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1 Be smarter with Jalen Hurts’ usage. Easy to say now in retrospect, with the star QB still recovering from a hard hit taken on a designed run against the Bears. Certainly a huge part of Hurts’ game is using his legs. But a few times in 2022, the coaching staff has leaned more on his tough running than, say, a more-than-capable backfield and passing game. He’s proven he can be a franchise talent; now the top priority is protecting him, even if also from himself. 2 Don’t be afraid of the run game. Josh Allen will win and lose games — mostly win them — with his gunslinging mentality and unteachable power both as a thrower and runner. But things are so much easier for the Bills when they’re not just asking Allen to be a one-man highlight reel, and both Devin Singletary and James Cook have been efficient and explosive when given ample opportunity. After combining for more than 200 yards against the Bears in Week 16, they should retain sizable roles all the way through the postseason. 3 Get Mecole Hardman involved. It’s pretty tough to nitpick the Chiefs, to be honest, and both Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes would do just fine without Hardman. But the speedy wideout is returning from injury to give Kansas City more electricity up its sleeve, and he was actually an underrated gadget player before going down, with five touchdowns in a three-game span. Incorporating him on deep balls and red zone sweeps would simply add to their trustworthy attack. 4 Don’t let a playoff game come down to a field goal. Not because they haven’t proven resilient in close games — quite the opposite! — but because Vikings fans have been through enough near-heart attacks this year. And because we’re not sure Minnesota can handle the possibility of a Blair Walsh-esque finish to a season otherwise seemingly marked by destiny. In all seriousness, they’ve played things so close this year that they probably can’t afford to count on such good fortune in January, when contenders like the Cowboys, 49ers and Eagles will provide a true challenge. 5 Ease Deebo Samuel back into the lineup. With a playoff spot locked up and Christian McCaffrey already serving as a Swiss Army Knife/safety valve for rookie QB Brock Purdy, there’s really no need for San Francisco to overload Samuel and risk aggravation of his ankle injury before the real games begin. He and McCaffrey will be the bona fide catalysts of Kyle Shanahan’s attack come playoff time, so it’s best to keep him rested and recovering for as long as possible. 6 Leave no stone unturned up front. We’re referring more specifically to the loss of right tackle La’el Collins, who had found his groove especially as a run blocker before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Replacing him may be as simple as affording fill-in Hakeem Adeniji occasional help, but Cincy can’t allow Joe Burrow to be swallowed up as the team looks to get over the hump and exceed last season’s Super Bowl bid, even if it means exploring emergency outside help. 7 Keep quiet once the playoffs begin. This team is talented enough to make a real run, as per usual, but it also has a curious tendency of overhyping itself. Dallas, of course, can’t be fully blamed for external expectations, which are part of the issue here (America’s Team has won more headlines than big games in recent decades). But if Mike McCarthy can do one thing besides stay out of his own way in situational decision-making, it’s convince the players to let the on-field work do the talking. 8 For the love of Pete, get Lamar Jackson a wide receiver. This, of course, is assuming Baltimore retains Jackson himself, either via franchise tag or lucrative extension. The Ravens are rightly built to win on the ground, capitalizing on Jackson’s unmatched speed at the position, but they need to take a page out of the Eagles’ playbook and help their young dual threat develop as a passer by actually providing him an alpha out wide. 9 Don’t overthink the key downs on the big stage. The Chargers are playoff-bound for the first time in Justin Herbert’s illustrious young career, even as they inevitably make things hard for themselves more often than not. This one’s for Brandon Staley above all: yes, it’s good and fine to be committed to the analytics, but after all but coaching L.A. out of the postseason at the end of 2021, it would be a discouraging close to a resilient year if he again gets too cute in the clutch. 10 Keep Daniel Jones in the fold. Notice we’re not saying “guarantee Jones the 2023 QB job.” If there’s a young/rookie signal-caller New York likes and can obtain, they should make it happen. But re-signing Jones shouldn’t break the bank, enabling the club to focus on more pressing holes across both sides of the ball. No matter how this year ends, the former first-rounder has probably earned another shot under Brian Daboll, but this time with better weapons at his disposal. 