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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Doug Farrar and Kyle Madson

4-Down Territory: Best/Worst NFL teams, next coach fired, Worst of the Week

With 13 weeks of actual football in the books for the 2023 NFL season, and the Thanksgiving slate behind us, it’s time for Doug Farrar of Touchdown Wire, and Kyle Madson of Niners Wire, to come to the table with their own unique brand of analysis in “4-Down Territory.”

This week, the guys have some serious questions to answer:

  1. Which team is the NFL’s best right now?
  2. And which team is the NFL’s worst?
  3. Which head coach will be the next one fired?
  4. What was the Worst of the Week?

You can watch this week’s “4-Down Territory” right here:

You can also listen and subscribe to the “4-Down Territory” podcast on Spotify…

…and on Apple Podcasts.

1. Which team is the NFL's best right now?

(Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

Doug: The San Francisco 49ers, especially if you take out that three-game stretch with an injured Trent Williams and Deebo Samuel, or without Trent Williams and Deebo Samuel entirely, where they lost all three. Those are the only games they’ve lost this season. They had minus-6 total yards in the first quarter against the Eagles on Sunday – minus-1.0 yards per play with two three-and-outs. Then, they opened all the cans of whoop-ass at the same time against the NFL’s best by record. Their defense (especially the secondary) deserves more attention, and the offense is downright terrifying.

I especially liked the adjustments they made against the Eagles at the start of the second quarter. Kyle Shanahan likes his passing game to work vertically inside the numbers, and the Eagles were all about it – they defended that passing game right up the spine. It took Shanahan two drives to figure it out, and all of a sudden, the 49ers were spamming Sean Desai’s defense outside the numbers and on the perimeter. Brock Purdy, one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks when it comes to throwing deep balls over the middle, didn’t have a single throw over 20 air yards in the game. But their next six drives ended in touchdowns. 

The 49ers understood that the Eagles are light at linebacker and safety from a talent perspective, and they forced those guys to cover the whole field. Deebo Samuel had four catches on four targets for 116 yards and two touchdowns with barely any air yards. They did what they do when they have to – they got the ball to Deebo with either short passes or handoffs, and they let him run through everything as he does. They banked on the run game, and that worked. 

So, more than anything else, it’s the ability to adjust in-game with all your schemes and all your weapons that makes them the NFL’s best and most dangerous team. If the 49ers and Eagles meet again in the playoffs – very possibly in an NFC Championship game rematch – you get the feeling that whatever the Eagles do to counter this offense, the answers will be wrong. Now, in their rematch with the Seahawks on Sunday, the 49ers will know that Purdy ate on throws outside the hashes, and they’ll know exactly why it worked. 

Kyle: It’s hard not to say the 49ers at this point. In the interest of not repeating Doug, who I believe is correct, I think it’s worth noting that Philadelphia and Baltimore are both right there. However, it’s clear the Eagles’ passing game is a little bit flawed and 49ers DE Nick Bosa saying that Hurts drops his eyes when pressured and then has trouble finding his pass catchers once he resets is a fascinating insight that definitely makes the Eagles offense sound less scary. The trenches matter a ton come playoff time though and there’s a chance Philadelphia is just the best team there when the games really count and we’re sitting here talking about how obvious it is that they were the best team all year when they’re hoisting a Lombardi trophy in February. 

Baltimore is still terrifying because of Lamar Jackson’s individual brilliance and a defense equipped to bang with any offense in the league. That defensive unit is fast, physical and really well-coached. Ironically, the Ravens’ best move might be to turn to an offense more reminiscent of the ones they ran the last couple years where they rely more heavily on their run game in the playoffs. Getting behind a Jackson-led run game and an excellent defense could make the Ravens the hardest team to beat in January and February. 

2. And which team is the NFL's worst?

(David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

Doug: It’s the Patriots. Go figure. They now have a winning percentage of .167 (2-10), which is the lowest winning percentage any coach has had in the Super Bowl era with a team he previously won a Super Bowl with. The previous low belonged to Tom Landry in 1988 (.188), and Landry was famously fired after the season by new team owner Jerry Jones in favor of Jimmy Johnson.

