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Grading first-year NFL head coaches: Sean McVay near perfection

NFL stands for “Not For Long” if you don’t win and win right away as a new head coach.

So as the 2017 season turns the midseason corner, our NFL Nation reporters grade the performance of the league's six new hires:

Sean McVay | Los Angeles Rams (6-2)

What he has done right: Well, everything. But the main thing is McVay, who also calls the offensive plays, took an offense that was last in the NFL in yards each of the past two seasons and turned it into what appears to be, well, a juggernaut. Jared Goff (2,030 yards, 13 TDs, 4 INTs) suddenly looks legitimate as a second-year quarterback, Todd Gurley (686 yards, 7 TDs) is an elite running back once again, and the offensive linemen and wide receivers are clicking in ways they haven’t in a long time.

What he needs to do better: We’d be splitting hairs here, but let’s give it a shot. McVay has been burning a lot of early timeouts, but special teams coordinator John Fassel, who assists him on game day, will tell you he has been using them to get out of bad plays. So that’s fine. McVay also has found himself diagramming the next offensive series while his team is on defense, but that’s intentional because he has so much faith in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. No problem there, either. So, this section will merely present an opportunity to point out what makes McVay special: He’s a natural leader who came in with a clear message, held players accountable and ultimately changed the culture.

Overall grade: Near perfection -- Alden Gonzalez

Sean McDermott | Buffalo Bills (5-3)

What he has done right: McDermott has brought a much-needed culture change to Buffalo after two years of Rex Ryan’s loose style of coaching. He has created what many players believe to be a more cohesive locker room in which teammates are more familiar with one another, even outside of their position groups. On the field, McDermott has led a team that did not fall behind by seven points in any game until last Thursday’s sloppy loss to the Jets. Despite three turnovers in that defeat, Buffalo still leads the NFL with a plus-11 turnover margin. The Bills are in line to receive the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs, which would end the franchise’s 17-year postseason drought.

What he needs to do better: The Bills rank 26th in yards gained on offense per game (303.8) and 21st in yards allowed on defense per game (344.6). They are one of six teams to rank 20th or worse on both sides of the ball and the only one with a winning record. The Bills played only one team in the first half of their schedule that had a winning record after Week 9 -- the Panthers, a loss -- but will have four games against teams (Saints, Chiefs, Patriots) with winning records over the second half of the season. That could point to a late slide by the Bills, who have seen negative trends in recent weeks. The Bills allowed a league-low 14.8 points per game from Weeks 1-5 but have allowed 25 points per game since Week 6, tied for 14th-worst in the NFL. The Bills also have been the second-most penalized team over the past two weeks, with 22 penalties for 194 yards.

Overall grade: Above average -- Mike Rodak

Doug Marrone | Jacksonville Jaguars (5-3)

What he has done right: The most important thing Marrone has done is change the culture. He preached toughness and accountability from the moment he was hired and put the Jaguars through a grueling training camp. Players weren’t thrilled with the long days and more physical practices. One player estimated they did three times as many team snaps as they did under former coach Gus Bradley. It has paid off, though, because the Jaguars lead the NFL in rushing (166.5 yards per game) and are playing the kind of smashmouth football Marrone and executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin envisioned. Marrone's deactivating running back Leonard Fournette for violating a team rule was partly a message to the Jaguars that anything other than full commitment will not be tolerated.

What he needs to do better: Until the past two games, the Jaguars hadn’t won consecutive games since October 2016. That’s the kind of consistency the franchise has to develop if it is truly going to compete for the AFC South title. Good teams stack up victories and take advantage of the teams they are supposed to beat. The franchise has been so bad for so long that it’s taking time for the players to not only learn how to win, but learn how to win consistently. That’s part of the culture change, but it’s something the players have to experience to fully understand. Marrone has made progress in this area but it's something he will have to fight the rest of the season.

Overall grade: Above average -- Michael DiRocco

Vance Joseph | Denver Broncos (3-5)

What he has done right: The Broncos responded to Joseph’s up-front, no-nonsense approach throughout the offseason, into training camp and into the regular season. Players praised his ability to communicate and his approach on a day-to-day basis. And at times -- at least until the complete cave-in against Philadelphia this past Sunday -- the Broncos' defense had shown signs it could finish better than it did last season, when it ranked No. 1 against the pass but struggled mightily against the run. With the initial adjustments Joseph and defensive coordinator Joe Woods added to the mix, the Broncos sported the No. 1 run defense early in the season and held Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott, LeSean McCoy and Marshawn Lynch to 95 combined yards in Denver’s 3-1 start.

What he needs to do better: In a nutshell, the Broncos need to rebound from mistakes, something former coach Gary Kubiak had a difficult time with last season. The Broncos of 2015 were as mentally tough as a team could be; the two teams since, including this one, have not shown those tendencies when things go bad in a game. The current team is guilty of plenty of bad body language, so either the players don’t believe in what’s being put in the game plans, or the message isn’t getting through between the coaches and the locker room. The Broncos also seem to have no answer if it’s clear their initial game plan isn’t going to work. Their ability to adjust to what happens in the opening 10 minutes of a game is in question right now, amid their longest losing streak since 2010.

Overall grade: Below average. -- Jeff Legwold

Anthony Lynn | Los Angeles Chargers (3-5)

What he has done right: Although the Chargers started off 0-4, players didn’t turn against Lynn and still believed in his no-nonsense approach. The result has been the Chargers winning three of their past four games and still having faint postseason hopes. Lynn has done a good job changing the players' training regimen so they’re healthier midway through the season than in previous years. And quarterback Philip Rivers has done a better job of protecting the football under Lynn, with just six interceptions through eight games. Rivers had a league-high 20 interceptions last season.

What he needs to do better: Lynn could do a better job of managing in-game situations, which is not surprising for a first-year head coach. He has won just one of three challenges. And the Chargers are eighth worst in the league with 61 accepted penalties. Four of the Chargers’ five losses have come by one score or less, so playing mistake-free football and better managing the game should be points of emphasis for Lynn during the second half of the season.

Overall grade: Average -- Eric D. Williams

Kyle Shanahan | San Francisco 49ers (0-9)

What he has done right: Despite all the losing, including an NFL-record five consecutive defeats by three points or fewer, Shanahan has been the type of leader the Niners need as they embark on a massive rebuild. He has taken the long view with this team while also offering the right type of leadership. At least publicly, he has managed to be the same every day and offer a steady hand for a team going through a rough season. Perhaps more important, he and general manager John Lynch are on the same page, building a much-needed bridge between the coaching staff and front office that had been missing in recent years.

What he needs to do better: From an X’s and O’s standpoint, it’s hard to judge Shanahan because the Niners are facing a talent deficiency at this stage of their rebuild. However, the team’s offensive struggles have been frustrating for 49ers fans given Shanahan’s background and the expectation that he would be able to offer a substantial upgrade in that area. Through nine weeks, San Francisco is 24th in the league in yards per game (309.4), 29th in yards per play and 30th in points per game (15.9).

Overall grade: Bring on 2018. -- Nick Wagoner

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