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Picking the Best of NFL Coaches

By Yong-yi Zhu

COLUMNIST

With the NFL regular season half over, it’s time to look at which coaches have done a great job with their team over the past 8.5 weeks.

Some coaches have been very successful but started with superior teams, while others have been able to do a lot despite being handicapped by the personnel on the team. This article will highlight those coaches who have truly outperformed the others.

Let’s start off with the NFC.

Most people, preseason, had labeled the Eagles as the top team in the NFC East and the Cowboys as a potential Wild Card team. In fact, Andy Reid and Bill Parcells each received a lot of attention at the beginning of the year.

However, Tom Coughlin’s team, the New York Giants, has simply outperformed those two other coaches’ teams. It is not as though the Giants have played weak competition: they have beaten the Packers and the Vikings.

Coughlin played the Eli vs. Kurt quarterback battle perfectly and his gamble (starting Kurt Warner over Eli Manning) has paid off well so far. In addition, even though the offensive line for the Giants has not been terribly effective, giving up 27 sacks total (the Giants are second to last in that category), the team has won five games. Running back Tiki Barber has had five 100-yard games already this season. The Giants have simply found a way to win.

Steve Mariucci is another good candidate from the NFC. I don’t think anyone really expected his Detroit Lions to be a force in a division that included the Vikings and the Packers, at least not this year. However, Mariucci has used the resources available to him effectively; in particular, he has exploited the QB Joey Harrington to wide receiver Roy Williams connection to perfection.

Even though they are dead last in total overall offense and fourth from the bottom in total defense, the Lions’ record indicates that this team is improved over the Lions of a year (or two years) ago. It’s not as though one asset of their team is tremendous while the other is suffering: both sides of the ball are below average. Yet, they are only one loss behind the Minnesota Vikings.

Onto the the AFC.

The surprise team of the AFC, by far, is the Jacksonville Jaguars. Second year coach Jack Del Rio brought a team that only won five games last year to winning five in the first eight weeks of this season. Because all of the Jag’s wins have come down to the last possessions, its obvious he has made a ton of good late-game coaching decisions.

From going for the fourth down against the Kansas City Chiefs, to challenging the Marvin Harrison touchdown simply on the word of a lineman, to telling Josh Scobee to kick a 53-yard field goal to win the game against the Colts, the dice are really rolling the way of Del Rio and the Jags. True, Byron Leftwich has made Del Rio’s job a bit easier, but Del Rio has instilled a lot of confidence in his young players and they have gone out on the field and performed.

The Steelers are also a bit of a surprise team in the AFC. They were third out of four in the AFC North last year, but this year coach Bill Cowher has them playing as a very cohesive unit despite the changes in the team.

The largest change is Ben Roethlisberger, the rookie playing at quarterback. Even though he doesn’t pass for nearly as many yards as Peyton Manning, Cowher has used Big Ben effectively, complementing his passing with the rushing abilities of Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis.

And you cannot say enough about the fact that they were the ones to stop “The Streak.”

So who would I give the award to? It is more impressive to do more with less, and that’s why Tom Coughlin is my choice. If the Giants continue to stay on pace for a Wild Card berth, Coughlin will easily win the coach of the year award at the end of the season.

But for now, they must hope that Tiki keeps running, Kurt keeps passing and the luck holds.