I will give Bill Belichick credit for his defense – they’ve allowed a league-low 46 points in their last four games… and they’re 0-4 in those games. Per ESPN’s Stats & Info, they’re the first pro football team since the 1938 Chicago Cardinals to allow 10 or fewer points in three straight games, and lose all three. When you have to draw back nearly 90 years to catch that level of futility, it ain’t good. 

So, maybe it’s the worst offense in the NFL. Maybe it’s one of the worst offenses ever. And the thing is, it’s been coming for a while. In 2019, Tom Brady’s final season with the team, he was saying halfway through that he was the most frustrated quarterback in football because he had no receivers who could separate. Brady moved on to the Buccaneers, and we all saw what happened there. Belichick flew through Cam Newton, and then Mac Jones, and then whatever it is they’re doing now. He played with his food putting Matt Patricia and Joe Judge in charge of the offense last season, and now, it’s the Bill O’Brien recycle.

Going back to the Landry story, the ‘85 Bears killed them 44-0 that season, and it was to the point where Mike Ditka was actually distressed about it, because Landry extended his playing career, got him a Super Bowl ring, and started him on the coaching path. That’s where the Patriots are now – you just feel sorry for them, except that nobody feels sorry for them. 

Kyle: I’m still going to rock with the Panthers. At least Bill Belichick has still got it on the defensive side. That group is playing really good football the last few weeks. Carolina, on the other hand, has already fired its head coach and all signs point to a 1-16 finish in the NFL’s worst division. On Sunday they gave up 128 rushing yards to a Buccaneers club that hadn’t surpassed 125 rushing yards all season. They also gave up a pair of rushing scores to Tampa Bay after they’d posted only four rushing TDs all season.

We’re seeing growth from some of the young first-time starting QBs as the season goes on, but we’re not seeing that really from Bryce Young. That’s not a fault of his – it’s a major flaw in Carolina’s roster. If their defense is going to struggle to stop a bad Bucs run game and their offense is going to continue to look abysmal, it’s hard to make an argument for me that they’re better even than a team playing as poorly as New England is.

3. Which NFL head coach will be the next man fired?

(Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

Doug: The Washington Commanders fired defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio last week after a debacle of a Thanksgiving loss to the Dallas Cowboys in which head coach Ron Rivera’s team allowed 376 total yards and five touchdowns in a 45-10 disaster.

On Sunday, against the Miami Dolphins, and with Rivera taking control of the defense, the Commanders allowed 405 total yards and five touchdowns in a 45-15 disaster. The Commanders threw man coverage at the Dolphins, and over and over, thought that it was perfectly fine to give Tyreek Hill single coverage. Down 24 at the half, Rivera said that his team needed to run the ball more. Down 38-15 with 14:20 left in the game, and the ball at the Miami 35-yard line, Rivera elected to try a field goal, which kicker Joey Slye missed. 

Sam Howell threw his third pick-six in as many weeks – he’s now one off Matt Schaub’s NFL record. The players are unhappy – a lot of them seem to have given up. They know there’s no future as things stand now. Rivera could say nothing after the game outside of platitudes about how everybody needs to do better, and how he’s frustrated that his team isn’t at the same level as the Dolphins and Cowboys. Well, no duh. 

It’s to the point where you’re damaging your team by keeping things as they are. The Commanders are playing for nothing right now, but we could be seeing a negative return sooner than later. It’s time to see if offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy can be any kind of head coach, and just try to keep things from sliding off the cliff. 

Kyle: It wouldn’t shock me if Rivera is gone by the time this publishes. Washington is a rudderless ship and the very obvious answer is right there in their building. Bieniemy would be an excellent offseason hire for a new ownership group looking to make a splash. Instead of waiting, they can just hire him now and see how the final few weeks go. Let Bieniemy get established and then select his own QB this offseason if he doesn’t want to move forward with Sam Howell.

