AFC West: Ron Rivera

Ron Rivera and Andy ReidUSA TODAY SportsRon Rivera and Andy Reid are both deserving of coach of the year -- but only one can win.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera and Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid are among the favorites to win the Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year award on Saturday.

Rivera took a Carolina team that hadn't been to the playoffs since 2008 from a 1-3 start to a 12-4 regular-season record and the NFC South title. Reid took a Kansas City team that had the worst record (2-14) in the NFL in 2012 to an 11-5 record and second place in the AFC West.

Both lost in the playoffs, Carolina 23-10 in an NFC divisional game against San Francisco and Kansas City 45-44 to Indianapolis in a wild-card game.

Rivera and Reid are in New York City, where on Saturday night the NFL will salute the best of the 2013 season with "NFL Honors" at Radio City Music Hall.

New England's Bill Belichick and Philadelphia's Chip Kelly also are under consideration for Coach of the Year. ESPN.com NFL Nation Panthers reporter David Newton and Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher are here to tell you why it's a two-man race:

Adam, first of all, do you agree this should come down to Rivera or Reid?

Teicher:Those are the two strongest candidates. Some others deserve consideration. Think it was a strong year in this regard. Mike McCoy in San Diego, Bill Belichick in New England and Chip Kelly in Philadelphia did a nice job as well. But when you boil it down, Reid and Rivera are the two best candidates. The Chiefs had too much talent in 2012 to win just two games, so maybe this speaks to what a lousy job their previous coaching staff did. The Chiefs weren't just bad when Reid walked through the door. They had been blown out in most of their games in 2012. They didn't have many narrow losses. I know how far the Panthers have come as well. They were so bad in 2012 that they were one of the two teams to lose to the Chiefs.

Which way would you go with your vote?

Newton: I could see it going either way, but I'd have to say Rivera. The Panthers started 0-2 and then 1-3. There was speculation there could be a coaching change before the bye week if they went to 0-3. It's tough enough to turn around a team that is used to winning. Rivera did it four games into the season with a team that hadn't had a winning record in five years. Winning eight straight and 11 of the final 12 regular season games -- including back-to-back wins against San Francisco and New England -- was impressive. That the Panthers really had to win all those games to win the division and even make the playoffs with New Orleans, San Francisco and Arizona breathing down their backs for the final two spots is a testament to the work ethic Rivera instilled. That he didn't panic or make changes to what he was doing when the season was on the brink made the turnaround possible. That the players fought for him when he didn't have a track record for winning -- as Reid did -- also speaks volumes.

So who do you think deserves it more?

Teicher: It's a tough call. No doubt there's more to like about Carolina's body of work this season. Kansas City was 10-0 against non-playoff teams and 1-5 against teams that made the postseason. But I still believe the Chiefs travelled a longer distance. Reid did more than help the Chiefs win games. He helped change what had been the miserable, rotten culture that permeated the entire organization. When he walked in the door, the Chiefs were infested with people who pulled in different directions and were out for themselves. He got everybody to believe in the greater good. He was able to get a lot of players to put aside personal goals for those of the team. That's a long-winded way of saying I would vote for Reid.

Having said all this, it seems every year this award goes to a coach whose team has an amazing turnaround. Do you think it's unfair to coaches like Belichick that win all the time?

Newton: Miserable? Infested? Rotten? You trying to make me change my vote? The culture wasn't that bad at Carolina, but the losing was and Kansas City had more talent to start with, which again sways me back to Rivera. But to the question, I agree coaches like Belichick get overlooked because they do such a good job every year. I compare it to Dean Smith when he was the basketball coach at North Carolina. It took him 16 years to finally win the national coach of the year award even though year in and year out he had one of the best programs in the country. People overlook the obvious. Belichick doesn't get the credit because people see he has Tom Brady and forget how he meshes sometimes average players into a playoff team. Having said that, I'd still vote for Rivera this year.

Note: Carolina middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is up for Defensive Player of the Year and outside linebacker Thomas Davis is up for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles is up for the Offensive Player of the Year Award.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Oakland Raiders fullback Marcel Reece will play for Team Sanders in this weekend's Pro Bowl in Honolulu.

Reece
Reece, the lone Raiders player selected to the NFL's re-imagined all-star game, was one of two fullbacks selected, along with Carolina Panthers All-Pro Mike Tolbert. And when Team Rice selected Tolbert, Reece went to Deion Sanders' team.

“That's who we want,” Sanders said on the NFL Network's broadcast of the Pro Bowl Draft's Day 1 Tuesday evening. “We love him because he's not getting the ball. All we want him to do is block, for that man over there.”

Sanders pointed to team co-captain Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Reece, who is making his second consecutive Pro Bowl appearance, garnered a more positive scouting report, of sorts, from Jerry Rice.

“Marcel Reece, I feel like he can do everything,” Rice said. “He can come out of the backfield, he can catch the ball, he can run the ball, he can do all those things. But then when it comes down to really blocking guys, I feel like Mike Tolbert, he's the guy.”

Indeed, Reece is the more versatile offensive threat, with 549 yards from scrimmage this season, including four touchdowns as the only Raiders player with a score by ground as well as by air.

Tolbert, meanwhile, rushed for 361 yards and five TDs on 101 attempts and led the Panthers with seven scores.

The Indianapolis Colts' staff, with coach Chuck Pagano, will coach Team Sanders while the Carolina Panthers and coach Ron Rivera will head up Team Rice.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Andy Reid is a deserving choice as AFC coach of the year, as selected Wednesday by Kansas City's committee of 101.

Reid
The AFC has other worthy candidates, including Bill Belichick of New England and Mike McCoy of San Diego. And the way the Kansas City Chiefs finished the season -- with a 2-6 record and by blowing a 28-point, third-quarter lead in the playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts -- was troubling.

