There was no guarantee that we would get here, but we made it. We have arrived at the midway point of the 2020 NFL season, and what was new Week 1 doesn’t seem so novel any more. We have had about two months to digest the performances of the five new head coaching hires in the NFL, and this is an opportune time to check in to see how it’s going so far.
Cleveland Browns: Kevin Stefanski
Accepting a role as a first-time head coach with one of the NFL’s most turbulent franchises is not for the faint of heart.
Kevin Stefanski had to look long and hard at the fates of brave souls who accepted their first head coaching gig with the Cleveland Browns and shudder: Pat Shurmur, Rob Chudzinski, Mike Pettine and Freddie Kitchens.
But so far, so good. The Browns (5-3) have a winning record for the first time in six years. Stefanski has brought over the ground-and-pound style he established as offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings, and is not afraid to manufacture touches for his running backs. Dalvin Cook made a name for himself under Stefanski, and now it's Kareem Hunt and the recovering Nick Chubb who are reaping the benefits of the coach's ball control approach in Cleveland.
While questions continue to spiral around the long-term viability of QB Baker Mayfield’s chances of becoming a true franchise signal-caller, the new head coach has done everything in his power to support the former No. 1 overall pick on and off the field. Taking the ball out of Mayfield’s hands as much as possible, and letting him take shots off of play-action after the run game has been established has made the game easier for the third-year player out of Oklahoma.
New York Giants: Joe Judge
The Giants' new head coach was a relative unknown, coming out of the New England Patriots program as a special teams-focused coach for the last eight seasons. Management was hoping to strike gold in the same way that the Tennessee Titans have found their leader in Mike Vrabel, and how the Miami Dolphins have seemed to find direction under Brian Flores.
New York’s record through eight games stands at a disconcerting 1-7, but considering the terrible injury luck they’ve had (namely star running back Saquon Barkley tearing his ACL in Week 2), and factoring in that they’ve lost five games by a touchdown or less bodes well for coach Joe Judge’s control over the team.
Despite the poor start in the standings, the Giants continue to battle right to the very end. Had QB Daniel Jones not tripped over, well nothing, against the Philadelphia Eagles, and had the officials stayed with the pass interference they originally called against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York might be right in the thick of the NFC East race.
Dallas Cowboys: Mike McCarthy
Things could not have gotten off to a worse start for head coach Mike McCarthy in Dallas. The Cowboys were pegged as the clear frontrunners in the NFC East at the start of the year, and now they find themselves towards the bottom of the division at 2-6.
To be fair, McCarthy was billed as an offensive coach (albeit, one who often failed to adjust), and the Cowboys did get off to a great start in the scoring department before starting QB Dak Prescott was lost for the season due to a gruesome ankle injury.
In four out of their first five games with Prescott (Dak was hurt midway through Week 5), the team put up at least 31 points, which should be enough to win most weeks.
New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has not been able to get one ounce of production from his defense, which has put immense pressure on the offense to reach pay dirt each and every time out. To make matters worse, “unnamed players” (a frightening term for any NFL coach) came out in October complaining that the coaching staff was not doing enough to prepare them for games.
It’s hard to see how this turns around for McCarthy this season while the quartet of Andy Dalton, Ben DiNucci, Connor Rush and Garrett Gilbert all vie to start at quarterback, but he needs to win back his locker room fast before owner Jerry Jones asks Jason Garrett if he'd like a do-over as Dallas' head coach.
Carolina Panthers: Matt Rhule
At the beginning of the season, all the talk in the NFC South was about how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints, and Atlanta Falcons were going to light up the scoreboard, and all qualify for postseason play.
The Carolina Panthers, while employing arguably the best RB in the game in Christian McCaffery, were supposed to be lovable losers who were building towards the future with a stopgap QB in free agent signing Teddy Bridgewater. They played the part during the first two weeks of the season, losing to the Las Vegas Raiders and Buccaneers.
But then a funny thing happened. When McCaffery suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 2, fans thought that the tanking clock would’ve been accelerated that much more quickly, but it had the opposite effect. Carolina actually went on a three-game winning streak, with fill-in fantasy darling RB Mike Davis putting up respectable production, and former New York Jets WR Robby Anderson fulfilling promise that many folks didn’t know he had.
It's been a topsy-turvy start for new coach Matt Rhule in his first season after serving as the head coach at Baylor University, but he’s appeared to weather the storm. It probably won’t result in a winning record in 2020 with remaining games against the Kansas City Chiefs, Buccaneers, Saints and Green Bay Packers, but don’t be surprised if the Panthers plays spoiler to one of those opponents in the hunt for a top playoff seed.
Washington Football Team: Ron Rivera
The one consistent thing Washington head coach Ron Rivera has going for him is that everyone, to a person, always comments on how good of a man he is. Regardless of X’s and O’s or wins and losses, he’s the type of person that every player seems to want to go to battle for. Even as the Washington Football Team continues to drop games, it would be very surprising to hear stories leaked from the locker room questioning anything about Rivera.
The coach inherited a QB he didn’t draft in Dwayne Haskins, and that experiment appears to be heading towards an abrupt end, as former Panthers QB Kyle Allen has assumed starting duties. While Allen is no one’s idea of a long term replacement, Rivera is using this season as an assessment period to get his footing in the nation’s capital and establish a young but talented defensive line that could carry the franchise for years to come.Published 04 Nov 2020, 12:13 IST