Falcon Points

Ranking the AFC South head coaches

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Ranking coaches can be a purely subjective exercise. Wins and losses are an easy way to keep score, but they don't always tell the whole story. It's made even more difficult by the fact that two of the coaches have only been on the job for a year. So these rankings could look a lot different at the end of the season. We analyze them based on win percentage, playoff success, success as a coordinator, success hiring assistants. With that in mind, here we go...

4) Mike Vrabel, Titans

Record: 9-7, one season.

Win percentage: .563.

Playoff success: None.

Coordinator success: Vrabel had one season as Texans DC, and it was a disaster.

Assistants: Too early to tell, but Dean Pees on the defensive side is a longtime NFL assistant with a lot of success. Arthur Smith is in his first year as OC after Matt Lafleur was poached by the Packers for head coach. Much of Vrabel's success might be defined by how Smith does with quarterback Marcus Mariota, who needs a big season.

Bottom line: Vrabel has been well thought of in the coaching community and his reputation probably exceeds his ability. His one year as DC, the Texans had a terrible season. The Titans have talent, especially on defense, and a step forward from 9-7 would bump him on the list.

3) Bill O'Brien, Texans

Record: 42-38, five seasons.

Win percentage: .525.

Playoff success: 1-4 in the postseason. The only win was against a Raiders team with a backup QB.

Coordinator success: He is part of the Bill Belichick tree, so he got to coach Tom Brady. That doesn't require a ton of skill.

Assistants: He has mismanaged his assistants throughout his coaching career. He hired a legendary DC in Romeo Crennel, then kicked him upstairs to give Vrabel a shot, and that was a failure, so he returned Crennel to the role last year. He has gone back and forth between being the offensive coordinator himself and hiring under qualified coaches. He has stubbornly stuck with Mike Devlin as his offensive line coach, even as every linemen they have brought in has failed to improve or in fact regressed as players.

Bottom line: O'Brien is not a bad coach. But his stubbornness limits his ability to take the next step. He has chased off two GMs, mismanaged his assistants, and has continued to build a power base he has yet to earn. He also mishandled his quarterbacks, and now that he has one, his scheme does not protect the player well enough. O'Brien could be a good coach. Hiring a successful OC for a different voice would go a long way. But O'Brien believes he knows best, and that stubbornness will likely keep him stuck in the 9-7 zone.

2) Doug Marrone, Jaguars

New York Jets v Jacksonville Jaguars

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Record: 31-35, four seasons plus two interim games.

Win percentage: .470.

Playoff success: He is 2-1 in the playoffs, leading the Jags to the AFC Championship game in his first season. He has taken his team farther in the postseason than any of the other coaches.

Coordinator success: He was OC of the Saints in the mid-2000s before getting the top job at Syracuse and then the Bills. The Saints offense is run by Sean Payton, so it is hard to gauge the impact, but New Orleans had very good offenses during his tenure.

Assistants: Marrone fired OC Nathaniel Hackett last season as the Jags fell off the map after throwing a scare into the Patriots in 2017 in the AFC Championship game. Someone had to be a scapegoat for a season that saw the Jags derailed by injury. Todd Wash has been a solid DC for four years.

Bottom line: Marrone has had the most postseason success, and he also had a winning season in Buffalo, which is no easy feat. The win percentage could be better, but he did have one disaster season, which skewers things. He almost certainly will move up or down the list based on this season. He could be No. 1 or out of a job. He has a new QB in Nick Foles, and if Leonard Fournette can stay healthy, the offense should rebound. The defense fell off last season as well, but a return to form could lead to another successful season and perhaps a bump up the rankings.

1) Frank Reich, Colts

Miami Dolphins v Indianapolis Colts

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Record: 10-6, one season.

Win percentage: .625.

Playoff success: 1-1 last season, including a win over O'Brien and the Texans.

Coordinator success: He was well thought of after stints as OC with the Chargers and the Eagles, including winning the Super Bowl with Philly. He helped develop Carson Wentz, and Andrew Luck had arguably his best season under Reich.