But in the bigger picture, Reid was the best candidate. The Chiefs were 2-14 in 2012 and then won 11 games in their first season under Reid.

Other 101 award winners: Carolina's Ron Rivera as NFC coach of the year, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning as AFC offensive player, Indianapolis linebacker Robert Mathis as AFC defensive player, Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy as NFC offensive player and Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly as NFC defensive player.

Reid and the other award winners will be honored at the annual 101 Banquet on March 1 in Kansas City.
Peyton ManningAP Photo/ Eric BakkePeyton Manning is having a historical start to his season -- can any team slow him down?
Every problem has a solution. Every problem has a solution. Every problem has a solution.

Mathematicians have drilled those five words into our heads for centuries. They provide minimal comfort, of course, for NFL teams charged with slowing what to this point in 2013 has been The Perfect Quarterback.

Peyton Manning has led the Denver Broncos to a 4-0 start by throwing for more yards (1,470) and touchdowns (16) than any quarterback has over a season's first four games. He has completed 75 percent of his passes, the second-best mark after four games in history, hasn't thrown an interception and has taken just five sacks in 161 dropbacks. According to ESPN Stats & Information video charting, only 14 of Manning's 39 incompletions have been off-target. The rest were deemed catchable or throwaways.

Every problem has a solution.

What about a problem that seems to counter at every step?

Defenses have played two deep safeties extensively this season, guarding against big downfield plays. Manning has adjusted by emphasizing underneath routes. His average pass has traveled a modest 7.9 yards past the line of scrimmage, ranking No. 21 among NFL starters, and his receivers have accounted for an NFL-high 723 yards after the catch.

When opponents use a "light" box of six defenders or fewer, putting more defenders in pass coverage, Manning has checked into running plays. About two-thirds of the Broncos' total rushing yards (314 of 477) have come against those favorable alignments, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only four NFL teams have more carries against light boxes.

Every problem has a solution.

How to solve this one? It's worth remembering what the German philosopher/mathematician Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote: "The problems are solved, not by giving new information, but by arranging what we have known since long."

What have we long since known about Manning? For one, that his typically stellar regular seasons have usually been stopped in the playoffs, where the league's best defenses await.

The 11 teams that have handed Manning playoff losses had an average rank of No. 8 in scoring defense in their respective seasons. Six were in the top six and 10 of the 11 were among the top 15. As a result, Manning's teams have averaged 16.1 points in those 11 games.

Every problem has a solution.

Well, almost always. In 2006, Manning and the Indianapolis Colts won Super Bowl XLI by scoring 29 points against a Chicago Bears defense that finished the season ranked No. 3 in scoring defense.

So what can good defenses do to slow down Peyton Manning in 2013? What is his kryptonite? Here is what NFL Nation says:




Score faster than a speeding bullet

[+] EnlargeRon Rivera
AP Photo/Gregory BullRon Rivera says the best way to beat Manning is to score faster than he does.
Ron Rivera gave a simplistic but realistic answer when asked for the secret to slowing down Manning before the Carolina Panthers faced Denver last season.

"Boy, I tell you what, hope he has a bad day," Rivera said at the time.

Rivera saw Manning have a couple of his worst days when he was with San Diego and Manning was at Indianapolis. The first came in 2007, when Manning threw a career-high six interceptions in a 23-21 loss. The second came in 2010, when Manning threw four interceptions in a 36-14 loss.

Manning has had four seasons in which he has thrown 10 or fewer interceptions, and he's working on another with none through four games. Rivera saw him have 10 in two games.

"There are some things that you can do against him, but you've got to have a group of guys that can handle it," Rivera said on Wednesday.

Rivera would not go into specifics, but he was adamant it was not all about schemes.

"People want to look at those games and say, 'Oh, defense, defense,'" Rivera said. "But … we scored points and put them in position where he had to throw the ball."

Rivera was the inside linebackers coach on that rainy November night. Manning still passed for 328 yards and two touchdowns, and had the Colts within a missed 29-yard field goal of winning.

"We tried to attack the way they protected, and tried to get immediate pressure on him and make him throw the ball before he wanted," Rivera said. "But as far as all the other stuff, it's an encompassing team effort."

The same was true in 2010 when Rivera was the defensive coordinator. Of Manning's four interceptions, two were returned for touchdowns.

The Panthers were too inexperienced and fell behind too far, too fast (29-7) to have a chance last season as Manning passed for 301 yards and a touchdown in a 36-14 victory in Charlotte.

"To beat a Peyton Manning team it's got to be a complete effort," Rivera said.

-- David Newton, Carolina Panthers reporter




Slow down the locomotive's rhythm

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonThe Patriots say breaking up Manning's rhythm by being physical against his receivers is key.
In speaking with past and present New England Patriots players about what worked best in games against Manning, all started at the same place: It’s about disrupting the rhythm of the passing game.

Because Manning has traditionally been one of the toughest quarterbacks to sack, with his ability to diagnose defensive intentions early and get rid of the ball quickly, one of the more effective tactics for the Patriots has been physical play against his receivers. By decisively jamming them at the line of scrimmage, it can affect the quick rhythm and preciseness that is a trademark of any Manning-led offense.

That physicality theme usually resonates any week the Patriots are preparing to face Manning.

One of the classic examples came in a 2001 Patriots-Colts game when linebacker Bryan Cox delivered a thunderous hit on receiver Jerome Pathon that some pointed to as a catalyst for the team’s turnaround that season. The Patriots were 0-2 at the time, a second-year quarterback named Tom Brady was making his first career start, and the defense had to pick up more of the slack. The Patriots pummeled Manning and his receivers to post a 44-13 win.

In addition to physicality, Patriots players past and present discussed the importance of mixing packages and coverages because Manning is so smart.

