- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
- 0 Shares
Normally, picking the NFL Coach of the Year is a numbers decision.
You wait until the end of the season and reward the first-, second- or third-year coach who produces the biggest numerical improvement in a team's win-loss record. Since the Associated Press has been giving the award (starting in 1957), it's gone to the first-, second- or third-year coach with the biggest turnaround 40 times, pointing to Todd Haley of the Kansas City Chiefs, Raheem Morris of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Steve Spagnuolo of the St. Louis Rams as this year's leading candidates.
I'm thinking about going against the numbers. I'm leaning toward selecting Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles. Reid rolled the dice more than any coach we've witnessed in years by trading Donovan McNabb and resurrecting the career of Michael Vick. His coaching ability has produced the best stable of marketable and functional quarterbacks in recent memory.
Reid had the guts to trade McNabb to a division rival (he got second- and fourth-round picks in return) and built Kevin Kolb into a tradable commodity that he can afford to either keep or ship away. Reid made the Eagles' roster younger and is still in position to claim the NFC East crown and either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed.
But his work with Vick is what puts Reid over the top. Vick was a franchise quarterback in Atlanta, but he was known more for his legs than his ability to work out of the pocket. Reid's coaching staff made him a complete quarterback who can beat a team from inside or outside the pocket.
His coaching restocked the franchise and won this year. To me, he deserves the honor.
From the inbox
Q: I understand that the Bucs have an easy schedule but you can say the same about the Saints, who have played only four teams with winning records. So, if you wanna talk about Tampa Bay having an easy schedule, then you can say the same about the Saints.
Brian in Ocean Springs, Miss.
A: Brian is among many Bucs fans who pounded the mailbag with complaints about my position that the Bucs aren't really a playoff team because eight of their wins have come against teams with losing records. Brian, you're correct in saying the Saints' schedule was easier. The Saints have played the second-easiest schedule in the NFL this season and they had the easiest last year when they won the Super Bowl. The difference between the Bucs and Saints is that the Saints WON games against teams with winning records. The Bucs have not. This was a great turnaround season for the Bucs, but you have to win games against winning teams to be considered a playoff team (unless you're in the NFC West).
Q: Do you think the injured reserve system will be revised under the new CBA (assuming there is one) to allow players to come back and play if they're healthy enough?
John W. in Tacoma, Wash.
A: Count on it. I can see them setting up an injured reserve list that could keep a player out six weeks. Maybe they can have a four-week injured list along with a 10-week injured list. To go to 18 games, teams are going to need as many healthy bodies as possible, so if a player can heal in a specific period of time, it only makes sense for him to be available.
Q: The Steelers' O-line has problems, but it's much more in pass protection than running. This is one of the biggest lines in the NFL. It is built to run the football. I know with Ben Roethlisberger, you don't want to take the ball out of his hands too much, but I put the Steelers' offensive problems squarely on the play calling. They just had a three-week stretch against Buffalo, Baltimore and Cincinnati in which they passed the ball 33, 38 and 33 times against three vulnerable run defenses.
Eddie in Charlotte, N.C.
A: Your points are fair and that criticism has haunted offensive coordinator Bruce Arians the past several years -- it almost cost him his job last season. I would tend to agree that the Steelers do have a history of trending more to the pass when Roethlisberger is behind center, but the formula still works. The Steelers are 10-4 and should end up 12-4 with the No. 2 seed in the AFC. Sometimes, you have to discount games against Baltimore because the Ravens' 3-4 scheme forces the Steelers to try more passes. The Ravens do the same against the Steelers' 3-4. Injuries have really hurt the Steelers' offensive line, and the running numbers have dropped. What the Steelers must do is lock up the No. 2 seed and get a bye week to rest some of the older players. Then they need to come out running when the playoffs begin.
Q: Obviously every Chiefs fan is thrilled with the team's improvement. If the Chiefs win their division, do you think they can win a home game versus possibly the Jets or Ravens? The Chiefs will probably finish the season 8-0 at home and Arrowhead Stadium would be pandemonium during a playoff game.
Larry in Columbia, Mo.
A: I can see them winning one game in the playoffs, but that would be about it. It depends on the matchup. It looks as though the Ravens and Jets will be the wild cards, and one would play in Arrowhead if the Chiefs win the AFC West. Ravens QB Joe Flacco has won three road playoff games. With the Ravens' experience, they might be a tougher matchup than the Jets. You'd figure the Chiefs would be three-point underdogs to either one of those teams, but they would have a chance.
Q: Regarding the unfairness of a player getting fined $25,000 when he is bringing home less than that per paycheck, I have an idea. Perhaps the player should avoid committing an infraction that will get him fined. Then he won't have to worry about losing an entire paycheck plus some more.
Kevin in New York
A: Kevin, that's easier said than done. Under the new interpretation of the rules, the defensive players are going to get the fines, not the offensive players. To be a top defensive player, you must act instinctively. Defensive players may love the sport, but it's also a business. It's not good business to play at the risk of losing money, not gaining money.
Q: Many people argued that the Pats' offense would suffer without Randy Moss stretching the field. I've noticed that this lack of a prolific deep threat has actually opened up room for the big play. It seems that teams are lured into over-protecting the underneath routes now, and in turn that is opening up big-play opportunities. What does this say about the "need" for a receiver like Moss?
Daniel in Newton, Mass.
A: Give Bill Belichick credit. He's a defensive genius, but he's well ahead of the NFL in terms of offensive innovation. I still contend you win with talent, and the team is more talented with Moss' speed. But Belichick was ahead of the game a couple of years ago when he started making Wes Welker a star out of the slot. What we didn't know then and what we know now is that Belichick used the Texas Tech offense and how Welker worked out of the slot. He's getting great production out of the two-tight end sets. When you have a quarterback as great as Tom Brady is, though, any system works.
Q: I know the Titans are basically irrelevant at this point in the season, but can you please explain to me how their offense can be designed in such a way that Moss and Kenny Britt cannot be on the field at the same time? Jeff Fisher said they "play the same position" but also raved about Moss' ability to learn the playbook. How can they be unable to utilize Moss? Or is it simply that they know they won't have Moss next year so they are trying to get the other guys some work together?
Hunter in Washington, D.C.
A: The Titans run 57 percent of their plays out of two-back or two-tight end formations, which leaves only two wide receivers on the field for those plays. They go to three receivers 21 plays a game, and basically Moss and Britt play the same position -- split end. Nate Washington is the flanker who is on the field the most. I'm like you and am puzzled why Fisher can't find more uses for Moss, but Fisher isn't ready to go to a spread offense and use Moss more. I'm not endorsing the concept; I'm just giving the explanation.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Thanks mostly to his work with Michael Vick, the Eagles' Andy Reid deserves Coach of the Year honors, John Clayton writes in his latest mailbag.