11 Dive into the QB market. Tua Tagovailoa took noticeable steps forward under Mike McDaniel, but he remains a questionable off-script playmaker. More importantly, his health is a bigger priority than his football future; with at least two and maybe three concussions this year, and an injury history dating farther, Miami simply cannot — and should not — rely on his availability. McDaniel’s system, with such explosive wideouts, just needs an efficient QB to fly high. 12 Resolve the ownership issues. No matter what’s going on in the standings, in the locker room, etc., the spotlight has consistently returned to Daniel Snyder and Co. for alleged misdoings. Fair or not, it would be better for everyone involved if a potential sale of the franchise proceeds expeditiously. That way the front office can be properly reassessed (GM Martin Mayhew’s two QB gambles in two years: Ryan Fitzpatrick and Carson Wentz), and a real long-term investment can be made under center without the looming specter of an organizational meltdown. 13 Admit the mistakes up top. As in, if you’re not gonna take your lumps and replace Todd Bowles and/or Byron Leftwich atop the staff, you’d better add a fresh voice that will inject some sorely lacking creativity into their offense, or enlist Bruce Arians to reclaim his job. The team has certainly not quit despite a drastic drop-off from the first two years with Tom Brady, but the frequency with which the Bucs either look disinterested or just downtrodden by stale strategy is jarring. 14 Fix the secondary. In truth, priority No. 1 with a young, ascending QB is always adding to the offense, but with Calvin Ridley set to resurface as a Grade-A reinforcement out wide, Doug Pederson’s squad could use its most help on the back end, where previous big-ticket additions like Rayshawn Jenkins and Shaquill Griffin have not prevented the pass defense from ranking among the worst in the NFL. Trevor Lawrence and this team are on the rise, but imagine if they don’t have to win a shootout two out of every three games. 15 Rework the offense. There are building blocks here, but they mostly lie in the backfield. They’ve got a lot of projected cap space, and you’d hope someone in the front office is smart enough to pour money into the bookend spots up front, as well as consider basically any QB competition available. Most of all, though, Bill Belichick has to think long and hard about scrapping this “committee” offensive coordinator experiment in lieu of a real play-caller on that side of the ball. We all know he can guide a feisty defense, regardless of the personnel. But it’ll be 2023; you need to score points. 16 Double-dip at QB. Maybe one move is re-signing Geno Smith on a modest two-year extension. Maybe another is entertaining a trade for someone like Derek Carr. Barring a deal for a former MVP like Aaron Rodgers, however, there’s no glaring reason they shouldn’t have QB atop their wish list going into the draft, especially with such prime capital from the Russell Wilson deal. Not coincidentally, the year they landed Wilson, they also threw multiple darts at the position. 17 Don’t settle for serviceable at QB. Jared Goff deserves a lot of props for keeping his head high and legitimately improving as the Lions’ unheralded starter. Their secondary is a more glaring immediate need. But nothing’s gonna catapult this feisty Dan Campbell squad from fringe wild card candidate to spicy contender like an elite talent under center. The wideouts are already in place. And there’s a difference between trusting a polished and playmaking QB1; Goff is the former, but a top prospect available to them early in the draft may well be the latter. 18 Make the expected veteran QB splash. No GM should be more eager to reach the offseason, for the sole sake of upgrading under center, than Joe Douglas. Every other area of this roster is either playoff-caliber or close to it. And now that Zach Wilson has been indefinitely cast to the bench, they should feel free to take both blockbuster and midsize swings at the position, retaining Mike White only as a No. 2/placeholder option. If it’s not an Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, perhaps it’s Jimmy Garoppolo or Derek Carr or whichever other 49ers QB possibly shakes loose. 19 Add wide receivers. No, this is not 2019, 2020 or 2021, but it might as well be, because the need for downfield weapons is still as apparent as ever. Christian Watson has been a big-play revelation out wide, yes, and Green Bay’s defensive struggles were a big reason for 2022’s slow start. But nothing fueled Aaron Rodgers’ drop-off from MVP production more than Davante Adams’ departure. Assuming A-Rod sticks around, they have to replenish that spot even further. 20 Say farewell to the faces of the franchise. And by those, we mean Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry. The former is a more logical cap casualty: while he helped turn the Titans into what they are today, he’s battered, aging and overpriced (due $38M next year). Henry remains a bulldozer, but entering the final year of his deal at a replaceable position, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be dangled as a trade chip while Mike Vrabel remakes Jon Robinson’s setup. Vrabel is a good enough coach to keep this team competitive with lacking personnel. You have to tear things down to build them up. 21 Build a Pickett fence. Rookie QB Kenny Pickett has shown lots of grit in a trademark Mike Tomlin season — ugly but never out of it — but the only way Pittsburgh’s going to get a proper read on his future is by giving him a more consistent front. Many Steelers fans would argue that an offensive coordinator/philosophy change is actually more pressing, but the issues go hand in hand; you aren’t running any rhythmic offense if your guys aren’t getting push in the trenches. 