina Panthers blog, we all know the situation. Ron Rivera should be having a patent pending for slow starts by now and the team is only 2-3 with wins over very weak and/or decimated opponents. On the one hand, they’ve won big…38-0 at home against the Giants a few weeks ago and last week on the road 35-10 against a reeling Vikings squad.

Well…there’s nothing wrong at all with destroying weak teams. You’re SUPPOSED to do THAT, right? With consecutive close losses to begin the season before notching the win against the G-Men, Panthers fans were remembering last season. Losing on a busted coverage against a rookie QB in the waning moments of the game in Buffalo drove the point home as fans’ cries for Rivera’s head re-started in earnest.

While there are still some coaching deficiencies, Rivera has managed to at least begin to “right the ship” in going 2-1 over the past month, but again…2 wins over weak teams isn’t impressive and the 22-6 loss at Arizona splayed the team’s offensive issues wide open.

What Rivera DOES have going for him is that he has indeed transformed the defensive side of the ball from the team’s weakness into their strength. While they could use a veteran ball hawk in the secondary, they are loaded with young and/or inexperienced talent on the back four and if and when they begin to play consistently good ball on the back side, they will earn a reputation for being a defense that nobody looks forward to facing…if they aren’t already there.

Oct 6, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera reacts during the second half against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

I think the main struggle is can Rivera win enough games with defense and a competent running game to save his job and get the chance to finish what he’s started in 2014?

I’m sure you’ve all thought of this at least a little bit since the beginning of the season. It’s easy to sit back and say a guy like New Orleans Saints Offensive Coordinator Pete Carmichael would be the guy to replace Rivera with so that Cam Newton can reach his full potential, I can’t ignore what Rivera’s done with this defense that was SO awful just a couple of years ago. He took them from a bottom-five unit into the top 3 as it sits now.

Unlike Atlanta’s ranking, Carolina’s defensive stats DO stand up to the scrutiny of sunlight. They’re second in points per game allowed to the Kansas City Chiefs and that will keep you in ball games.

Carolina’s issues are on the offensive side of the ball as we all know. Not a whole lot can be done about the WR corps or the offensive line, but as I had said since before training camp even began, they’re built to be a power running team. If they can get RB Jonathan Stewart worked back into shape over the next few weeks, the team probably will run the ball even more, shorten games more, and with their defense the way it is it’s likely they’ll be “in” almost every game from here out. If the defense can start taking some of the turnovers they’re starting to create into six points once in a while, that could be the margin of victory.

Rivera-run teams seem to gain momentum as the season progresses and that’s exactly what you want to see in any team that makes the playoffs – playing their best. My own feeling is if he can finish with a non-losing record with the defense largely built, he will likely be granted one more year to see the thing through. I’d hate to see him fired when he’s 75% finished with his work and General Manager David Gettleman will almost certainly do a good job of getting the best for the least and likely another nice draft…a draft with more capital, which he has been slowly socking away.

Thermometer: 100 degrees

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Greg Schiano

The winless Buccaneers, as Darrelle Revis put it, “Have too much [darn] talent on this team to be 0-4.”

That’s good to know because they’re now 0-5.

With their hugely successful 2012 draft and the free agents that have come to town since Schiano took the reigns there’s no good reason this team should be winless in five games. Revis. Vincent Jackson. The Muscle Hamster. DT Gerald McCoy is said by some to be the top DT in the NFL.


Something has to give this weekend as the Bucs travel to the Georgia Dome. Barring a tie, the win total between the two teams will double. Ouch.

Sep 22, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers corner back Darrelle Revis (24) headshot at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t even have to get into statistics here. Revis was correct – they ARE a very talented group with no business being 0-5. They couldn’t beat the Jets and their rookie QB who had zero starts under his belt. They have lost to some good teams as well, but last week put them under quite the microscope scoring only 20 points against the Philadelphia Eagles 28th-ranked NFL defense.

It hasn’t been a secret that the Eagles haven’t been able to stop ANYBODY this year, but the skill positions on offense really are well loaded. Perhaps Josh Freeman was part of the problem early on, and inexperience isn’t helping Mike Glennon either, but Schiano is fooling himself if he thinks he can take another 4-12 record or so and say “Look at the rookie QB I’m developing” and be kept on for another season.

Ain’t gonna happen.

The defense isn’t so much the issue although they do seem to have taken a bit of a step back from last year. Their offense has taken a long leap backwards.

Unlike Ron Rivera’s squad, this year’s Bucs team has actually regressed. Perhaps the Panthers haven’t progressed as much overall as we’d like to see, but things seem to at least be starting to head in the right direction and they have the least talent on the offensive side of the ball by far in the division. Tampa Bay has no such excuse.

If Schiano doesn’t turn things around quickly, radically, and really start to show something in the next few weeks, he could well lose the locker room. A coach who has lost the locker room is a coach who is about to be looking for a new employer.

Thermometer: 135 degrees.