AFC South: Mike Murphy
We’re back to the basics here. Nobody thinks we’re going anywhere in the playoffs because we’ve got a rookie third-string quarterback playing and we head into the postseason on a three-game losing streak. But we’re confident that in a rocking Reliant Stadium, we’ll open some eyes, again, with a big performance against the Bengals. We’ve got great playcallers on both sides of the ball, we’ve got a rested Arian Foster, we’ve got a healthy Andre Johnson, we’ve got a smothering defensive front and we’ve got a lot better chance than most people think. We will be focused but loose this week, and while we take pride in having made it here, we’re hardly satisfied with the idea of this as our final destination.
We’re expecting news today on Jim Caldwell, and we’re not expecting it to be a vote of confidence. Look: That was an ugly season. Losing Peyton Manning was going to be painful. We didn’t have nearly the personnel that we thought we did in a scenario without him, and the front office takes a big hit on that. But this franchise didn’t adjust its thinking, strategy or identity enough without him, and that falls on the head coach and his staff. It certainly hurts Caldwell’s case, too, that our defense played so much better once his coordinator, Larry Coyer, was tossed and replaced with Mike Murphy. Who stays and who goes is a question that needs to be answered well beyond Caldwell, however, with regard to the front office, coaching staff and roster.
We overestimated ourselves. Even if we stayed healthy, as a dominant defensive and running team we serve as a blueprint for just how necessary an effective passing offense and true receiving weapons mean to a team. No, we didn’t intend or want to start Blaine Gabbert in 14 games. But we allowed a framework to exist where that is what we had to do, and we paid the price for it. If we can bolster the defense at defensive end and cornerback, then all our resources can go toward weapons and protection and maximizing Gabbert’s chances to grow into a success. First, however, we need Shahid Khan to take over and sort out the plan of attack for our coaching search with general manager Gene Smith. Who should we chase? Who can we get?
Expectations change as results come in. So a team that was 3-1 and 7-5 should have expected to qualify for the playoffs. We know that. We accept that. Ultimately, we underachieved by at least one game. But, we came into this season with a new coach and staff and two new quarterbacks without and offseason together. We lost our top receiver, Kenny Britt, for the season in our third game. Our running back, who sold himself as a playmaker who extended beyond his position, didn’t produce nearly what we expected. And our defense was inconsistent and didn’t generate nearly enough pressure. Does that sound like the construct of a 9-7 team to you? We’re disappointed and we have a lot of work to do. But set our arrow up because we’re on our way.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 16:
On pace to be rushing king: No Jaguar has ever led the NFL in rushing, but Maurice Jones-Drew is atop the leaderboard now with 1,334 yards. He needs 239 rush yards in his final two games to top Fred Taylor’s franchise single-season record set in 2003 — and Jones-Drew is just 57 yards off his career best of 1,391 (in 2009). He carried 24 times for 97 yards in the Jaguars’ 16-14 Week 1 victory over Tennessee at EverBank Field. Jacksonville came into the season talking about monitoring Jones-Drew so he’d still be close to full strength at the end. He’s taken a very heavy load and is still going strong.
Trouble to mull: The Texans come out of their second consecutive loss with a couple of big issues, but none that outranks their dwindling scoring production. Since QB Matt Schaub went down, Houston is averaging 17.2 points in five games. With Schaub, that number was 27.3. Although the defense can handle some drop-off, 10 fewer points per game dramatically slices the margin for error. If the Texans have a bad defensive drive, as they did at the end in Indianapolis, they might not survive it -- in the finale against the Titans or in their first playoff game a week or two later.
Riding a wave: The Colts are peaking late with two victories in a row. Even if they win Jan. 1 in Jacksonville, the late surge won’t mean that a healthy Peyton Manning will fix everything. A big finish shouldn’t wash away all the concerns that became obvious during the 0-13 start, but it might make a case for the survival of the defensive system and perhaps for Mike Murphy to remain in place as the defensive coordinator.
Also: The Jaguars need to win one of their final two games to avoid matching the worst record in franchise history. They were 4-12 in 1995, their first season in the NFL. … Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert’s Total QBR of 20.4 is the league’s lowest. … The Titans can be eliminated from playoff contention this week -- most simply with a loss and either a Bengals or Jets win or tie. … The Jags have six sacks in their past five games, which is one more than the Titans have had in the same span. Veteran Tennessee QB Matt Hasselbeck handles pressure better than rookie Gabbert will.