Assistants: Matt Eberflus appears to be a solid hire at DC, as he improved the unit in his first year. Nick Siriani is the OC, and he did well in year 1.

Bottom line: It's only been one season, but Reich came in with the most success as a coordinator of any of the coaches in the division, and he did not disappoint in his first season, knocking off the Texans in the playoffs. He will face a tougher task this year with Luck's retirement, but it's unlikely the Colts fall into disaster territory.

Mediocrity abounds

The coaches in the division hardly get a ton of respect. In a recent NFL.com ranking, Reich was the highest rated at No. 12. Marrone came in at 18, O'Brien 19 and Vrabel 20. Reich clearly has the highest upside. The hardest was separating O'Brien and Marrone, but the playoff success tipped it. The NFL rankings clearly show the lack of respect nationally for the group, which is warranted at this point. But Reich has a chance - especially if he can win without Luck - to continue to move up the overall rankings. As for O'Brien? More than any of the coaches, we know what he is. Not a bad coach, but a limited one.

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Altuve's homer starting the scoring for Houston on Friday night. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
After a solid showing to take the three of the four-game series in Arlington against the Rangers to start the week, the Astros returned home for three against the Diamondbacks in a weekend series. They would have a slow start to the opener but would ultimately come away victorious.

Final Score (10 innings): Astros 4, Diamondbacks 3

Astros' Record: 87-60, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek (3-4)

Losing Pitcher: Tyler Clippard (1-1)

Bielak makes the impromptu start

With Luis Garcia having to move his start ahead by a day on Thursday instead of Friday with Framber Valdez's finger cut, Brandon Bielak made a start for Houston in the opener against Arizona. He didn't go as deep as he probably would have wanted and certainly ventured out of his comfort zone with traffic on the bases.

He loaded the bases in the top of the first, allowing a single and two walks, but was able to strand all three to keep it a scoreless game. He rebounded with a 1-2-3 second, but he dealt with a threat again in the third as back-to-back singles pressured him to start the inning. He would get back-to-back strikeouts, but that's as far as he would go as Houston moved on to Blake Taylor. Taylor got the final out of the third on one pitch, then erased a two-out double in the top of the fourth.

Altuve breaks up the no-no with a go-ahead homer

Brooks Raley took over in the top of the fifth, but in his three batters, he faced allowed a single while getting two outs before Cristian Javier took over to end the frame. Javier allowed the first run of the game in the top of the sixth, a leadoff solo homer to Kole Calhoun to put the Diamondbacks in front 1-0 before he finished the inning.

Madison Bumgarner didn't allow a single hit to the Astros through the first five and two-thirds innings. He allowed a one-out walk in the bottom of the sixth, which proved costly as Jose Altuve would get the first knock of the game for Houston, a two-run go-ahead homer. Phil Maton was the next reliever for the Astros in the top of the seventh, maintaining the new one-run lead by erasing a leadoff single.

Astros get the win in extras

The Diamondbacks tied it up in the top of the eighth against Kendall Graveman, getting a leadoff single followed by a walk, then later an RBI single to knot things up 2-2. Houston stranded a runner in the bottom of the eighth, then brought in Ryan Pressly, who tossed a 1-2-3 top of the ninth to keep the game tied.

Despite getting the winning run in scoring position with a leadoff ground-rule double by Jason Castro to start the bottom of the ninth, they would strand it as the game went to extras. Arizona scored their free runner in the top of the tenth, getting a sac fly to move it to third then going in front on an RBI single.

The Astros matched that and more in the bottom of the inning, moving their runner to third on a lineout to start the frame, followed by an intentional walk to Yordan Alvarez. Jake Meyers tied the game with an RBI single, then after another walk to load the bases, Chas McCormick was hit by a pitch to bring in the winning run, moving the Astros closer to clinching their playoff berth.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will have a start time of 6:10 PM Central on Saturday. Tyler Gilbert (2-2, 3.15 ERA) is expected to make a start for Arizona, while Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.12 ERA) will be on the mound for Houston.

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