***Editor's Note: The Arizona Cardinals have made a hire, but our staff does a remarkable job and I don't want their work to go unnoticed***
What a difference a day makes.
The Giants’ fans and players’ elation over the reports that Vikings’ OC Pat Shurmur is on his way to becoming the next HC in New Jersey has perhaps been a little tempered as Shurmur’s tenure with the Vikings ended with a resounding thud. Shurmur orchestrated a near perfect opening drive which culminated in a deftly executed TD pass from Case Keenum to TE Kyle Rudolph in the back left corner of the end zone.
But Shurmur’s and Keenum’s fortunes came to a swift halt when Keenum’s arm was hit by DE Chris Long and the ensuing duck was plucked out of the air by CB Patrick Robinson who zig zagged his way to the house for a pick-six. Later in the second quarter, now down 14-7 but driving into the red zone, DE Derek Barnett recorded a strip sack turnover of Keenum because of a superbly ill-advised blocking scheme wherein the Vikings’ TE David Morgan was assigned to block Barnett on a straight blocking line across the formation. How and why Shurmur risked that kind of play in such a critical situation in the ballgame is mystifying. Barnett said later that they had practiced against that particular play and blocking scheme and that he knew exactly what he had to do to blow past Morgan on the edge.
In one week, QB Case Keenum has gone from a potential f-tag designee to a now middle of the road UFA prospect. On the flip side, much maligned QB Nick Foles who artfully game managed his way to a 15-10 win last week versus the Falcons, lit the NFL world on fire last night, dissecting one of the top defenses in the NFL, at one point going 8/10 on 3rd down conversions against the defense that had the lowest 3rd down conversion rate (at 25%) in the NFL since 1979.
Foles, who last year was contemplating retirement, is suddenly nearly as hot a trade prospect as the Chiefs’ QB Alex Smith. That is---if retirement is now out of the question and he wishes another chance to be the man elsewhere.
Which brings us to the topic of coaching. The Eagles’ offensive coaching staff, led by HC Doug Pederson, OC Frank Reich, OLC Jeff Stoutland and QBC John DeFilippo in one year have developed 2nd year QB Carson Wentz in to a legitimate MVP candidate and now have helped Nick Foles journey backward into the past to the year 2013 when he passed for 27 TDs and 2 interceptions on the season, which included being the second QB ever to record a perfect passer rating (158.3) in a game where the QB passed for more than 400 yards. In addition, Foles became the first quarterback in NFL history to register a perfect passer rating while throwing seven TDs in a single game. That year Foles made the Pro Bowl and was lauded as the game’s offensive MVP. Last night, in an NFC Championship game Foles was near perfect again as he threw for 352 yards and 3 TDs with 0 interceptions---versus what many consider to be the top defense in the NFL.
This week the Cardinals will have the opportunity to interview QBC John DeFilippo for the 2nd time. Just as the Cardinals’ former top choice Pat Shurmur could possibly come with his hot QB (Keenum) in tow, one would expect there to be a discussion about the chances of DeFilippo packaging Foles to join him in Arizona. It would be an odyssey for Foles as he played his college ball at the University of Arizona. What we do not know yet is which coaches DeFilippo would like to bring with him as OC, DC and STC. However, the thought of DeFilippo in tow with QB Nick Foles and one of the top QBs in the 2018 NFL Draft sounds extremely appealing, for the now QB hungry Cardinals.
The Cardinals have already met once with the Eagles’ DC, Jim Schwartz---and based on the fact that in two playoff games his Eagles’ defense has held the Falcons and Vikings to 17 points combined---and---has shut out both of those teams in the second half---it might be well worth their while to meet with Schwartz for a second time. Man oh man, that Eagles’ defense puts the clamps down and never lets up. Schwartz is a relentless coach and one person on the planet who understands this more than anyone this morning is Pat Shurmur who now has the daunting task of trying to solve Schwartz’s defense two times a year---that is---if Schwartz isn’t swooped up by the Cardinals.
Some people say yeah but Schwartz bombed out as a HC in Detroit---and that always is a concern. But, Gary Kubiak bombed out in Houston, Bill Belichick bombed out in Cleveland and Pete Carroll bombed out in New England. If you ascribe to the theory that stellar defense wins championships---and your team plays versus three potentially high flying offenses in the NFC West, then maybe Schwartz is your guy. One could make a compelling argument that Jim Schwartz a more formidable candidate than Steve Wilks or James Bettcher. Jim Schwartz is one of the top 3 defensive coaches in the NFL.
However, being a successful HC is whole different matter. Steve Wilks appears to have the charisma and gravitas to be something special. Like Hank Aaron said in his Hall of Fame speech, “What I needed was the opportunity.”
And speaking of something potentially special, the wild card on the defensive side of the ball for the Cardinals is the Patriots’ LBC Brian Flores. While the only play calling Flores has done with the Pats is in making the red zone defense calls, Flores has built the reputation of being a meticulous, superbly prepared game planner and scout. Without question, Flores has been one of the integral entities on a coaching staff that is brilliant at making in-game adjustments, as evidenced in full array yesterday when the Patriots’ defense stifled the Jaguars’ offense in the 2nd half, when it mattered most.
ESPN’s Adam Shefter reported yesterday that Flores’ plan to the Cardinals is to bring ex-Colts and Lions’ HC Jim Caldwell with him as the OC. If you listed to irate Lions’ fans who grew disgusted with Caldwell’s conservative decision making, lack of a running game and missed opportunities to throw red flag challenges, then you might think Flores is making a misguided choice here. However, the last time Caldwell was an OC, he helped the Ravens win their only ring with Joe Flacco putting up 34 points on the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
Some claim that Caldwell didn’t do enough to develop QB Matthew Stafford---but take a close look. Caldwell gave Stafford the autonomy to make play calls at the line of scrimmage the way Peyton Manning did for Caldwell’s Colts when they went 14-2 in 2009 (losing in Super Bowl XLIV to the Saints, 20-17). While going 11-5, 7-9, 9-7 and 9-7 over the past 4 years, Stafford turned in his highest QB rating of 99.3 this past season. His ratings for the past three years were 97.0, 93.0 and 99.3. In comparison, Carson Palmer’s last 3 QBRs were 104.2, 87.2 and 84.4.
Tabbing the highly experienced Jim Caldwell as his OC is a wise, thoughtful choice by Brian Flores. Between the two of them they have 6 Super Bowl rings as assistant coaches.
It may be possible too that Caldwell could ask for Tom Moore to stay on to work with the QBs. Moore worked with Caldwell in Indy.
Ian Rapoport reported that James Bettcher is still very much in the picture with Mike McCoy as OC and Chuck Pagano as DC. Although, word is that McCoy may not wait much longer on this potential appointment as he is garnering some interest elsewhere. The rumor is that UFA Brock Osweiller is McCoy’s QB of choice.
The big questions are: what John DeFilippo’s staff recommendations for OC, DC and STC are and who are the remaining choices at DC and STC for Brian Flores? The Patriots’ highly regarded STC, Joe Judge, is a free agent this year and could go to the highest bidder. In addition, if Flores brings in Caldwell, Caldwell’s STC with the Lions, Joe Marciano, is one of the best STCs in the NFL. Adding him to the combination would be excellent.
When DeFilippo’s and Flores’ staff choices are made known it should be interesting to compare them. Choosing between these two outstanding young candidates should be very challenging and gutsy.
But it also would be fascinating to know what Jim Schwartz would have in mind...that is, if he isn’t feeling too ensconced in assistant coach Pennsylvania life the way Mike Munchak is.