Bleacher Report NFL writer Jason Cole dropped by CBS Sports Radio on Tuesday to discuss various news and notes from around the league, including the head-coaching carousel and the MVP race.
First up: The Indianapolis Colts, who finished 8-8 for the second straight season and have missed the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time since 1997-98.
Cole believes that head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson should both be fired.
“I think philosophically, they have a problem,” Cole said on Tiki and Tierney. “Both guys said, ‘We’re going to pound the ball with the running game, and we’re going to stop the run.’ You play indoors with Andrew Luck as your quarterback. Go wide open. You’ve got the second coming of Peyton Manning in terms of brilliance and idea for the game. Let him run wild with it. Let him go with Moncrief and Hilton and just throw it around. I don’t understand why you’re playing tough-guy ball. You’re an indoor team. I think that that problem manifested itself during the season. When they faced 4th-and-1 – they did three or four times this year in critical games – they’re lining up in shotgun. So they’re basically saying, ‘In the most critical moments of the game where we have to have it, what are we doing? We’re giving the ball to Andrew Luck. We’re not trying to pound it with Frank Gore. That’s not our identity. We’re a wide-open team.’ Well, be that wide-open team. Get your philosophy straight. I think that both the GM and the coach have to go.”
Sean Payton, meanwhile, could be shown the door in New Orleans, which has finished 7-9 in three straight seasons. Payton led the Saints to a Super Bowl win in 2009, but New Orleans hasn’t advanced past the divisional round ever since and has missed the playoffs in four of the last five years.
Is it possible that Payton’s message has gotten stale?
“Yeah, I think there’s something to that,” Cole said. “Certain head coaches don’t have a great ability to start over at the beginning, to say, ‘Okay, I’ve got to go all the way back and I’ve got to re-do this from the start. They get impatient. They don’t want to teach the first 3,000 pages of their playbook again. That’s how I view it. Jon Gruden was the king of that: I want a veteran quarterback because I don’t want to teach them all that stupid stuff. Whereas you get a guy like Bill Belichick who says, ‘Look, every year is unique, we’re going to start over from fundamental one on the first day of OTAs or our offseason program, and we’re going to carry that through. We may be able to accelerate past a few things, but we’re going to make sure that we cover all of our bases every single year and follow a process.’ I think a lot of coaches get impatient with that. I think Sean has gotten impatient in New Orleans because he got to the mountaintop and it’s like, ‘Well, we should get to the mountaintop right away.’ It’s like, ‘Wait a second. You’ve still got to start at the bottom of the mountain to climb to the top.’”
As for the MVP race, Cole would give the honor to Ezekiel Elliott, who led the league with 1,613 rushing yards. In fact, Elliott was one of just two backs with more than 1,300 rushing yards (Jordan Howard) and the only one with more than 1,400 yards.
Thus, Cole would give Elliott the nod over Matt Ryan and Tom Brady.
“Ezekiel Elliott has not only gotten the Cowboys to where they were two years ago with DeMarco Murray as being a major contender and possibly a championship team, but he did that while working with a rookie quarterback,” Cole said. “This is not like you just plugged Romo back in. Ezekiel Elliott was dynamic. I think the kinds of things that he did, the big plays they he ripped off, it scared defenses – and I think that allowed Dak Prescott to operate and have one of the greatest rookie seasons ever for a quarterback, if not the greatest rookie season ever for a quarterback, and I think that all revolves around Ezekiel Elliott. I’m not trying to downgrade Dak Prescott because he certainly was great in and of himself, but all of that revolves around that running back and what he created.”