Russini: NFL Week 15 I hear about the league training carousel and more

Brandon Staley entered the Los Angeles Chargers practice facility Friday morning on very little sleep. He knew what was coming. Heck, we all did. If you’ve watched some highlights, watched the box score, or caught a Thursday night game, you probably made the same face my 2-year-old did last summer when he tried his first lemonade.

The whole thing was sour.

The Raiders demolished the Chargers in Las Vegas in a game that can be seen on every Amazon Prime family, and Staley’s seat wasn’t warm, it was on fire.

Around 8 a.m. Friday, he walked into the office of owner Dean Spanos and, after a brief conversation, fired him. Chargers general manager Tom Delesco was also let go. It was a startling fall for Staley, who climbed the NFL coaching ladder with exceptional ambition. The 41-year-old is one of the fastest rising stars in NFL history. After four years as an NCAA Division III defensive coordinator, he remotely zoomed in on the Los Angeles Rams’ defense during the COVID-19 pandemic and coached the No. 1 defense in the NFL. After one season as the Rams’ defensive coordinator and play caller, teams such as the Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles competed to hire him. The owners all wanted “defensive Sean McVay.”

The Chargers beat him. They thought they were getting a supernova, a football savant.

Maybe it was too much, too fast.

Three years ago, so many coaches around the football world wondered how a guy coaching small college football got the coveted job of guiding quarterback Justin Herbert and the Chargers after just one season as an NFL coordinator? Since Herbert was considered so good, there was a belief around the league that Staley wasn’t great from Day 1, how could the Chargers not win big in their division? How are they not in the playoffs every year?

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Inside Chargers Brandon Staley’s demise: ‘Too smart for his own good’

Despite this rise to defy conventional wisdom, Staley has never been known to exude humility. From some of his responses at news conferences to some around the league believing that his entire perspective was a little too bold, Staley never took the view. In fairness to Staley, he’s not the only arrogant coach to catch fire in these situations. I’ve had many conversations with general managers over the years who have shared with me that they want their coaches to be confident, and many talented coaches have their agents hit on the Spanos family and inspire them to be themselves. To bring out Herbert’s talents.

Dean Spanos said in his official statement that the Chargers “need a fresh look” following the announcement of the firing. After a while, a coach who wanted the job texted me and said, “Give me Justin Herbert and I’ll show them that vision.”

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If Herbert is truly a transcendent player, now is the time for him to show it. That will be the challenge for the chosen one. If the next coach fails too, chances are we’ll be looking at the quarter-finals very differently. A search operation is underway.

Next practice shooting?

There are no surprises coming into Washington at the end of the regular season. At this point, the understanding around the building is that Ron Rivera and some members of the front office will be fired, based on several people I’ve talked to. Since taking over the team, new owner Josh Harris has had the vision of keeping Rivera through the end of the season and moving on after that. It’s not really a secret anymore.

A similar picture is emerging in New England, which most believe will split by the end of the season. AthleticJeff Howe dives deeper here:

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With tension seeping through the Patriots, can the winning streak still save Bill Belichick’s job?

(Oh, and if they and Belichick part ways, the Patriots won’t trade for Vrabel. Nothing’s changed there. )

Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, Antonio Pierce is doing everything he can to land the head coaching job permanently. His midseason experience has won over the Raiders locker room, and with three games remaining, he’s getting one final push to show he’s the right man for the job.

Over the past few weeks, his former Giants head coach Tom Coughlin has been advising him, along with Adam Gase and Marvin Lewis. It’s like Pierce is crammed for an exam and hires a school of teachers who’ve seen everything to give him some answers. Raiders owner Mark Davis must conduct a coaching search at the end of the year even if he decides to hire Pierce. It remains to be seen how the next few weeks go.

Taking it out of the game

Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill was injured during a hip-drop tackle on Monday night as NFL owners gathered in Dallas to begin discussions on a few important NFL matters. The hip-drop tackle was masterful as commissioner Roger Goodell made it clear the league wanted out of the game. For Goodell to clearly voice an opinion during league franchise meetings tells you where this is going. The league will be suspended ahead of next season. When the NFL’s competition committee meets in February and during the spring meetings in March, expect plenty of fumbling, dashing and kickoff play.

