For the first time in NFL history, four rookie head coaches are winless through their team’s first four games.
Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury does have a tie, against the Lions, but the Broncos’ Vic Fangio, Bengals’ Zac Taylor and Dolphins’ Brian Flores have yet to get in either the tie or win column.
Here a closer look at the foursome:
Was he the right choice for the franchise? Looking only at the Cardinals’ 0-3-1 record, one might say Kliff Kingsbury wasn’t the right choice. But he’s a good fit for quarterback Kyler Murray, whom the Cardinals drafted first overall. Kingsbury is running essentially the same scheme Murray’s run since the eighth grade and he’s known Murray since he was 15, so there’s a personal connection. Kingsbury will help Murray make the adjustment to the NFL better than any other coach in the league. It’ll take a year or two for Kingsbury to acquire the perfect personnel for his offense. And he’s also learning how to coach in the NFL, from a strategic, personnel and locker room standpoint. There’ll be a lot of bumps in Year 1, but as long as the Cardinals are committed to Murray, Kingsbury was the right choice.
Why the Cardinals haven’t won yet? A combination of the offense not being able to score in the red zone — which, yes, can be largely pinned on Kingsbury — and the defense not being able to contain the run. Arizona has given up 586 rushing yards this season, the fifth most in the NFL. That means every team the Cardinals have played has rushed for more than 100 yards against them. That won’t win games. And in the red zone, Arizona has thrown 23 times, completing 13, both the fourth most in the NFL. That’s one area where Kingsbury’s passing mentality has been a detriment. Instead of pounding the ball in the red zone — the Cardinals have run the ball twice inside the 5, ranked 28th in the league — the Cardinals opt for the high-risk throw.
What’s been good, if anything? The Cardinals have been one of the best offenses in the NFL when they’re trailing in the fourth quarter. Under those conditions, the Cardinals are ranked third with 379 yards, second with four touchdowns, first with 28 first downs and seventh with 6.08 yards per rush. It’s not an achievement the Cardinals can be proud of because it means they haven’t entered the fourth quarter with a lead yet. Murray is third in pass attempts and 13th in passing yards, while wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is ranked in the top 25 in receptions and receiving yards.
Predicted record: 2-13-1. There just simply aren’t many winnable games left on the Cardinals’ schedule. Of the 12 remaining games, the Cardinals’ best chances of winning are Sunday at Cincinnati, Week 6 against Atlanta and Week 14 against Pittsburgh — and that’s including a trip to the New York Giants in Week 7. Unless the Cardinals can flip a switch offensively and start scoring in the red zone — they have five touchdowns this season, ranked 25th in the NFL — they’ll continue on their current pace. If they can start closing out drives with touchdowns, they can win five or six games, maybe more. — Josh Weinfuss
Was he the right choice for the franchise? It’s still too early to tell if the Bengals made the right decision by hiring Taylor. Not only are the Bengals only four weeks into the season, but it’s hard to figure out how much blame should be placed on his shoulders. Taylor admitted he has to be better as a playcaller to help the offense maximize its potential. However, it’s clear Taylor has only so much to work with. The Bengals’ offensive line has given up the second-most sacks in the NFL. Defensively, Cincinnati is 30th in the NFL in yards allowed per play. The holes in the roster can’t be addressed until the offseason, at the earliest.
Why the Bengals haven’t won yet? The Bengals are a couple of possessions away from being 2-2. In Week 1, the Bengals outplayed Seattle but failed to convert yards into points. Two weeks later, Cincinnati overcame a 14-0 deficit and held a fourth-quarter lead at Buffalo before the Bills scored in the final two minutes to keep Taylor from picking up his first victory. The other two games were blowouts. The most frustrating thing through four games might be the offense’s inability to score touchdowns. The Bengals are 29th in yards per play and 31st in red zone efficiency, which has caused several trickle-down effects.
What’s been good, if anything? At this point, it’s all bad. It’s hard to find a significant metric where the Bengals are ranked in the top half of the NFL. The lone silver lining to the season was wide receiver John Ross’ early productivity. Through four games, he already surpassed his season high in receiving yards. But Ross was placed on Cincinnati’s injured reserve Tuesday after he suffered a shoulder injury that will keep him out for a minimum of eight weeks.
