Former Eagles president Joe Banner does a weekly Q&A with Inquirer pro football writer Paul Domowitch. This week, the two discuss the NFL’s COVID problems, the tweaks Doug Pederson has made to the Eagles' offense, the firing of Bill O’Brien in Houston, the benching of QB Dwayne Haskins in Washington, and other issues.
Domo: COVID is starting to disrupt the NFL season with a growing number of teams reporting positive cases that have forced the closures of practice facilities and the rescheduling of games. Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, has said pausing the season is a consideration if things get worse. Your thoughts?
JB: The information they had before the season was that they needed to start on time because things would get more challenging as we got deeper into the season. So unless we’re talking about a pause all the way into next spring, which would really have huge implications on next year, I’m not sure they’re waiting for a greener day. They may wait, hoping it gets better. But then they might not ever be able to come back. Which was why trying to stay at the level they were at, where things were mostly under control, was so important.
Domo: The Tennessee Titans, who already had to have one game rescheduled after a COVID outbreak, put this week’s game against the Bills in jeopardy when many of their players held an off-site workout last week, which resulted in more positive COVID cases. They’ve moved the game back to Tuesday, but if there are any more positive cases in the next day or two, the game will have to be canceled. There’s been talk about making the Titans forfeit the game and/or slapping them with a stiff punishment for the recklessness of the players. How do you feel about it?
JB: I certainly think (making them forfeit) should be on the table. To totally disregard the rules in such a fundamental way and risk the entire season for the rest of the players, the owners, the fans, everybody, for what? To get in a practice? A partial practice? An uncoached practice? I mean, are you kidding me?
Everybody had been speculating that it would be hard for the players to stay away from their families and that the younger guys would want to go to bars and things like that. We had all this speculation, and the first incident turns out to be because of a really stupid practice. It was totally senseless.
If they have to cancel the game, they deserve a really, really significant penalty. Not just forfeiting, but the biggest penalty we’ve ever seen any team receive for anything. I mean, you’re risking billions and billions of dollars, a lot of people’s enjoyment, a contribution to the well-being and mental health of many people in the country. Other businesses that are benefiting from these (sports) seasons being played also would be harmed if the NFL has to stop playing. It’s mindless. It’s almost incomprehensible that this is what’s created at least the first major challenge in this area that we’ve faced this season.
Domo: Let’s put the infectious-disease talk on the back burner for a minute and talk about the Eagles' win over the 49ers Sunday. What did you think? Super Bowl or bust?
JB: They won on the West Coast, which isn’t easy. They beat a good team even with all of their injuries. They looked like a prepared NFL football team, which they didn’t look like at all in their first two games. I don’t want to belittle a win, especially one that involved a six-hour plane ride. It remains to be seen where it leads, but there were a few things in the game that made me a little bit hopeful.
Domo: What were those things?
JB: We talked last year about how the obsession with protecting Wentz from injury was negatively affecting everything else. That seemed to change late in the season when they started playing well, and we’ve started seeing it again the last two weeks. The first two games, Carson rolled out a total of three times. On Sunday alone, he rolled out eight times. In the first two games of the season, he ran three times for a total of 9 yards. In the last two, he’s run the ball 16 times for a total of 102 yards and has 10 rushing first downs.
In the first two games, they had zero [run-pass option] plays. In the last two, they’ve had four. They come out Sunday and score and go for two, and they do it with an RPO. They took advantage of what Wentz does best. Moving and throwing on the run, and running occasionally, and mixing in RPOs. Those are the things that give the quarterback and this offense the best chance to do well.
The worries that exist for me on the defense are still there. The question is, can the defensive line play as well as it has in the last couple of games to make up and cover up for some of the other deficiencies? Only time will tell on that.
Domo: The Houston Texans fired head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien this week despite the fact that they had won their division the last two years. You said the firing was way overdue. Why?
JB: You have somebody that’s gone through people at a rate that’s just not healthy for any organization. Although he had a new level of control over personnel this year, he’s been obviously influential in personnel for a while now because he’s managed to get multiple general managers fired.
I never watched his games and felt like I was seeing anything great strategically. I never got the impression the players liked him. I know enough people in that organization to know it’s been a really difficult place to work, which is probably the reason they’ve had so much turnover.
He was just over a .500 coach. He’s been there a long time and had a lot of power. For the last four years, he’s had one of the best young quarterbacks in the game. The fact that he was able to win a weak division by going just over .500 never convinced me that he was an exceptional coach.
If you just wanted to stay competitive, you probably could have kept him there indefinitely. But if your goal is to try and get to a point where you’re consistently a serious (Super Bowl) contender, there was just no evidence that he was the leader that was going to do that, especially when you expanded his authority. I mean, you have to be able to work with other people to maximize the potential of the organization. We’ve seen he’s not that guy.
Domo: The Cowboys are 1-3. They’re third in the league in scoring, but their defense stinks to high heaven. They’re last in the league in points allowed. You said that Jerry Jones fired one bad coaching staff and got a worse one. I know you’re not a big fan of defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Explain.
JB: The game is changing and moving. At one point, Mike Nolan was a good defensive coordinator. In my opinion, he never was a great, elite defensive coach. But he was good. Was there a reason to believe that he was such a good coach, he could come in and take over a new unit with most of the money and high draft picks on the team invested on the other side of the ball and overcome that inherent challenge and create a good defense? No.
They need a defensive coordinator who can make a difference. They need one who’s not just getting the guys he has to fulfill their assignments but is actually coming up with creative ways to maximize the strengths of his unit and minimize the weaknesses. At this point, they clearly have talent issues on defense. But they’re missing other things that you would hope to see in a well-coached group, including effort.
Domo: What about head coach Mike McCarthy?
JB: I always felt he was a solid coach. I never felt he was a difference-making guy. The fact that they got better as soon as he left Green Bay is telling. I think he’s a good guy. I think he’s a solid leader. But I don’t think he put together a particularly good staff. And I don’t think he’s a coach who can carry the organization.
Domo: Washington benched their quarterback, Dwayne Haskins, this week. Ron Rivera is getting a lot of criticism for the decision. But you agreed with it. Why?
JB: I was not a Haskins fan going back to the draft. I took a lot of heat for it. You start with football smarts and accuracy. If you can’t check those boxes as a quarterback, you have a real problem. And football IQ, to me, is more about instinct and feel than it is about how smart you are. I thought in college you saw some real deficiencies there, and they’ve carried over to his play with Washington.
Domo: If they weren’t committed to him, why did they make him the season-opening starter in the first place?
JB: I worked with (Washington offensive coordinator) Scott Turner in Cleveland. When I saw them acquire the guy he had in Carolina (Kyle Allen), I knew right then that Scott didn’t really believe in Haskins. That he was at risk. It didn’t make any sense to go get somebody he was comfortable with if you really were convinced Haskins was your guy.
I realize Haskins won five of his first six starts or something like that. But coaches like guys that know their system, that will execute what they want executed. That’s certainly true of Scott. When they brought in Allen, that told me he was preparing for the failure of the people that were already there and was looking for the next answer. That’s never a good place for a player to be. And oftentimes they don’t realize they’re in that position until something like this happens.