Add it up and it’s no wonder that, in 2010, former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel was dubbed as “Peyton Manning’s kryptonite” by SI.com. The title was deserved considering there was a stretch of six straight games from 2001-2004 in which New England beat Manning, and Manning turned in some of the worst games of his career over that stretch.

A big part of that was that the Patriots had a talented defense, and NFL rulebook didn’t favor the offense as heavily then as it does now. Some bone-chilling New England weather helped too.

But most of all, it was the ability to disrupt the rhythm of the passing game, usually with a heavy dose of physical play.

-- Mike Reiss, New England Patriots reporter




Force his vision to the middle

[+] EnlargeChamp Bailey
AP Photo/Jack Dempsey, FileChamp Bailey expects to see the field Sunday in Houston as the Broncos begin there playoff push.
Earlier this season Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who gets an up-close-and-personal look at Manning every day, answered the question with only a slight smile. "I’ve said all along if I see a way to attack him, and I’m not saying I do, but if I see a way, I’m not saying. I just know I like the view a whole lot better now."

So do the Broncos. In back-to-back playoff losses to close out the 2003 and 2004 seasons, they largely attacked Manning with man coverage in the secondary and tried to spice some pressure up front. Former offensive coordinator Larry Coyer said he would try to "unleash mortal hell" in 2004. The totals for the two games: 49-of-59 passing for 835 yards and nine touchdowns.

Former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, who coached the team in each of those playoff losses to Manning, also coached Manning at the Pro Bowl following the 2005 season. He has said, even in that informal setting, Manning was "trying to pick the brains of every player there to learn something he could come back to later … and a lot of people learn in the present, but he learns and retains. He doesn’t just memorize, he learns and can apply it later."

But, no, he is not perfect. He has a 9-11 playoff record and lost his first game of a postseason eight times -- he misses throws, he tosses interceptions, things happen. It is just, as many defensive coaches around the league say, that you have to be in the right spot when he is wrong.

Those who find a way to get pressure in the middle of the field -- with a four-man rush so seven defenders can remain in the pattern -- fare the best against him. Manning tends to see edge pressure coming long before the snap and rarely holds the ball long enough for the outside blitzer to get there.

But those who prevent him from sliding forward as he works through his progressions can get him off his rhythm. Teams that have chosen coverage over pressure have fared better, at times, if they get a little weather on their side as well. But the defensive backs cannot make mistakes and have to limit the catch-and-run opportunities.

Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, who started the Broncos’ playoff loss against Manning to close out the ’04 season, has been to 12 Pro Bowls in his career and has seen some of the game’s best quarterbacks come and go. He always speaks of Manning’s ability to solve defensive riddles in seconds at the line of scrimmage. He also says the quarterback’s accuracy may be under-valued because so much attention is paid to how Manning thinks the game.

"He always, especially right now, but always puts the ball where it needs to be," Bailey said. "You can have the right technique, have good footwork, body position, maybe even beat the receiver to the spot, but he fits the ball in the one place it needs to be. So, he wins a play when you did everything right on defense. So, he wins all of them when you make a mistake, because he always finds the mistakes, and then he wins a lot of them when you do everything right. Add it up and you do what he’s done."

-- Jeff Legwold, Denver Broncos reporter




Find strength in success

[+] EnlargeOrlando Scandrick
AP Photo/AJ MastOrlando Scandrick had a pick-six against Manning the last time Dallas played him, but the Cowboys still gave up 365 passing yards.
The Dallas Cowboys do not have to go back too far to see a human Peyton Manning.

They can just punch in Dec. 5, 2010, on a Google search for a refresher course as they are being reminded this week that the Broncos quarterback is playing better than any quarterback in the history of the game.

"It’s the Indianapolis Colts instead of the Denver Broncos, he’s a different kind of player -- all that kind of stuff -- different supporting cast," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "But you know, you go back to games when you’ve had some success against a player or against a team or a scheme and you evaluate that, and you also evaluate when you haven’t had success and make sure that you remedy those things."

The Cowboys did not sack Manning in that game, but they did move him around and show him different looks. He also happened to be in a major funk. In three straight losses to New England, San Diego and the Cowboys, Manning was intercepted 11 times.

"I thought we did a good job of executing and getting at least some pressure on him and making him move around a little bit," said linebacker Sean Lee, who had two picks of Manning and returned one for a touchdown. "With any quarterback, pressure is huge. With your coverage against a great quarterback you have to be detailed with your fundamentals. That’s something we’re going to have to be."

It was not a virtuoso defensive performance. Manning completed 36 of 48 passes for 365 yards and two touchdowns. Despite Manning’s four interceptions, the Cowboys still needed overtime to beat the Indianapolis Colts that day 38-35, but they were playing with backup quarterback Jon Kitna and lost Dez Bryant to an ankle injury in the game.

"They scored 35 points on us," cornerback Orlando Scandrick said. "I don’t want to trade four interceptions for 35 points though."

In the 24 games he has played since seeing the Cowboys, Manning has only three regular-season games with more than one interception.

The Cowboys are in a different scheme now than they were in then, and only the starters from that game who will start Sunday are DeMarcus Ware and Scandrick, who returned an interception 40 yards for a score against the Colts. Lee, was a backup, as were Jason Hatcher and Barry Church.

-- Todd Archer, Dallas Cowboys reporter




Rely on divine powers?

[+] EnlargeJeff Fisher
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsRams coach Jeff Fisher has a poor track record when facing a Peyton Manning-led team.
When dealing with Manning, it’s all about tempo. Manning dictates it and the defense deals with it.

If there is an answer to be found in stopping Manning or even slowing him down, it is not to be found in St. Louis. From 2008-2010, Rams coach Jeff Fisher suffered a five-game losing streak against Manning when he was coach at Tennessee and Manning was leading the Colts.

In 18 meetings, Manning had a career record of 13-5 against Fisher’s Titans. He threw for 4,559 yards, 31 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, a 70 percent completion rate and a 101.2 quarterback rating.

