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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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

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Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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