This is a layup that Josh Harris can’t afford to smoke. Rivera ushered the team effectively through the end of the Snyder era, but it’s high time to move on. It has been since they punted their season at the trade deadline and let Montez Sweat and Chase Young go. Another loss this week only drives the point home even further. 

Also, Brandon Staley has to go. The Chargers clearly aren’t rolling into 2024 with him (or at least they shouldn’t be. Who knows with Dean Spanos running the show) so they need to cut bait now and start evaluating what their future is going to look like before they spend the early portion of Justin Herbert’s prime wallowing in the mediocrity wrought by whatever the heck it is Staley is doing as the leader of an NFL team. 

4. Finally, what's your Worst of the Week for Week 13?

(Syndication: The Indianapolis Star)

Doug: Brad Allen, because I have to talk about the $%^&() officiating again. $%^&. The referee in Sunday Night Football’s matchup between the Packers and Chiefs seemed to want to double down with horrible call after horrible call. The one we’re all talking about is the no-call pass interference on Packers cornerback Carrington Valentine, who was draped all over Chiefs receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a deep throw with 50 seconds left in the game. That should have given the ball to the Chiefs inside the Green Bay 10-yard line, and as the final score was 27-19, that could have been important. Then, there was the double-hand push in Travis Kelce’s back by Packers safety Jonathan Owens on the last play of the game. I get that it was Hail Mary rules, and a lot of contact isn’t called in those situations, but this was blatant. 

Then, there was the unnecessary roughness call on Owens with 1:05 left in the game, when he hit Patrick Mahomes when Mahomes was still and obviously in bounds. That gave the Chiefs 15 free yards, and set up the interference no-call two plays later. Then, there was the clock stoppage on a Mahomes pass to Valdes-Scantling with 24 seconds left in the game. Because Valdes-Scantling moved backwards to go out of bounds, and his forward progress had been stopped, the clock should have run. How does a crew screw this many things up in less than two clock minutes? 

After the game, Allen did a pool report with one reporter – Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News – and all he could do was parrot what the calling official told him about the no-call. Well, why isn’t the calling official being interviewed? Why isn’t there any transparency and accountability here? Officials aren’t Deep Throat. They’re not spilling state secrets. Perhaps if officials know that they’ll have to deal with the ramifications of their work in a public sense, they’ll keep their eyes a little more on the ball? I’ve given up on the NFL holding them accountable. This is going to have to happen in the court of public opinion, or not at all. 

By the way, Allen’s performance put him above Clete Blakeman’s flag festival in the Cowboys-Seahawks game, and Ron Torbert completely losing control of the Falcons-Jets game. It’s hard to keep track of the next-level incompetence at this point.

Kyle: One time for the Titans’ special teams! They allowed not one, but two punts to be “blocked” – on consecutive possessions! The first one was blocked by Nick Cross and recovered by Grant Stuard who returned it 18 yards for a touchdown. In an incredible sidenote that perfectly encapsulates this AFC South rock fight – the ensuing two-point try by the Colts was intercepted by Titans safety Amani Hooker and returned for two points. 

The Colts then blocked the ensuing Titans punt using the Belichick move of bringing a defensive back in late off the edge. Tony Brown got in with such ease that he actually forced a fumble by knocking the ball away from Titans punter Ryan Stonehouse before Stonehouse could get the ball to his foot. Unfortunately Stonehouse was injured on the play when his plant leg bent awkwardly.

THEN the Titans overcame the two failed punts to tie the game on a touchdown pass from QB Will Levis to WR DeAndre Hopkins with 5:29 to go. An extra point would’ve given them the lead and won them the game. Alas, with Stonehouse out and backup holder Ryan Tannehill in the game, kicker Nick Folk yanked the extra point wide left. Tennessee would go on to lose in overtime. 

It’s not typical that one bad performance should have a coach on the hot seat, but Titans special teams coordinator Craig Aukerman will certainly be getting some side eyes in the Titans facility after that mess of a fourth quarter. 

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