While watching the Seahawks-Saints game on Sunday, it suddenly dawned on me: “So this is what good coaching is like.” From now on, when not watching the Green Bay Packers, I’m going to look for games with teams who have creative coaches. It’s entertaining as well as educational.
I compared “best coaches” lists from The Sporting News, NFL.com, and USA Today, and there’s pretty widespread agreement as to who are the NFL’s best coaches. Combining those sources, I came up with these rankings: top tier (by unanimous acclaim) – Bill Belichick (Patriots) and Pete Carroll (Seahawks); second tier – Bruce Arians (Cardinals) and Mike Tomlin (Steelers); third tier – John Harbaugh (Ravens), Gary Kubiak (Broncos), Mike McCarthy (Packers), Sean Payton (Saints) and Ron Rivera (Panthers).
In the NFC North Division, John Fox (Bears) and Mike Zimmer (Vikings) are ranked just outside of the top nine.
Back to that Seahawks-Saints game. At the moment, both of these teams are shadows of their former greatness.
Carroll still relies on QB Russell Wilson, who can barely run due to two bad ankles – and now he’s got a pectoral injury that affects his throwing. The team no longer has much in the way of running backs either, so how are they going to score?
On Sunday, they made use of a classic trick play. Wilson threw a backward screen to undrafted receiver Tanner McEvoy, a rookie out of Wisconsin, who was over near the left sideline. McEvoy then heaved the ball back across the field to rookie running back C.J. Prosise, who nobody was covering. He ran it to the 2-yard line, a 43-yard gain that led to Seattle’s first offensive score. McEvoy and Prosise aren’t even starters, but they made the play look easy because it was so unexpected.
Saints’ coach Sean Payton has an offense built around aging quarterback Drew Brees. On this day, however, the Saints crossed up the Seahawks by running 35 run plays and 35 pass plays. They got their first 100-yard rushing game of the year out of 30-year-old Tim Hightower. After getting 19 carries through six games, Hightower ran the ball 26 times, the Saints controlled the clock, and the fine Seattle defense was gassed by the fourth quarter.
In addition to that surprise, New Orleans got creative in the third quarter. Brees handed off to Hightower, who by then had Seattle’s full attention. Hightower charged toward the line, spun around and lateraled back to Brees, who tossed the ball 28 yards to the wide-open Brandon Coleman. The second-year receiver ran for another 10 yards before Richard Sherman caught up with him. The 38-yard flea-flicker was the Saints’ longest gainer of the game. They won 25-20.
Payton has even extended former Packers’ fullback John Kuhn’s career. On the year, Kuhn has six first downs and three touchdowns in eight runs, and he’s caught six passes, including one for his fourth touchdown with his new team.
You might notice that a Super Bowl appearance all but guarantees a coach to be ranked high on the list for the next five years or so.
It seems to me that Mike McCarthy deserved a decent ranking several years back – but that ticket expired quite a while ago.