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CJ Stroud suffered a concussion in last Sunday’s game, and the rookie quarterback is in the concussion protocol. Stroud still has to pass some tests, and a team source said he won’t play Sunday against the Tennessee Titans and was out of the facility last week.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have a chance here on Sunday night, and they know it. They still have a chance to clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC and their game against the Baltimore Ravens could be the deciding factor in the end. If the Jaguars win, they’ll take a game up on Baltimore in the standings.

It won’t be easy. Jacksonville is coming off two losses and QB Trevor Lawrence is playing on a high ankle sprain. The Ravens have been rolling all season and now have some attitude. Why? During meetings last week, they were discussing their game against the Jaguars in Jacksonville last season, in which the Ravens blew a fourth-quarter lead and lost 28-17. Baltimore couldn’t close out Jacksonville in third and overtime. A Ravens source told me, “It’s a game that’s still hitting us.”

So here comes Baltimore, here comes Nelson Agholar. Before he was described to me as “the unsung hero of the wide receiver room,” no matter what he accomplished as a player, I couldn’t erase this amazing clip from his time with the Eagles and this sound bite. Please see:

Now in his ninth season, Agholar joined the Ravens last March and has as many touchdowns as Odell Beckham Jr. and rookie standout Joey Flowers. It’s a room that’s been criticized for years, and now Lamar Jackson has plenty of pass catchers who can do it all.

Well done

The Titans haven’t had many memorable moments this season, but what they did on “Monday Night Football” against the Dolphins could be the biggest comeback of the season.

Tennessee became the first team in NFL history to win a 14-plus-point comeback in the final three minutes.

Now here is the plot of the story. Let’s go back. The team scored a touchdown to cut Miami’s lead from 27-13 to 27-19 with 2:40 left in the fourth quarter. Head coach Mike Vrabel and the Titans decided to go for two points instead of kicking the extra point. Selection is easy as it is planned in advance.

How?

Vrabel and his sports strategist/director of football administration, John Streicher (whose nickname is “Stretch”), actually talked about the perfect game situation over a heavy steak dinner the night before. Before dinner, they reviewed some games around the league and zeroed in on one particular team in their division that didn’t employ this strategy after being down eight points in the fourth quarter. While enjoying a tomahawk steak, they get into it and discuss their own strategy. It became the focus of dinner conversation with other employees and Vrabel’s family. This key debate could not have worked out better for the Titans because when the situation presented itself, the Titans knew exactly what they were calling for.

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Note that the odds of success on a two-point attempt are 50-50. When teams have something they believe in, they feel the percentages go even higher based on the looks the opposing team gives and the play they produce. Next time I’m at the roulette table I want the stretch to stand with me! (Black 17. Ever.)

Joe Cool Flacco

The Cleveland Browns had always planned to sign Joe Flacco to a contract, and some roster management decisions sent him to the practice squad over the past few weeks. It sounded sloppy, but it made sense to the Browns’ front office and Flacco’s agent, Joe Linda.

When I asked a Browns source to describe Flacco, they said, “He’s the adult on the team.”

Flacco is the oldest player on the Browns’ roster at 37, and has more experience in big moments, including winning the Super Bowl. He also knows AFC North very well. As long as Kevin Stefanski continues to run the ball to give his team’s best part, the defense, time to rest, the Browns have a good chance of overcoming an incredible number of injuries heading into the playoffs.

70

He calls his shot.

“I can hit 70,” Dallas Cowboys kicker Brandon Aubrey said this week. That’s how far he believes he can kick a field goal in a live game. Why should we doubt the newcomer? The former football player made 30 of his field-goal attempts and 39 of 42 extra-point attempts in his first NFL season. Even though he’s never been asked to hit 70 yards in a live game, his attitude tells you he believes that, and that’s a big part of the battle.

The longest field goal made in an NFL game was 66 yards by Baltimore’s Justin Tucker in 2022. Aubrey, 28, nicknamed “Butter” by his quarterback Dak Prescott, can’t have a meltdown on Sunday. Buffalo is set to have some winds in the 40s for most of the game.


Finally, as the regular season winds down, and you’re looking for more information on your team or favorite player, please comment below the article with a question. I’ll go to work and dig for you!

(Photo by Brandon Staley: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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