By Steve Silverman
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It’s fairly easy to understand when a coach has lost control and his team is going nowhere.
It’s not as easy to tell when a coach is having a great year.
For example, the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers are each 6-2 and in first place in their respective divisions.
However, the standards are extremely high for Bill Belichick and Mike Tomlin. The Patriots have struggled on defense for most of the season, and while they have played better in recent weeks, they are not executing with the consistency that many expected at the start of the season.
The same goes for the Steelers, who have the most explosive offense in the league with running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown.
The bottom line with Belichick and Tomlin is that they need to have a long run in the postseason before they will be judged.
On the other hand, there’s little doubt that Doug Pederson is having a superb year with the Eagles. Philadelphia has the best record in the NFL at 8-1, and has built a dynamic offense that produces every week.
The key has been the development of Carson Wentz, who has thrown for 2,262 yards, completed 60.5 percent of his passes, and has a gaudy 23-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi provide the Eagles with a dominant running attack, and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and tight end Zach Ertz are both big-time playmakers.
Pederson has knitted them together, and the Eagles are now favored to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Rookie head coach Sean McVay may be doing an even better job with the Los Angeles Rams (6-2).
Just 31 years old, McVay has helped Jared Goff go from a near-disaster as a rookie into one of the best young quarterbacks in the game. Goff has thrown for 2,030 yards with 13 TDs and just four picks.
You can’t overstate how good a job McVay has done with Goff, because the young signal-caller was loaded with self-doubt after the 2016 season and his teammates were not convinced he could get the job done, either. McVay has been the impetus for the improvement, erasing the 23-year-old’s doubts.
Then there is veteran Sean Payton. All he has done is turn the New Orleans Saints (6-2) into a first-place team. The Saints were 7-9 last year and couldn’t stop anyone, and though those same issues were there to start the season, they have since shown significant improvement on defense.
Payton has been the Saints’ head coach since 2006, and won the Super Bowl in 2009. But it’s often difficult for a head coach to reach his team and bring about improvement after a decade-plus on the job because the message often gets stale. That’s not the case with Payton, whose team looks like it is just starting to find its stride.
Doug Marrone has clearly done a superb job with the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-3), a team that has endured seven straight losing seasons and has not been to the playoffs since going 11-5 in 2007.
Marrone has built an excellent partnership with Tom Coughlin, the team’s executive vice president. The former head coach of the Giants and Jags has found a leader in Marrone, who imposes a tough, disciplined system on his players and demands they come with an edge every week.
The Jags did just that during the first half of the season.
While it’s difficult to credit coaches with losing records, Todd Bowles deserves credit for the job he has done with the 4-5 Jets.
The Jets were supposed to compete with the Cleveland Browns for the worst record in the league, and back in the preseason some even penciled them down for a big goose egg. In addition to being within a game of .500, the Jets had an opportunity to beat the Patriots, Dolphins, and Falcons during Weeks 6-8. They could easily be 5-4 or 6-3.
Andy Reid’s Chiefs are 6-3, but they have lost three of their last four, and the standard for him is similar to Belichick and Tomlin. If Reid is going to labeled as having a strong year, Kansas City must make a deep playoff run.
Sean McDermott has the Buffalo Bills in a strong position at 5-3 heading into Week 10, but it is way too soon to give him a good grade.
While the Bills still have a chance to earn a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 1999, McDermott may have been the beneficiary of a lot of luck to this point.
The Bills have not embraced quarterback Tyrod Taylor. They still ask him not to lose games instead of turning his solid arm loose.
This sends a message to the rest of the team that the coach lacks confidence in his key players, and that’s not a good formula for success.
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