Patriots coaches distracted by interviews? Head coach Bill Belichick’s mantra is about ignoring the noise and doing your job, but on Saturday, one week before the Patriots will play the Texans in the divisional round of the playoffs, coordinators Josh McDaniels (offense) and Matt Patricia (defense) were busy interviewing for head coaching jobs.
Outsiders often will question anyone having anything but laser focus on the task at hand (see New York Giants), but the reality is that the Patriots didn’t even know who they would be playing until after the Pittsburgh-Miami game Sunday.
Said McDaniels, regarding the experience of being interviewed three times in one day, “It’s humbling and it’s a privilege to have an opportunity to do any of those things. I feel very fortunate to have even an opportunity to sit in front of those people and that they would listen to me and spend time with me. You just try to do the best you can and represent yourself, your team, the organization that you come from, your family as best you can, and all the rest of it will play out how it’s supposed to play out.”
McDaniels also talked about the guidance provided by Belichick when he said, “He’s the best. He’s very unselfish and he cares for us all. If there is something that we need or we would ask of him, I’m certain that he would do it and give it to us whether it’s advice, wisdom, counsel, what have you. He’s not only somebody that we take our cue from in terms of getting ready for the next opponent, but he’s a mentor in a lot of different areas of our lives and this would be no different. I couldn’t ask for people to mentor me any better than he’s done, (Owner) Robert (Kraft) has done, (club president) Jonathan (Kraft), same thing. They’re there for anything that they can as a resource to help the people that are working for them and I hope they know how much we appreciate that.”
Asked about the dynamic of being counseled when the team doesn’t want to lose excellent coaches, McDaniels concluded, “You’re just careful about how many times you’re doing that. There’s a balance there. But they’re always there for us and I really appreciate that. It’s not an easy thing for anybody to be involved in because you’re totally invested in this team and this year and that’s where I’m at now. I’m going to do everything I can to work my butt off to help us win on Saturday night, and I’m sure everybody else is going to do the same.”
For whom the Bell tolls. Running back Le’Veon Bell has fueled the Steelers’ eight-game winning streak, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made a notable comparison when talking about him after Sunday’s win over Miami.
Bell has rushed for at least 118 yards in six of the last seven games, and in the one game he fell below that, he had 93 yards against Cincinnati.
Said Roethlisberger, “The second half of the season, Le’Veon has been on such a tear because people are really trying to make us one-dimensional, whether that is the run or the pass. They are trying to take away the big play. From what we see on film and stuff, teams try and bleed slow, and give us the run.
“Not trying to give up the big pass play and so we have been able to utilize Le’Veon so much and (Sunday) I think the first two series we came out throwing it and really kind of backed them off, and then that opens up Le’Veon and the guys in the run game.”
It’s remarkable to watch Bell and the patience with which he runs, sometimes even stopping before deciding where to run and that’s where Roethlisberger’s comparison developed.
“He brings a little bit of everything to the table,” Roethlisberger said. “There are times when he is patient. Like I am standing back there and I am watching and I am like, ‘Uh, are you going to go any time here?’ But he is so patient and then when he needs to put his head down and run someone over, he does that. He is a powerful back. If he gets one-on-one with a guy in the hole or just beyond, I get the best view in the house.
“I’ll never forget when (quarterback) Charlie Batch was here, he used to always tell me about how he would hand off and just watch Barry Sanders. I am not trying to put Le’Veon with Barry Sanders yet; you know that is an awesome honor. But, it is fun to sit and watch and just see what he is going to do because he is incredibly talented.”
The Steelers visit Kansas City on Sunday, so Chiefs head coach Andy Reid was asked Monday the best way to contain Bell. Said Reid, “That’s probably what most defensive coordinators and coaches have been asked. He’s a good player. He has a unique style about him — that delay to get to the line of scrimmage. It’s been effective for him. He’s really the only one that does it, so it’s unique. The obvious thing is you have to contain him and take care of your gaps.”
Is Bell the most patient runner you’ve seen, coach? Answered Reid, “Yeah, the most patient that I’ve ever seen. That’s a unique style. One that he’s kind of created.”
Packers without Nelson again? It’s no secret the Packers weren’t the same team in 2015 with wide receiver Jordy Nelson sidelined by a torn ACL and with Nelson still recovering in the first part of this season.
In the first 10 games, Nelson had 53 receptions for 663 yards. Good, but not great. In the final six, he had 42 catches for 594 yards (99.0 per game).
It appears highly doubtful that Nelson will be available for Sunday’s game in Dallas, and head coach Mike McCarthy said Monday he won’t do anything in practice until possibly Saturday, which is merely a walk-through. Even with Randall Cobb back from an ankle injury, not having Nelson likely will have an effect on the offense. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers simply said it “would be a huge loss.”