22 Interview Steve Wilks seriously. You’d think it’d be a given, but not necessarily based on previous hiring cycles. The interim coach has not only miraculously kept Carolina in the NFC South mix while shuffling castoff QBs, but more importantly, he’s instilled a sense of confidence and cohesion into a failed slow-burn rebuild. If he can ensure the right coordinators are in place to lean into current strengths (running the ball, rushing the passer) and maybe, just maybe, build around a new playmaking QB, he could make them a true team to watch in 2023. 23 Follow through with the Derek Carr divorce. It’s just time, for both sides. They’ve basically broadcast their plans to split by having Carr stay away from the team for the rest of 2022, but to reverse course — perhaps if the trade market isn’t red hot — would be to settle for mediocrity. Assuming Josh McDaniels stays, do what you can to give him an old Patriots flame (i.e. Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo) and/or another big fish (i.e. Aaron Rodgers), while potentially pairing said move with a longer-term bet. With a top-10 pick and Carr compensation, they might be positioned to draft a successor, too. 24 Explore the head coaching market. Dennis Allen knows how to coach a defense, but the Saints have been one of the most undisciplined teams in the NFL under his watch, and he’s yet to log a winning season in more than three years as a head man during his career. More importantly, Sean Payton is angling to return, and if it’s not here, leading the charge into a new era with a new QB, then his inevitable trade should open doors for a bigger name to headline their rebuild. 25 Beef up the trenches. They want to be a ground-and-pound team that establishes the run, and understandably so considering Nick Chubb’s presence. But they’re also committed to Deshaun Watson for better or worse, and his line has been injury-plagued. Worse yet, the D-line has been a sieve, particularly against the run. 26 Pour as many resources as possible into the O-line. It doesn’t matter if Matthew Stafford is back, or Baker Mayfield returns, or whatever. The trenches are where everything starts. Shore up the front, and the impact will be felt not only under center, but in the backfield, where Cam Akers is returning to form; and downfield, where Cooper Kupp will be coming off injury. Sean McVay might not make it another year if he has to coach this depleted of a lineup again. 27 Load up on defense. Like half the teams in the NFL, they belong in the QB market. But Arthur Smith has proven he can maximize that side of the ball more often than not by doubling down on a run-first approach, with Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley offering long-term tandem ability. Where they really need help is on “D,” where A.J. Terrell predictably regressed, their pass rush remains perennially shorthanded, and they ranked as one of the worst units in the NFL. 28 Refuse the “quick fix” at QB. Jacoby Brissett. Philip Rivers. Carson Wentz. Matt Ryan. Enough is enough, right? Derek Carr probably falls in this category of no-nos, but he’s at least much younger than Ryan if Jim Irsay can’t help himself. They’ve got other things to address (that O-line chief among them), of course, but under center, if they aren’t spending an early pick on a future starter, they ought to make younger veterans like Jordan Love (or Trey Lance, if he somehow becomes available in San Francisco) their top targets. 29 Get back to what makes Russell Wilson tick. Short of finding a taker for Wilson on the trade market, they have little choice but to tailor the post-Nathaniel Hackett offense around the play-action, run-heavy approach that earned the QB stripes in Seattle. That may well mean playing hardball with Russ, who left the Seahawks in part to become the ultra-efficient, high-volume QB he’s never truly been. The ideal scenario is landing a coach who can strike a happy medium, both reversing course to the offense in which Russ once thrived, and easing the QB into more of a pocket-passing role. 30 Blow it up as best you can. Harsh, perhaps, but such is reality in Arizona, where the Cardinals have not only failed to deliver when it matters most but, more gravely, failed to build a foundation around QB Kyler Murray. The Murray-Kliff Kingsbury partnership appears as explosive interpersonally as it is mercurial on the field. Sidelined GM Steve Keim, meanwhile, has too often relied on older and/or injury-prone starters. The entire setup needs a shakeup. 31 For crying out loud, get Justin Fields some help. It’s been beaten into the ground since last offseason, but it bears reiterating: Fields cannot survive and/or reach his ceiling with such a shorthanded O-line and receiving corps. GM Ryan Poles was playing the long game when he punted so much cap space into 2023, but now that Fields has shown he can single-handedly change games with his athleticism, they have to get him a sturdier front and a legitimate No. 1 target. 32 Just hire the young offensive mind you’ve been craving. For years now, Houston has spent the head coaching cycle flirting with unorthodox candidates on that side of the ball, including Josh McCown and Hines Ward. Dumping Lovie Smith after one year, just like David Culley, wouldn’t be the best look, but are they really prepared to let Smith, 64, who’s now gone 10-36-1 in his last three years running a staff, handpick their next franchise QB as part of this perpetual rebuild?



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