The loss to Carolina might have been a wake-up call, and it will be good for the Texans to play again quickly on Thursday night in Indianapolis, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.
Gary Kubiak is concerned about Neil Rackers’ recent misses, says McClain.
Jeremy Shockey is clueless about the Texans’ patriotism, says McClain. McClain's never seen a team do so much for the military.
After a 13-game losing streak, the Colts are now looking to win a second game in a row, says Mike Chappell.
Donald Brown is breaking out, the Colts lined up with Mike Murphy’s numerical formula and Bill Polian wants young playmakers, says Phil Richards.
Nate Dunlevy of 18to88.com has crunched the numbers and says if the Colts are 2-14 and tied with St. Louis and/or Minnesota for the NFL’s worst record, Indy can’t lose the tiebreaker for the No. 1 pick.
Bartending will be in high demand for Indianapolis’ Super Bowl, says Dana Hunsinger Benbow.
Even fellow players on the defense don’t always know who’s lining up in the defensive backfield for the Jaguars at this point, writes Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union.
Late on this one, but it’s significant: Shahid Khan said he’s willing to pay what it takes to lure the right guy to Jacksonville as the Jaguars’ next coach, says Vito Stellino of the Times-Union.
As long as Matt Hasselbeck is healthy, he’ll remain the starter, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.
Chris Johnson came out of the Colts’ game with an injured ankle but it won’t keep him out of the lineup, says Wyatt.
The Colts had decided they would be OK without veteran corner Kelvin Hayden, who was cut before the season in a cash-saving move. Then they cut Justin Tryon after three games.
Lacey's struggles made those decisions look very questionable.
But Lacey has played much better since the team gave him back a big role because of injuries.
Sunday he muscled a pass away from Chris Johnson and took it 32 yards to the end zone for a crucial touchdown in the Colts’ win over the Tennessee Titans. He also had 12 tackles and another pass defensed.
“Lacey had an excellent day out there again,” coach Jim Caldwell said.
Lacey is a soft-spoken, thoughtful guy who’s basically working as the No. 1 corner now with Jerraud Powers and Terrence Johnson on IR. His game really slipped, but a change in coordinator from Larry Coyer to Mike Murphy appears to have helped him rebound.
“Team-wise and personally, being in the position we were in has been tough on us, but we never strayed away from each other or gave up on anybody or anything like that,” Lacey said. “It felt good to come out here and show how much we’ve jelled as a unit.
“I put my nose to the grindstone and I used my time at practice to improve myself going against Pierre Garcon every day, just battling, coming out and trying to work on everything I needed to work on.”
They didn’t seem to struggle with finding just the right tone in enjoying their first win of the season Sunday while keeping it in context too.
After toppling the Tennessee Titans 27-13, they know a 1-13 record is hardly something to be proud about when you are a franchise used to winning the AFC South. But it sure tops 0-14.
They were clearly pleased to know a bottoming-out season minus a contribution from Peyton Manning wouldn’t take them so far as just the second winless mark since the league started playing a 16-game regular season in 1978.
“It’s a great relief,” defensive end Robert Mathis said. “It just feels good to get a victory.”
“Nobody wants to go 0-16,” receiver Reggie Wayne said. “It was good for us to go out and get a win. It was great for us to win at home. Hopefully it’s contagious. Hopefully we can win these next two games which are division opponents and we’ll go out and have some good drinks at the end of the year and hope for a better one next year.”
The defense keyed the victory. It took the ball away from Tennessee three times, including a Jacob Lacey interception stolen from Chris Johnson that was returned 32 yards for a touchdown that made it 17-6. The Titans’ last five possessions from there ended like this: punt, fumble, interception, touchdown and turned over on downs.
The Titans certainly made a mighty contribution to the result. Starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said one big theme during the week was that a sack and a fumble caused by Dwight Freeney or Mathis would be one way to lose. So the game plan called for a lot of quick throws to make sure the ball was out of the quarterback’s hand early.
That was misguided. Most opponents this season diffused the pass rushing duo in a much more effective way: By taking a lead that made the Colts have to deal with the run rather than key on the pass, by forcing a struggling offense to try to find big plays to catch up and inevitably make mistakes.
The Colts came into the game as just the second team in league history to go eight full games without holding a lead. The Titans allowed them to move ahead 3-0 in the first quarter and 10-6 in the third. From there, Indianapolis built with a confidence rarely shown this season.