The Rams have not played Manning in a regular-season game since he got to Denver but they did play him this past preseason. In that game, Manning pushed the pace at a rate that had Rams defenders grasping for air in Denver's altitude -- ticking off 30 plays in the first quarter and 49 for 290 yards in the first half.

While Manning likes to go fast, it seems the biggest thing is not so much the speed as it is the way it's used to create an advantage.

When Manning wants to slow things down, he forces defenses to be more patient than they are usually willing to be and as soon as one defender makes a move, Manning identifies it and takes advantage of the pre-snap read.

“He kind of reads your mail, so to speak,” middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “He knows how to get defenses to show their hand and tries to get them in the best play possible.”

Still, it seems as though the best way to deal with the tempo is to be as patient as possible and to try to find the right timing to attack the snap count.

For teams looking to slow Manning, the best answer is to take advantage of the rare occasions when Manning makes a mistake. In that preseason meeting, the Rams forced a pair of turnovers, including an interception by Alec Ogletree. It left the Broncos with a 20-10 halftime deficit.

One other suggestion that was offered and probably isn’t a new one for teams dealing with Manning: prayer.

-- Nick Wagoner, St. Louis Rams reporter




A breath of freezing air

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesManning did not throw a single touchdown during a cold 2006 playoff game -- but the Colts still managed to beat the Ravens.
A team's best chance to control Manning is to get him late in the season. Preferably outdoors in the cold. The Baltimore Ravens have beaten Manning just once since 2007 but their best game came against him in the 2006 playoffs.

In an AFC divisional playoff game in Baltimore, the Ravens kept Manning and the Colts' offense from reaching the end zone and picked him off twice. The Ravens lost 15-6, but they took pride in holding Manning to 15-for-30 passing for 170 yards.

Their lone win over Manning over the past six years came in last season's AFC divisional playoff game in Denver. Baltimore intercepted Manning twice and held him to one touchdown pass in the second half. That dropped Manning to 0-4 in playoff games when the game-time temperature dips below 40 degrees.

Manning is a quarterback who played most of his career in a dome in Indianapolis and has a history of not performing well in less-than-ideal weather. He is also a 37-year-old quarterback whose arm is not as strong in January as it is in September and October.

-- Jamison Hensley, Baltimore Ravens reporter

San Diego Chargers: Moving on

December, 10, 2012
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Here are some areas the San Diego Chargers need to focus on after a 34-24 road win at Pittsburgh on Sunday:

Recap: The Chargers won for just the second time in the past nine games. They are now 5-8 and have faint playoff hopes. It was the Chargers’ first regular-season win at Pittsburgh after going 0-14 there. Owner Dean Spanos gave coach Norv Turner a game ball Sunday, but expect Spanos to fire Turner and general manager A.J. Smith in a few weeks.

Biggest area to fix: Getting more yardage. Despite the explosion in points, the Chargers had just 294 yards of offense. It was the fourth-straight game in which the Chargers did not gain 300 yards of offense. The last time that occurred was in 1999.

Biggest area to build on: Third-down production. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers completed 11 of 18 passes on third down and converted 61.1 percent of the time. All 11 of his completions on third down went for first downs. Extending drives has been a problem for this team of late.

What to watch for: The Chargers have a chance for a second straight win when former defensive coordinator Ron Rivera brings the Carolina Panthers to San Diego in Week 15.

AFC West coaching possibilities

November, 30, 2012
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We are exactly a month from the end of the NFL regular season. Thus we are a month and one day from the start of the first process of the 2013 season: the firing of head coaches.

With five games remaining, both the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers have to be considered prime candidates to make a coaching change. The Chiefs are 1-10, and Romeo Crennel has to be in danger even though he is in his first full season as coach. In San Diego, Norv Turner’s team is 4-7. It was a major surprise that the team kept Turner after last season. I don’t see any way he makes it to another season, barring an unlikely playoff berth.

The coach firings might not be the end in both cities. If Crennel is fired, general manager Scott Pioli will likely suffer the same fate. I get the feeling Kansas City owner Clark Hunt wants to keep both Pioli and Crennel, but the fan fury is so great, I doubt he'll be able to. San Diego general manager A.J. Smith may also be on the firing line, but I can see a situation where he is kept and Turner is not.

There is always a chance Oakland owner Mark Davis can lose patience and end the Reggie McKenzie-Dennis Allen tandem after one season (or just get rid of coach Allen). But I believe Davis will stick with the current situation despite a disappointing first year.

With potential change in the air, let’s look at some of the coaching candidates, in alphabetical order, who could be available:

Brian Billick
AP Photo/Gail BurtonBrian Billick went into broadcasting after he was fired by the Ravens in 2008.
Bruce Arians, interim Indianapolis head coach: I’m intrigued by Arians. The longtime offensive coordinator is doing a fantastic job with Colts coach Chuck Pagano out because of his fight with cancer. This is a unique situation. Teams could hire a coach who may lead a team to the playoffs without any restrictions -- and what an audition Arians is having. He has worked with Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh and Andrew Luck in Indianapolis. I could see the Chargers being interested in pairing him with Philip Rivers. The Chiefs could also be a fit for Arians.

Brian Billick, former Baltimore head coach: Billick is interesting because he is a Super Bowl-winning coach who might be reasonably priced. He has a reputation for being a strong offensive mind and a strong leader. He could fit in both San Diego and Kansas City, and I think he could work with an established general manager.

Bill Cowher, former Pittsburgh head coach: When Cowher decides he wants to come back, he will likely have his pick of jobs. I’m not sure if any of the AFC West jobs would be more attractive to him than others. Still, Cowher has a history in Kansas City and is the dream coach for many Chiefs fans. But he may be way too pricey for the team.