Nelson was hospitalized Sunday night after taking a shot to the ribs from Giants cornerback Leon Hall, and various reports have claimed he has multiple broken ribs as well an issue with his lungs.
Speaking of noise. As the Texans are preparing for the daunting task of preparing to play the Patriots Saturday night, everyone associated with the team was trying to quiet the chatter of head coach Bill O’Brien potentially going elsewhere because of issues between him and general manager Rick Smith.
Following Saturday’s win over Oakland, owner Bob McNair was firm in saying there were no plans to fire O’Brien, who has two years remaining on his contract.
O’Brien claimed Monday the talk won’t be a distraction to him or his team. “Absolutely not,” he said. “Like I said after the game, I really enjoy coaching this team. I think one of the things about coming to work here every day is it’s a great place to work because you have really good people here and you have a bunch of great players that really understand the meaning of hard work and have put a lot of time into this thing.
“The other thing is our staff. I really enjoy working with our staff. We had a good staff meeting, trying to get going here on an obviously very difficult challenge for us. Just enjoy every day.”
Perhaps the oddest part of the broadcast reports Sunday was the assertion that teams looking for a head coach were waiting to see the result of last Saturday’s game because no new head coaches had been hired yet. That’s a stretch, considering it rarely happens that new head coaches are hired within days of the regular season ending because so many of the coaches on interview lists are on playoff teams and can’t be hired until their seasons are over.
Meanwhile, O’Brien had an interesting response to a question about the Texans being 16-point underdogs and whether he would use that to motivate his team.
O’Brien said, “Again, what does that matter? You know what I mean? What does that matter? The only thing that matters is what takes place in between the lines on Saturday night. No, I don’t really go too much to the Vegas betting line. I don’t think that would be really a good motivation tool this week.”
Making your own bed. As the second half of the 2016 season unfolded, it appeared that Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had found a way to reign in his passion. He wasn’t calling attention to himself as much and the Giants had high hopes entering the playoffs.
Then came the trip to Miami with some receiver teammates, the loss to the Packers when he had a few drops, and the hole he punched in the wall after the game.
Following the game, he was naturally asked about speculation that the Miami trip had an effect on his play. Beckham said, “That sounds typical to me. At the end of the day, I went through practice, had zero drops, zero missed assignments. There was nothing that could connect seven days ago to today and how we played and executed. There’s just nothing in the world. That’s not realistic. I think it did a great job. It created distractions for us. It’s unfortunate and that’s just the way this world is. There’s just no way you could connect something that happened seven days ago to this game today and how we came out and played and how the Packers have won seven in a row and how they scored 38 points and how they executed and came up with the third downs. They did what they needed to do. The connection is just not there, in my opinion. But everybody’s going to have their own opinion.”
Linebacker Jonathan Casillas said, “I guess that (chatter) comes with the territory. I don’t question his focus or his loyalty to the team either. The guy was so fired up before the game. He was emotional about it and that had nothing to do with last week. That is just the type of person that he is. The way that he was prepared for the game emotionally might have been too much for him. It happens every now and again. You have to have somebody like that who is an emotional spark for the team.”
Quarterback Eli Manning acknowledged both sides of the debate. He said, “You just have to learn the perception of things makes it different. If you do things, you have to back it up. I don’t think it had an impact on the game. I thought we had a great week of practice. Guys were making plays and running around. It was intense, focused and everything good. Unfortunately, we just didn’t have it yesterday.”
Asked whether he is concerned about Beckham, Manning added, “I don’t have concerns. I think Odell is passionate. He’s passionate and he wants to win. This was important for him. He wanted to go out there and have the best game of his career. Maybe he put too much pressure on himself and emphasis. Unfortunately, going to the playoffs is different. It’s different for everyone. We didn’t have a lot of people that have been to the playoffs. You hate to say that it’s a learning experience for a group. I hate to say that when I’m in my 13th year, but sometimes guys just have to go through it and see what it’s like.
“Understand that they can’t make it bigger than what it is. You have to have a calm mindset and just go out there and play football. Be relaxed and bring out your best. Don’t try to play your best; you just have to trust the training and just go do it. I think Odell is going to be fine. He’s learning every year and this is another learning experience for him.”
General manager Jerry Reese was more pointed in his comments Monday, Asked the damage to the wall, Reese said, “We will address that when we get all the information and definitely take full responsibility after getting all the information. If he is responsible for it, we will 1,000 percent hold him responsible.”
Reese added, “I see a guy who needs to think about some of the things he does. Everyone knows he’s a gifted player, but there’s some things he’s done that he needs to look in the mirror and be honest with himself about it. I think he’ll do that. We’ll help him with that, but he has to help himself.