Titans coach Mike Munchak said the Colts were “making us throw the ball underneath.”
His team is hardly world beaters, but it’s been consistently better than the Colts this season and beat them 27-10 in Nashville on Oct. 30. A team with playoff possibilities against a winless one shouldn’t be dictated to. It should be dictating.
Instead, even though they weren’t necessarily big leads, the Colts thrived off of being ahead.
“You don’t have to gamble nearly as much, you don’t have to get into too many man coverage situations,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “You can make them just kind of dump the ball and drop it underneath and try to break down and tackle in bounds and keep that clock running.”
I think Colts vice chairman Bill Polian overstated when he said in the three weeks since defensive coordinator Larry Coyer was fired and replaced by linebacker coach Mike Murphy that Murphy and the defensive staff “got this team flying again.”
But the defensive tackles got a consistent push and the coverage of receivers and tight ends by an injury-depleted secondary was generally tight.
After it was over, the Titans talked of being lifeless from the start and the Colts talked of having some bounce.
“I never would have expected us to come out and look like they were the team that was going to the playoffs and we were the team that was 0-13,” Munchak said. “That can’t be.”
Now Munchak faces a decision on whether to stick with Hasselbeck or turn to rookie Jake Locker while the Colts turn their attention to their two other division opponents.
Wayne said it was a big deal not to get swept in the season series by Tennessee. The Colts have already lost to Houston and Jacksonville as well, and finish the season with rematches.
Can they find a couple more wins to savor? Can they find them with just 82 passing yards the way they found this one?
“It’s been a year since we’ve won,” Freeney said, exaggerating slightly. The Colts last won on Jan. 2.
“Regardless of whether it’s one or 10 or whatever, whenever you can win in this league, it means a lot. You definitely can’t take it for granted. This year you’re really sure you can’t.”
T.J. Yates faced plenty of adversity while at UNC, so psychologically he should be able to handle a lot says Jeffrey Martin of the Houston Chronicle. One of his college coaches says he has “uncommon poise.”
The running game needs to be better than it was in Jacksonville, says John McClain of the Chronicle.
Lance Zierlein of chron.com says Atlanta ends John Abraham and Ray Edwards are defending the run well on the perimeter, which could be an issue for the Texans.
Larry Coyer is out and Mike Murphy is in as defensive coordinator for the Colts, but it’ll be difficult for the team to unleash much of a shakeup in the remaining five games, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.
Cornerback Jerraud Powers relishes the chance to cover Wes Welker of the Patriots today, says Chappell.
Six things to watch for in Colts-Patriots from Nate Dunleavy of 18to88.com.
When Shahid Khan first got to the University of Illinois from Pakistan, he signed up for fraternity rush, eager to meet people who weren’t like him in his new home. The man in line to be the second owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars is an adventuresome opportunist, writes Tania Ganguli. That’s why those close to him are certain the team will succeed under his guidance.
With Will Middleton done for the season, the Jaguars have lost their top three outside cornerbacks, says Vito Stellino.
The change at receivers coach was overdue, says Gene Frenette.
David Climer of The Tennessean likes the fact that Mike Munchak doesn’t have an agent. It means when he says he’s not talked to Penn State, it actually holds water. But Climer says Penn State could do far worse, and likely will.
The Titans have been great when they’ve gone for it on fourth down, and their eight conversions in 10 tries have provided a bit of a boost, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.
Linebacker and special teamer Tim Shaw conducts a video investigation into the Titans’ facial hair for titansonline.com.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13:
Keep away: The Bills are an excellent turnover team -- they’ve gotten 16 picks and recovered six fumbles this season. And they make a habit out of turning turnovers into points. Matt Hasselbeck has had a lot of balls tipped at the line this season, and those are the kinds of passes that can turn into big plays. Although the Titans won’t want Hasselbeck to be overly cautious a week after surviving four giveaways in a win over Tampa Bay, they won’t get away with a similar performance.
Outscored: The Colts are the eighth team to start the season 0-11 since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978. Should the Colts lose in New England, they would become the sixth team to start 0-12. The 1986 Colts lost their first 12 and still wound up with three wins. These Colts have been outscored by 177 points. The only team to get outscored by more points in its first 11 games over the last 30 years was the 2008 Rams. Will Mike Murphy make much of a difference as the new coordinator of Indianapolis’ besieged defense? How will Indy look to defend the very dangerous tight end Rob Gronkowski? To have any chance of staying close, they'll need to find a way to slow him.