Jack Del Rio, Denver defensive coordinator: Del Rio has done a terrific job in Denver and had lots of head coaching experience in Jacksonville. I have a feeling he may remain Denver’s defensive coordinator, but he could be a reasonably priced option for the Chiefs or Chargers.

Jon Gruden, former Oakland and Tampa Bay head coach: The most frequent question I get from readers is this: Is there a chance Gruden could come back to coach the Raiders? I’ve heard that countless times since Gruden was fired by Tampa Bay after the 2008 season. My answer now is the same as always: Probably not. There have been plenty of opportunities for Gruden to come back to Oakland and it has not happened. Never say never, but I’d be surprised. If there is a fit this offseason in the division, I’d say it would be San Diego. I think Gruden -- some reports say the University of Tennesee wants to hire Gruden -- would love to live in San Diego, and he’d love to work with Rivers. I’m not saying Gruden is a favorite to end up in San Diego, but it wouldn’t shock me.

Chip Kelly, University of Oregon head coach: See Cowher. Kelly will get his pick of jobs and he will cost a ton. I’m not sure he’d fit in the AFC West, although working with Rivers could be intriguing to him.

Mike McCoy, Denver offensive coordinator: He is going to be a hot candidate. I think the preferred destination for McCoy, a former Panthers assistant, is to go to Carolina if the Panthers fire Ron Rivera; he is highly regarded there. I could see him receiving interest from the Chiefs as well. He is young, bright and won’t break the bank.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly/David Shaw
AP Photo/Paul SakumaOregon's Chip Kelly, left, may be too pricey for the AFC West; Stanford's David Shaw could fit better.
Wade Phillips, Houston defensive coordinator: The only reason I put Phillips on this list is if Smith remains in San Diego. Smith admires Phillips from Phillips' days as the Chargers’ defensive coordinator. I think he’d be a candidate if Smith is making the choice.

Andy Reid, Philadelphia head coach: Reid is very likely entering his last month in Philadelphia after a tenure that started in 1999. The word around the league is that he will get instant interest. If Reid doesn’t opt to take time off, I could see San Diego being a fit. He has a home in the area and he’d work well with Rivers. But would the Chargers want to replace Turner with a veteran coach who just flamed out after a long stay with a team?

Rex Ryan, New York Jets head coach: It is no sure thing he will be fired, but there’s a chance. I think he could get some interest in the AFC West. He was a finalist in San Diego when Turner got the job. I think the Chiefs could also be interested. They have the makings of a good 3-4 defense -- Ryan’s specialty. Putting him in a small media market could also save Ryan from himself occasionally.

David Shaw, Stanford University head coach: This is one of my favorites. I can really see Shaw ending up in San Diego. He was born there and may be one of the hot young coaches available. I think he’d be perfect for San Diego whether Smith is there or not. His father, Willie Shaw, was a longtime NFL assistant. David Shaw played for Bill Walsh. He worked for Al Davis. He was an assistant to Jim Harbaugh and he has coached Luck. And he has won as a head coach. If I was hiring a coach next month, I’d seriously investigate this 40-year-old.

Final Word: AFC West

November, 9, 2012
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 10:

Audition time for Mike McCoy? Denver coach John Fox clearly is going to be motivated to win Sunday at Carolina. He was the Panthers' coach for nine years before getting fired after the 2010 season. And he isn’t the only Denver coach with something to prove. Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was an assistant in Carolina from 2000 to 2008. He likely is going to be a head coaching candidate in a couple of months. If the Panthers fire Ron Rivera, I’d think McCoy would be on their short list. He could impress ownership with a good showing by his unit Sunday.

[+] EnlargeDenver's Mike McCoy
Byron Hetzler/US PRESSWIREBroncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy served as a coach of the Panthers from 2000 to 2008.
Chargers hope for three-receiver success: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers had great success (10-for-10 passing for 143 yards) in the three-receiver set in Week 9 against Kansas City. It was his best effort using the set in 16 weeks. In the first seven games of the year, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Rivers completed 63.5 percent of his passes and averaged 6.8 yards per completion using three receivers. In Week 9, Rivers averaged 14.3 yards per completion. Expect the Chargers to have a lot of confidence using the set against the Buccaneers.

Raiders try for rare win in Baltimore: The Raiders have not beaten the Ravens in Baltimore in four tries. The previous time the Raiders won in Baltimore (when it was the Colts) was in the 1977 postseason in the famous “Ghost to the Post” playoff game. The Raiders won on Christmas Eve in double overtime. (I remember it like it was 35 years ago.) Will things change for Oakland? It won’t be easy. The Ravens have won 14 straight home games, the longest current home streak in the NFL.

Chiefs going down easy: If the Chiefs are going to pull off a massive upset at Pittsburgh Monday night, their running backs must be tougher. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chiefs have gained an average of 3.3 yards per rush before first contact this season. It is the fourth-best rate in the league. However, the Chiefs have gained an average of just 1.4 yards per rush after first contact. That is tied for the sixth-lowest in the league. Perhaps getting bigger back Peyton Hillis back after he missed several weeks with an ankle injury will help. Hillis had some decent runs in Week 9. He was brought in for his toughness, and the Chiefs are still looking for it.

The power of Manning: We’ve all seen several statistics showing the impact Peyton Manning has made on Denver’s offense in the first half of the season. But this one is stunning: Denver has punted 31 times this season and is on pace for 62. Last season, Denver punted 101 times. Anyone in Denver miss all of those Tim Tebow-led three-and-outs? Didn’t think so.

AFC West notes

February, 24, 2012
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NFL.com's Jason La Canfora expects Vincent Jackson to stay in San Diego, perhaps after being franchised. I believe the Chargers could give him the franchise tag, but they’d rather not because they have other goals and tagging JAckson would cost $13.7 million this season.

Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie indicated that more players could be cut in Oakland as the Raiders adjust their salary cap. Cornerback Stanford Routt has already been cut and he signed with Kansas City. Among the candidates to be cut or have their contracts restructured include safety Michael Huff, defensive linemen John Henderson and Tommy Kelly and linebacker Aaron Curry.

The Chargers could potentially move down from No. 18 to compile more picks.

Carolina has signed former San Diego pass-rusher Jyles Tucker. He reunites with former San Diego defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, who is the Panthers’ head coach.
NFL.com is reporting that the Indianapolis Colts want to interview former Minnesota coach Brad Childress for their head-coaching opening. Here’s another name the Colts should consider: Hue Jackson.

If Childress is on the Colts’ list, Jackson – who was fired last week after one year at the helm in Oakland – should be, too.

Jackson wasn’t fired in Oakland because he can’t coach. I think Jackson, 46, is one of the bright, young offensive coaching minds in the league. His work with Oakland’s offense the past two years shows how capable a coach he is.

His problem in Oakland was that he took on too much power after the death of owner Al Davis — and that he talked too much. But those are issues he can quickly resolve. The Colts have a strong power structure in which Jackson would simply be asked to coach. And whether the Colts’ quarterback in 2012 is Andrew Luck or Peyton Manning, Jackson would be a good leader for either.

Jackson is a candidate to be the offensive coordinator in St. Louis. If he gets that job and the Rams offense rebounds in 2012, Jackson will likely be a hot head-coaching candidate next year. Still, if the Colts are looking at a retread like Childress, they might as well take a gander at Jackson, who’d still be the head coach in Oakland under the right circumstances.

In other AFC West news:

The San Diego Union Tribune is reporting that former Carolina secondary coach Ron Meeks has been offered the Chargers’ secondary coaching job and he is expected to decide by the end of the weekend. Meeks would replace Steve Wilks — who went to Carolina to work for former Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, who is now Carolina’s head coach.

The Raiders denied a report that new Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie has hired former Raider Sean Jones as assistant general manager. The team's search for a new head coach continues, meanwhile; Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was reportedly set to interview Friday.

The new coach in Miami could further increase the chances of Dolphins offensive coordinator Brian Daboll ending up in that role with Kansas City. Daboll worked in New England with new Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel.

Turner, Pagano discuss promotion

January, 5, 2012
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San Diego coach Norv Turner and new defensive coordinator John Pagano discussed Pagano’s promotion Thursday. Pagano replaced Greg Manusky, who was fired earlier Thursday. Here is some of what Turner and Pagano had to say, courtesy of the Chargers’ public-relations department:

Norv Turner

On the necessity for a change like this:

“When the season ends, you go and evaluate the things that you feel are critical. Moving forward, I just thought this was the best opportunity for our team to go do the things we’re capable of doing.”

[+] EnlargeJohn Pagano
Jake Roth/US PresswireJohn Pagano, left, takes over as defensive coordinator after coaching Chargers linebackers this season.
On the quick decision and looking elsewhere outside the building beside coach Pagano:

“I just think right now, for where our team is he’s the right fit. We spent a lot of time with John last year when we were in this process. John’s continued to grow as a coach. He has a great understanding of what we need to do. Particularly on the defensive front, but also on our overall defense, it was a great fit for us.”

On what does the defense need to improve on:

“A year ago we were one of the elite teams on third-down defense. It was a big part of the success we had. This year we were 32nd out of 32 on third-down defense. Certainly it’s getting back to our standards on third down, playing better in the red zone and then we just have to continue to try to create more turnovers.”

On whether the UCLA rumors influenced the decision:

“I think anytime you’re in a process of making a decision, a lot of things go into it. Certainly we considered everything that was involved.”

On the relationship between Pagano and the players:

“As I said, I think John has certainly a track record with our guys and obviously I think it’s going to be a real good fit. That’s why we put him in that position.”

On whether the defense needs to improve personnel-wise:

“Someone asked me about where we rank in our division. Obviously our teams were 8-8 in our division and 7-9. The biggest key for all the teams in our division is who is going to improve the most. There’s a number of ways you can improve. Certainly the first way you get better is add elite players. You have an opportunity to do that through free agency, you have a chance to do that through the draft like all the other teams in our division. Obviously the next way you improve is you continue to get better in terms of the things you’re doing; coaching and all three phases.”

On where Turner is in the evaluation stage of the rest of the coaching staff:

“Again, it is a process. We’re in the middle of it. I don’t think we’ll have major changes. Again, part of it is my conversation with coaches and where they’re at. So it’s an ongoing process.”

On Manusky being a scapegoat:

“That’s always the question that’s asked when you make a change. That’s always what’s insinuated. I don’t believe in that. I think, as I said, I’m not looking back. I’m looking forward and looking for the things we need to do to get better in the future.”

John Pagano

On what immediate changes need to be made:

“First and foremost, we've just got to go out as a staff and coach better and we've just got to go to play better. We’ve had many opportunities to get off the field. With our type of offense and the things that we can do offensively, we have to give them the opportunity to go score. The easiest way for us to do that is try and get as many three-and-outs as we can to put the ball back in our offense. For the most part, we as a coaching and defensive staff have to coach better and we have to go out and play better.”

On whether the team has the right player personnel:

“I believe so. Looking at all our personnel and seeing it over the years — I’ve been here through the good times and the bad times — and seeing the type of defensive players. Can we improve in everything? Sure we can. With the right mixture of guys we have on this team right now I believe we can do some good things here.”

On being a candidate for this job last year and what’s different now:

“I don’t know. That’s a real good question. You sit here, you wonder and you’re always waiting for your opportunity. But I didn’t really ever look into things about that. Just so excited for the opportunity that they are giving me. The good thing was I learned. Every year I’ve been here I’ve learned. I’ve learned from some great defensive minds here. That’s something that I really took a hold of. Last year was a great learning experience because I thought we did, at times, some great things there defensively. Just the interaction and being a part of having the type of players and this coaching staff.”

