NFL News & Analysis

NFL Sources Buy or Sell: Colts' 'wild' coaching decision, Seahawks' hot start, Bills' struggles

Glendale, Arizona, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith (7) passes against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

• Colts' head coaching change: League sources react to Indianapolis’ “wild” decision to replace Frank Reich with Jeff Saturday.

• Seahawks continue to dominate NFC West: Quarterback Geno Smith is “playing out of his mind.”

• Bills' shocking loss: The Jets might have exploited a Bills weakness if other teams are willing and able to be patient.

Estimated Reading Time: 8 mins

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS’ COACHING CHANGES

NFC analytics executive: Sell

The writing was on the wall that Frank Reich could get fired as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts when the team benched quarterback Matt Ryan for Sam Ehlinger prior to Week 8 and fired offensive coordinator Marcus Brady before Week 9.

But it’s been a dramatic fall from grace for a team that had a win total of 10.5 games entering the 2022 season, per BetMGM, and currently stands at 3-5-1 following a drubbing at the hands of the offensively inept New England Patriots in Week 9.

The Colts produced the worst single-game expected points added (EPA) per play figure of the season during Sunday’s 26-3 loss. The second-lowest single-game EPA per play this season came in Week 2 — from the Colts.

An AFC scout looked at the Ehlinger and Brady moves as a last-ditch effort to save Reich’s job that “clearly backfired.”

Among 44 quarterbacks with at least 40 dropbacks, Ehlinger currently ranks 41st in PFF offensive grade and passing grade, whereas Ryan ranked 35th and 34th in those categories.

But the AFC scout believes the Colts’ issues go deeper and considered the hiring of former All-Pro center, ESPN analyst and high school football head coach Jeff Saturday a “wild” move. “Don’t know what (Jim) Irsay’s plan is,” the scout said.

“Ballard is just as culpable,” he said. “Four years to find Andrew Luck's replacement. The O-line is a disaster. Their skill guys are very average outside of (Jonathan) Taylor.”

He believes the Colts’ general manager job would be appealing if Ballard follows Reich out the door.

“It's a pretty attractive job,” he said. “Ten picks in April. You'd just have to navigate the land mine contracts that Ballard has handed out.”

“Wild” was the phrase of the day for the Saturday hire. An NFC analytics executive had the same reaction to the news.

“Pretty wild, the other coaches in that building have to feel somewhat slighted,” he said. “I don't know how closely he has consulted with the team this season, but he doesn't have nearly as much coaching experience as many of the candidates that have been struggling to get interviews around the league. Does not seem equitable at all. Nothing against Saturday, but it just feels like Irsay likes him and thinks it'll help sell tickets the rest of the year. At least it helps their tanking outlook.”

Being an NFL coach is not an easy job, and there are three former NFL All-Pros in Reggie Wayne, Cato June and Kevin Mawae on the Colts’ coaching staff who began their coaching journey in more entry-level positions. Wayne is the Colts’ wide receivers coach. Mawae is an assistant offensive line coach, and June is an assistant linebackers coach. Indianapolis has two former NFL head coaches on staff in defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and senior defensive assistant John Fox. They have two more with head coaching experience in the CFL (quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich) and college (running backs coach) Scottie Montgomery.

It seems worth it to take an outside-the-box approach in naming an interim head coach, and maybe the Saturday experiment works out great. But that also doesn’t mean those coaches on staff shouldn’t feel slighted and passed over for the job. And it also called into question the legitimacy of the Rooney Rule when Irsay said Monday night in a news conference that the team would go through a full coaching search this offseason but in the next breath said naming Saturday as interim head coach “is for eight games, hopefully more.”


SEATTLE SEAHAWKS LEADING NFC WEST

NFC scout: Buy

After the Seattle Seahawks beat Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos in Week 1, it seemed just as likely that it would be their only victory all season as it did that they would make the postseason. That was especially true after they lost back-to-back games to the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons following the initial victory.

Nine weeks into the season, the Seahawks are 6-3 and leading the NFC West after winning five of their past six games and four in a row.

Shockingly, after trading Wilson away to the Broncos for a package that included two first-round picks and two second-round picks, the biggest difference between Seattle’s 6-3 start this season and 7-10 finish last year is at quarterback.