Tough sell: The combined win percentage of the Chargers and Jaguars entering this game is .318 (7-15). According to Elias, it’s the worst combined win percentage for two teams entering a "Monday Night Football" game this late in a season since the Ravens (4-9) and Packers (3-10) met in Week 15 of 2005. So it’s not a game with playoff implications. But two bad teams could be evenly matched and provide a close game. Jacksonville’s got some new life with a coaching change, and San Diego is still dealing with the pressure on Norv Turner, who appears destined to be fired. After a week of huge change, the Jaguars really need to come out riled up and start big.
Bonus nuggets: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers has thrown 10 interceptions this season as a result of an over- or underthrown pass, the most off-target interceptions in the NFL. Jacksonville’s inexperienced corners, Will Middleton and Ashton Youboty could benefit from that. … Yates is the fifth quarterback in the last 25 years to take over a team on a winning streak of five games or more. Caleb Hanie lost for the Bears last year, Bill Musgrave lost for the Broncos in 1996, Jason Garrett won for Dallas in 1993 and Doug Flutie won for Chicago in 1986. … With a win Sunday against the Colts, Tom Brady would break a tie with Johnny Unitas and move into sole possession of sixth place on the all-time regular-season wins list by a starting quarterback with 120.
On the same day Jack Del Rio was fired as head coach in Jacksonville, the Indianapolis Colts removed defensive coordinator Larry Coyer from his post. He is replaced by linebacker coach Mike Murphy.
“The move was made to improve communication and production,” coach Jim Caldwell said in a press release. “We feel this is the most effective and realistic way to move forward and win games this season. We appreciate all of the effort and hard work Larry Coyer put forth in his three years with the Colts.”
Murphy is in his 27th season as an NFL coach and 14th year with the Colts as the team’s linebackers coach prior to being elevated to defensive coordinator.
Caldwell will discuss the move in a press conference this afternoon.
I asked him what happened, so I will let him do the talking from here:
“I cracked the non-weight-bearing bone in my ankle. I was walking home with chicken wings and stepped off the edge of my walk and fell into the bushes on Friday and cracked my ankle. There was ice on the side. I didn’t drop the chicken wings though. And the guy that I was with had another batch. Instead of picking me up, he took my chicken wings in the house, then they came back to get me. I ate a couple of wings and put some ice on it.
“The next day when I got up and had to crawl to the bathroom I said, ‘I think maybe I better go see the trainers.’ I’ve just got to wear a boot and I’m probable. As long as I can get my pants on, I’m OK.”
Murphy said he already knows never to stand near a first-down marker, and that while the linebackers aren’t giving him any grief, he’s also not getting any sympathy.
“When they get hurt, you don’t ask them, you just expect them to go,” he said. “So they’re expecting me to do the same. I’ll be there. I won’t be moving fast though.”
Here's more from Chris Mortensen on how confusion over changes to the league's pension plan prompted Colts offensive line coach Howard Mudd to retire and have offensive coordinator Tom Moore ready to follow Mudd's lead.
NFC West maven Mike Sando also did some nice follow-up reporting Wednesday examining the pension issues that helped prompt those decisions.
Interesting line in Sando's blog entry from Coaches Association head Larry Kennan about the possibility of coaches retiring to collect lump sum pensions, and then returning in a year. Mudd, 67 and dealing with back issues, and Moore, 70, might be less likely to follow that course than some of their colleagues.
I would think any coach at or beyond 65 with significant service time in the league is consulting with his accountant and considering his options.
I only found three other assistant coaches in the division who look to have the combination of age and NFL coaching experience that might land them in this category:
Houston running back coach Chick Harris, 63
Indianapolis linebackers coach Mike Murphy, 64
Jacksonville special teams coach Russ Purnell, 60.
Houston assistant head coach/ offense Alex Gibbs, 68, doesn't fal linto this category, according to Mortensen's report, because he "met the league formula for cashing out fully on his pension, only to be hired back as a $800,000 to $1 million consultant." Gibb was an Atlanta Falcons consultant in 2005 and 2006 and was out of the league in 2007.
The Titans oldest assistant coach, defensive line coach Jim Washburn, will only turn 60 in December and has only 10 seasons in the league.