On the rumors of the players wanting him to get this position:

“It’s an honor to have them say that. I don’t know, no one has texted me or called me. This phone’s been buzzing but it’s nice to know that. Our job here, and I’ve been saying this for a long time, is put them in position to make plays. That’s our job and that’s what we have to do. When they go out there and they’re successful, good things happen for us so that’s what we want to do.”

On appeasing fans’ desires for a high-powered defense:

“I’m not big on styles. We’re going to go out and be fundamentally sound. We’re going to play smart football. I believe that’s the most important thing. We got to be able to create turnovers like everybody says. We have to pressure the quarterback because over the years that I’ve been here, we’ve seen those things and I’ve been a part of those things. So, we need to just keep building, keep doing what we’re doing, have the games that we’ve played well in, take from those learn experiences on the things we didn’t do well and move on from there.”

On what happened with the UCLA discussions:

“It was a nice honor to have coach (Jim) Mora be able to want me for that job. It wasn’t a factor of taking this job or that job. I don’t know how my name got out there. I don’t know if it was a recruiting ploy or not. But like I said my family loves it here in San Diego. I love it here, I love this organization, I’ve been a part of this organization for a long time and I’m really excited about the opportunity I have ahead of me. “

On whether he was frustrated he didn’t get this job in the past:

“Everybody’s going to be disappointed if there’s things you want out there in life that you’re not going to get. But the one thing, it made me better. It made me grow into the position I’m in now. I thank the Lord every day that those things happened to me so I could grow, learn, watch and listen and be in a part with a guy like Coach Turner. But also learning for Ted Cottrell, Ron Rivera, Wade Phillips being the mentor and Coach Manusky. All those guys and just being around them. Guys like Steve Wilks and Don Johnson. We have a great staff. We have a great defensive staff. We just got to go out there and get these guys playing better. That’s our job.”

On the likelihood of bringing most the coaches back:

“That’s up to Coach Turner. I hope so. This thing is about us. Those guys have their thumbprint on this defense just as much as I have. I’ve been here just a few years more.”

On communicating with specific player(s) regarding the promotion:

“You always want to reach out to the veterans, but this thing kind of moved so fast that I haven’t really had a chance. I had an opportunity to talk to my dad. It’s humbling. He’s just so happy. Now he’s got another son he can worry about the most with my brother (Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck) being in Baltimore. It’s just family. I’m always proud of my dad bringing us up in these roots. I’m proud of my brother for what he’s accomplished. I’m really excited and happy about the opportunity that’s come up on me.”

Chargers quickly hire new DC

January, 5, 2012
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We have a theme developing in San Diego.

Apparently, the Chargers believe the answers to their problems will be corrected in-house. In a lightning-fast process, the Chargers promoted within for the position what will be their biggest leadership change of the offseason.

Hours after firing defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, the Chargers promoted linebacker coach John Pagano.

The Chargers clearly had their eye on Pagano. There was no rush in this hire. But I got the feeling coach Norv Turner wanted to make this move. Turner and general manager A.J. Smith were given a reprieve Tuesday. They hope this move helps San Diego get back to the playoffs after a two-year absence. Pagano is the fourth defensive coordinator in Turner’s six seasons in San Diego.

Pagano, the brother of Baltimore defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, has been on the Chargers’ staff since 2002. He was reportedly headed to UCLA to become the defensive coordinator there. However, he was a favorite of coach Turner and Pagano is well liked by San Diego’s players.

The last time the Chargers promoted a linebackers coach to defensive coordinator it was a brilliant stroke by Turner. Ron Rivera was promoted during the 2008 season. The Chargers were the No. 1 defense in the NFL under Rivera last year before he went to Carolina as head coach.

The Chargers slipped to No. 16 in the league this season.

Don’t expect the Chargers to change much under Pagano. They should continue to run a 3-4 defense. Pagano knows his personnel well. They key is to get more out of his players than Manusky did and to get better.

“We’re going to go out and play fundamentally sound defense,” Pagano said in a statement released by the team. “It’s still about tackling the guy with the football and getting after the quarterback and covering people downfield. We’re going to do what we need to do to help the Chargers win football games.”

The Chargers need to add at linebacker and at safety for starters as they try to improve the defense under yet another coordinator.
There will be change in San Diego after all.

Two days after San Diego ownership made the controversial decision to keep coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith, the team fired defensive coordinator Greg Manusky after one season, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. There will likely be other tweaking on the staff.

[+] EnlargeGreg Manusky
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PresswireGreg Manusky lasted just one season as defensive coordinator in San Diego.
This is no surprise.

It had long been thought that if Turner did survive, Manusky wouldn’t. In San Diego, the hiring of Manusky was considered the biggest mistake the team made in 2011 along with allowing running back Darren Sproles to leave and go to New Orleans as a free agent.

Manusky’s defense never caught fire. Last year, the Chargers were the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL under coordinator Ron Rivera., who left to become the head coach in Carolina. However, San Diego’s defense fell to 16th under Manusky.

Manusky, a former San Diego linebackers coach, promised an aggressive defense, but it never developed.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports linebackers coach John Pagano is a favorite to replace Manusky. Pagano reportedly was in line to become the defensive coordinator at UCLA. This opportunity would very likely sway that decision.

Another name to keep an eye on is secondary coach Steve Wilks. He is a player favorite who has drawn comparison to Rivera for his style. Wilks was brought to San Diego by Rivera.

Expect San Diego to stick with the 3-4 defense. The next defensive coordinator will be Turner’s fourth in his six seasons in San Diego. Ted Cottrell was fired midway through the 2008 season.

Whoever the new coordinator will be, improvements will be needed in San Diego. The Chargers need some pass-rushing linebackers, a starting safety and backups at cornerback. Expect improving the defense to be a focal point of the offseason. The move Thursday was just the first step.