Seahawks Grades | 2021 vs. 2022
Position 2021 positional grades 2022 positional grades
QB 75.7 87.0
RB 75.0 75.2
WR 74.9 72.8
TE 64.9 73.0
OT 68.0 65.3
G 61.5 63.4
C 51.5 57.6
DI 64.8 61.8
EDGE 56.5 63.1
LB 65.5 58.3
CB 65.3 66.6
S 67.1 68.7

Wilson and Geno Smith both started games for the Seahawks last season, and both earned 73.9 offensive grades. Smith’s offensive grade is at 87.0 this year through nine games. He’s posted three PFF grades in the 90.0s and another three below 61.0, so there has been some Jekyll and Hyde to his performances, but it also hasn’t negatively impacted Seattle’s record up to this point. Smith’s EPA per play this season is 0.146, compared to Wilson’s 0.075 and Smith’s 0.042 marks in 2021.

Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll pointed to one significant difference why Smith has been able to succeed within offensive coordinator Shane Waldron’s offense better than Wilson during his appearance on Seattle Sports 710 AM on Monday morning.

“He’s getting everything he can get out of Shane,” Carroll said. “That’s a really important part of it. Shane helps him all the way through to the 15-second point. They’re just communicating to get it done. There’s this conversation that gets done. So, they work it out. Geno’s taking advantage of all of that. If you notice, Geno’s going off the wristband. That’s a big help. It’s smoothed things out, sped things up, cleaned things up. That’s part of it, too. We never did that before. There was resistance to that. So, we didn’t do that before.”

Wilson typically did not wear a play call wristband in Seattle beyond his first seasons in the NFL.

“Let’s go back to the trust word again,” Carroll said. “When Shane says something to Geno, he’s not doubting it. He’s just going with it. There’s a real immediate flow that accelerates all of the process.”

The Seahawks are able to run the offense they want with Smith at quarterback, and they’re succeeding.

If you bet the over on the Seahawks’ 5.5-game win total entering the 2022 season, you’ve already won money. The Seahawks’ updated win total, per BetMGM, is 9.5.

So, the simple answer to why the Seahawks are playing so much better than most expected is the obvious one.

“Geno is playing out of his mind,” an NFC scout said.

But they otherwise do have a solid roster.

“They have a good defense, as well,” the NFC scout said. “Uchenna (Nwosu) was a great pickup. They’ve also had great contributions out of their draft picks. Potentially have the offensive and defensive rookies of the year in (Kenneth) Walker and (Tariq) Woolen. Two rookie OTs (Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas) are playing well. And Coby Bryant has also been solid for them.”

The Seahawks lead the NFL in offensive and defensive snaps played by rookies this season.

Seattle is -250 to make the playoffs. To date, they’ve had the 29th-hardest schedule, and they have the 11th-toughest schedule remaining. They’ve averaged 9.9 wins in PFF's projections.

Meanwhile, Wilson’s Broncos are -1200 to miss the playoffs, their win total is set at 6.5, and they’ve averaged 7.2 wins in PFF's projections.

The Seahawks have reasons to root against Wilson and the Broncos beyond anything personal. They won Denver's first- and second-round picks in the 2023 NFL Draft. They would currently be picking 11th with the Broncos' selection.


NEW YORK JETS PROVED BUFFALO BILLS AREN’T INVINCIBLE

AFC pro scout: Buy

Just one week after looking inept against the Patriots, the now 6-3 New York Jets upset the 6-2 Buffalo Bills on Sunday with a 20-17 victory and matched their win total on the season.

Bills quarterback Josh Allen suffered an elbow injury late but didn’t look like himself all game. And the Jets ran at will for 174 yards at 5.1 yards per clip.

“Bills couldn't stop the run,” an AFC pro scout said. “That's going to be a test for them if other teams have the discipline to keep handing it off.”

The Bills currently rank 18th in EPA per run play against.

“And then the Jets' defense is good,” he said. “They get pressure with four. Allen is good when blitzed, but life is hard for any QB when you are feeling heat but don't have easy answers behind the blitz.”

Allen is PFF’s fourth-highest-graded signal-caller when blitzed and when not blitzed. He ranks 13th in passing grade when blitzed, however, and sixth when not blitzed.

He’s PFF’s highest-graded quarterback when under pressure and ranks eighth when kept clean. His passing grade ranks seventh when under pressure and eighth when kept clean.

The Jets might not have provided a blueprint on how to beat the Bills, since it requires some subpar play from Allen, but they did show another way to beat Buffalo beyond the Miami Dolphins’ Week 3 win.

Allen is expected to miss at least some practice time with the elbow injury. Buffalo has already had its bye, and the team now turns to a difficult Week 10 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

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