Predicted record: 3-13. Cincinnati has three games against teams that are currently winless: Arizona (Oct. 6), New York Jets (Dec. 1) and Miami (Dec. 22). The Bengals should be in contention to win those games. But aside from that, Cincinnati could be looking at its lowest win total since 2010, when it went 4-12 and finished last in the AFC North. — Ben Baby
Was he the right choice for the franchise: Even the most cynical inside the Broncos’ complex believe Fangio is the right choice. He’s held players, coaches and himself accountable during the team’s dismal start. He’s even put himself in front of the public barbs — answering a question about penalties with a response that included “it’s an indictment of coaching.” The Broncos have lost two games on the last play, and their four losses have come against teams that are a combined 10-6. As linebacker Von Miller said: “We’re playing hard for coach Fangio.”
Why the Broncos haven’t won yet: It’s long been proven hope is not a strategy, and the Broncos needed a pile of good luck on the injury front or their depth issues were going to be exposed. The depth chart is top heavy, but Denver had a chance to compete for a wild-card spot if its top 30 players stayed healthy. They didn’t even get through September, as all three of their big-ticket signings in free agency (tackle Ja’Wuan James, cornerback Bryce Callahan and safety/cornerback Kareem Jackson) have missed games with injuries and linebacker Bradley Chubb will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. The issues in the 2016 and 2017 drafts continue to show up in the Broncos’ response to injuries. They need more homegrown solutions to their roster problems.
What’s been good, if anything: Quarterback Joe Flacco ain’t the problem for the Broncos. He’s played well overall and put together a two-minute drive that should have been a game-winner this past weekend. He holds the ball a little too long and has to climb the pocket a little more efficiently at times, but the Broncos also don’t consistently protect. Rookie guard Dalton Risner has been the best of the team’s draft picks and looks to be a long-term solution as they work through their red zone struggles. First-year offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello has shown the ability to string together plays that dovetail well as the team has had eight of its 14 scoring drives go at least 10 plays.
Predicted record: 6-10: The Broncos’ remaining 12 games are against teams currently 2-2 or better. That includes two games against 4-0 Kansas City and a trip to 3-1 Buffalo. The home schedule will tell the tale (Tennessee, Kansas City, Cleveland, Los Angeles Chargers, Detroit and Oakland), but even that will require some heavy lifting. — Jeff Legwold
Was he the right choice for the franchise? It’s way too early to say he wasn’t the right choice for the franchise. No coach has been dealt a tougher hand than Brian Flores in his first year as Dolphins head coach. He’s had a couple of notable mistakes, but overall he’s kept an even-keeled demeanor through heavy doses of adversity. We should probably wait until 2020 or 2021 to judge Flores on wins and losses because of the drastic nature of the Dolphins rebuild.
Why the Dolphins haven’t won yet? This one is simple: They have the NFL’s least talented roster. There are gaping holes at several positions groups — seemingly left open because the organization is trying to clear its salary cap and collect draft picks for 2020. The Dolphins have kept their last two games within one possession at halftime, but they have been outscored 81-0 in the second half after halftime — a sign of adjustment failures and teams catching up to Miami’s few areas of success.
What’s been good, if anything? They have actually been disciplined in terms of penalties, which was one of Flores’ big goals going into the season. Miami has the third-fewest penalty yards and fourth-fewest penalties through four games this season. The Dolphins had a hard training camp, which focused on discipline and often included running to the T.N.T. (Takes No Talent) wall when they made mental mistakes like offsides or too many men in the huddle. It seems to have paid off.
Predicted record: 1-15. The real question surrounding the Dolphins is will they go winless? It’s a very real possibility, and it would secure the ultimate prize of the No.1 overall pick. But there are a lot of bad teams in the NFL this season, and a handful of them are on Miami’s schedule, including Washington, the New York Jets (two games) and Cincinnati. The Dolphins play hard every week, and the bet here is they get a win against one of them. — Cameron Wolfe