Meanwhile, there will likely be three new defensive coordinators in the AFC West. Oakland is expected to fire Chuck Bresnahan. A new defensive coordinator will be brought into Kansas City regardless of whether Romeo Crennel is given the head-coaching job.

Chargers regular-season wrap-up

January, 4, 2012
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NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final power ranking: 16
Preseason Power Ranking: 10

[+] EnlargeEric Weddle
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesSafety Eric Weddle's seven interceptions were a bright spot for the Chargers' lackluster defense.
Biggest surprise: The slow start by quarterback Philip Rivers. There is no doubt Rivers, who turned 30 last month, is still an elite player. But he had a rough first 10 games in which he threw 17 of his 20 interceptions. Rivers made crucial fourth-quarter mistakes during the six-game losing streak that doomed San Diego’s season. Will anyone forget the dropped snap in Kansas City on Halloween night with the Chargers about to kick a game-winning field goal? That was the difference in the Chargers not winning the division title. But Rivers settled down late in the season and finished strong. Quarterback is not a problem in San Diego.

Biggest disappointment: The Chargers were not happy with the performance of defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. They had a dominant unit under Ron Rivera, whom Manusky replaced after Carolina hired Rivera as head coach. Manusky promised an aggressive defense, but the players never really adapted to his way — and the Chargers were far from a special defense this season.

Biggest need: There are plenty of needs in San Diego. It needs help at every level of the defense and it may need three new starters on the offensive line with guard Kris Dielman (concussion), tackle Marcus McNeill (neck) and center Nick Hardwick as possibilities for retirement. While it’s difficult to pinpoint this team’s greatest need, a top safety could help the process on defense.

Team MVP: Safety Eric Weddle. He had seven interceptions and made several big plays. Weddle followed up his signing of a monster contract to stay in San Diego this summer with his first Pro Bowl. He is the quarterback of the defense and a clutch performer.

Future starts on defense: Expect a bunch of changes on defense. Every layer of the unit will likely see additions, and there could be big changes on the defensive coaching staff. The Chargers like their core on offense, but tweaking is needed on defense.

Chargers: What needs to be done

January, 3, 2012
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Now that San Diego coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith are returning to the team in 2012, let’s look at some things the Chargers have going for them and areas where change may be necessary.

What to build upon:

Quarterback Philip Rivers: This is an elite quarterback. Yes, he didn’t have his greatest season. Yes, he made crucial mistakes in all eight of the Chargers’ losses. But he is a player than can lead the Chargers deep into the playoffs. He finished the season strong and threw just three interceptions in the final six games.

Running back Ryan Mathews: Smith’s big trade to move up to get Mathews with the No. 12 pick in 2010 looked to be a good decision in Mathews’ second season. He ran for 1,091 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Mathews should only get better and offer the Chargers’ offense great balance.

The trio of Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates: It was no shock that Rivers settled down when his three receiving weapons were healthy together late in the season. If these players (Jackson is a free agent and he may be franchised) can stay healthy next year, the Chargers will be in great shape.

Changes may be needed:

Defensive coordinator: Don’t be surprised if defensive coordinator Greg Manusky is fired. I know there was some disappointment in San Diego over the unit’s lack of success under Manusky. The Chargers were the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL last year under Ron Rivera, who was hired as the head coach in Carolina. Manusky didn’t get the same results as Rivera did and I could see change. I know San Diego’s players like secondary coach Steve Wilks and he could be a possibility. Another option could be Miami defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.

Offensive line: With plenty of needs on defense, San Diego may have to use some resources on the offensive line. Guard Kris Dielman, tackle Marcus McNeill and center Nick Hardwick all may consider retirement. There is a chance all three players will return, but the odds are the Chargers are facing some change on the line. One potential solution is re-signing tackle Jared Gaither, who shined after being claimed off waivers from Kansas City.

Front-line help: This is the year the Chargers need to open up their pocket book. It is not Smith’s way to do much in free agency. That may need to change this year. The Chargers’ roster needs some fine tuning and spending for reliable help may be the answer whether it was Smith’s past philosophy or not. This is a do-or-die year in San Diego, so a change in philosophy may be needed.

Report: Chargers lose two prospects

September, 4, 2011
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This has to sting the San Diego Chargers a bit.

The San Diego Union Tribune reports that two undrafted rookies the Chargers cut were claimed. Quarterback Scott Tolzien was claimed by San Francisco and center/guard Colin Baxter was claimed by the New York Jets.

It’s not overly common for undrafted free agents to be claimed right after not making the 53-man roster. Tolzien and Baxter both had good summers.

The Chargers liked Tolzien a lot. The paper reported that the Chargers saw him as a potential future backup to Philip Rivers. Now, San Diego just has Rivers and backup Billy Volek in the program. That is all it needs, but it would have been nice for the team to develop Tolzien. Now that the gamble to try to stash Tolzien on the practice squad didn’t work, the Chargers could look to add a young quarterback to the practice squad.

Baxter made a push to the make San Diego’s 53-man roster. The Chargers liked him for his versatility.

While it hurts the Chargers to lose two prospects, this could be, in the big picture, a positive sign. The fact that the Chargers didn’t find room on the 53-man roster for two talented players like this might be an indication of how deep the roster is.

Meanwhile, Carolina reportedly claimed defensive back Stevie Brown, who was cut by the Raiders. The 2010 draft pick was not eligible for the practice squad, so Oakland knew it was saying goodbye to Brown when it cut him.

UPDATE: The Panthers have announced the claiming of Brown and former San Diego receiver Seyi Ajirotutu. He showed promise at points last season. He reunites with Carolina head coach Ron Rivera, who was the Chargers’ defensive coordinator. He was not eligible for the practice squad.

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