“We all grow at different times in our lives, and it’s time for him to grow. He’s been here for three years now, and I think he’ll do that. He’s a little bit of a lightning rod because of the things he does on and off the football field. He’s gotta be responsible. I believe he understands that he has a responsibility being one of the faces of this franchise and that he’ll accept that responsibility.”
A new start. Fullback Marcel Reece was on the outside looking in for most of the 2016 season and had to be wondering when or if he would get another opportunity.
The 31-year-old Reece began the season serving the final three games of a PED suspension with the Raiders that began at the end of the 2015 season. However, just before the suspension ended, Reece was released and he waited … and waited … and waited.
Until Dec. 6 when he signed with the Seahawks. In four regular-season games, Reece had two rushes for no yards and five receptions for 73. However, it’s blocking that has been the 6-foot-1, 235-pounder’s best attribute.
And that’s what he did in Saturday’s win over Detroit, playing 33 of the team’s 73 snaps and helping running back Thomas Rawls ramble for 161 yards. It was the first playoff game of Reece’s career, and he was blown away as the game ended when quarterback Russell Wilson kneeled down for the final play and then handed the game ball to Reece.
The emotional Reece said afterward, “I’m at a loss for words, man. At the end of the game there, Russ turned around and gave me the game ball. He was saying he was thankful for me. And I can’t even put into words how thankful I am for him and the rest of my teammates.
“They’ve embraced me as a member of this team and this family from day one like I’ve been here forever and I appreciate that. It’s helped me be comfortable in this and be proud of where I am and to be a Seattle Seahawk. I just know we’re not done yet and I’m just excited for the rest of this journey that we have in front of us.”
Reece’s stat line of 1 rush for 0 yards and 1 reception for 5 yards doesn’t begin to represent his value to the offense.
He concluded about how fortunate it is that he landed in Seattle, saying, “It means everything to me. I’m on a great team with an amazing group of teammates, amazing coaching staff. From top to bottom, this is a great organization. I’m proud to be a part of it and I want to do everything I can to win a championship.”
So much for the culture. 49ers owner Jed York might be having a difficult time finding someone to lead the personnel side of the organization. And that could have a negative impact on finding a head coach. Assistant coaches in good situations want to make sure they are entering a winnable atmosphere before taking a head coaching job, and being comfortable with the personnel side is of paramount importance.
So it is that York has been reportedly rebuffed in his efforts to interview two directors of player personnel: Chris Ballard of the Chiefs and Nick Caserio of the Patriots. The Chiefs refused permission for Ballard to interview, while Caserio said no.
Lions head coach Jim Caldwell on whether teams need superstars to win: “I don’t think so because I just think you find a lot of teams that have an abundance of what you call ‘superstars’ and they function dysfunctionally as a team. I think that we’re more interested in what kind of team that we build. That’s the thing that’s most important to me is how we function as a team. One of the things that we talk about year in and year out, there’s always about three or four teams that play in the NCAA tournament every single year. And they’re teams that probably when you look at it don’t have any of those ‘superstars,’ but every single year they’re right there. They’re in the tournament, simply because of the fact that they are better at the fundamentals and techniques than anybody that they play and I do think that can make a huge difference in that regard. And we’ve just got to keep grinding it. We cannot tire of it. We’ve got to keep beating that drum until we get our guys doing exactly what we want them to do.”
Hall of Fame head coach and NBC analyst Tony Dungy on the absence of injured Seattle safety Earl Thomas: “It kind of reminds me of our defense in Indianapolis with Bob Sanders. The defense was designed to funnel a lot of things to him. When he was in there, we were a very good defense. When he wasn’t, you missed that guy making those plays. A lot of things are designed for Thomas to make plays.”
Texans head coach Bill O’Brien on the Jaguars naming Doug Marrone head coach: “That’s a great hire. That’s a smart hire. He’s one of my closest friends. Known him for 20 years, 21 years. Great family. His wife Helen, he’s got great kids. But, the thing about Doug is he’s a football coach. He’s a football guy. He knows how to coach football. He’s a tough coach. He’s demanding and his teams are well prepared. So, I think that’s a very good hire by Jacksonville.”
Jets head coach Todd Bowles on what he has to do to improve as a head coach: “I’ve always been told you don’t really become a coach until your second year, because you see everything. The first year — win, lose or draw — everybody is on their best behavior. The second year, you get to see people for who they really are, and they develop routines and you see things that you can do going forward. Me myself, I can manage and utilize my time a lot better, especially off the field as far as meetings by dividing myself up in that way and having a lot more input in some things that I need to know that are going to occur in practice that I know is happening and I see it’s happening, but in my hindsight, I can see I want to change something here or there as far as the way practice is run. I can tweak those types of things there, but I have a whole laundry list that I need to get better at.”