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Mort & Schefter: The coaching toll of competing with New England

Dan Campbell is the third new AFC East coach in the calendar year. Meanwhile, nothing changes in New England. Getty Images, AP Photo

When the Patriots and Dolphins square off Thursday night, it will continue to shine a spotlight on the remarkable stability in New England. Just consider the AFC East, and the perpetual coaching toll of competing with the Patriots.

Since the Patriots hired Bill Belichick in January 2000, the other three AFC East teams have combined to change head coaches a remarkable 21 times -- that's almost 1.5 new coaches per season. In fact, just this calendar year alone, the AFC East teams have all switched head coaches.

And with the news this week that the Lions fired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and replaced him with quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter, it was a reminder that since the start of the 2012 season, only one NFL team has had the exact same head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator: the unbeaten Patriots.

Every other team in the league has made, and continues to make, changes -- often radical ones. Sometimes they work. Since the Dolphins implemented their extreme in-season makeover, Campbell has led Miami to a 2-0 record while outscoring opponents 82-36. As the Dolphins head into tonight's game, Miami is playing with an energy unknown to the previous regime.

Detroit is hoping for its own Campbell effect Sunday morning in London, where the Lions play the Chiefs at 9:30 a.m. ET, and Cooter will be calling the plays.

But while other teams continue shaking up their coaching staffs, especially in the AFC East, New England has stood pat. It has learned what others wished they could abide by: continuity matters in the NFL. - AS

What happened to Ryan Mallett?

In the eyes of many, Ryan Mallett was a top-10 physical talent with a surprisingly high football IQ when he was coming out of Arkansas. And many fans don't realize that few quarterbacks had more on-field responsibility than Mallett did in coach Bobby Petrino's system.

His off-field irresponsibility was the reason he slipped to the third round of the 2011 NFL draft, where the Patriots took him at No. 74, and now it has cost him a professional job. He was cut by the Houston Texans on Tuesday after missing a team flight to Miami on Saturday. Mallett drove himself to the airport to fly commercial to join his team, but was late to team meetings Saturday morning, sent home, and then missed the team bus. The Texans' routine is for players to meet at the team facility and take buses to the airport where they undergo special screening to expedite their travel.

The warning signs, as noted, were there when Mallett was at Arkansas as various scouts gathered pre-draft intel. He missed pre-draft meetings with the Carolina Panthers and Tennessee Titans. He said he was ill when he missed the Panthers appointment. He then had the Titans on hold because he overslept, claiming he didn't get a hotel wake-up call.

Some can say that Texans coach Bill O'Brien should have known better because he was the offensive coordinator for the Patriots when Mallett was drafted, but O'Brien didn't have much direct interaction with Mallett that rookie season because his time was spent primarily with Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer, the first two quarterbacks on the depth chart while Mallett did his thing with the scout team. O'Brien moved on to Penn State for two years before taking the Texans job in 2014. Mallett apparently did not have any alarming incidents in New England.

Maybe Mallett gets another chance. But he's a quarterback -- a position where teams can be unforgiving when trust is broken. He also does not have great game tape. Yes, he has a few "wow" moments on tape thanks to the big arm, but he also has many of the same cringe-worthy moments on tape that proved some skeptics right. At this point, there are more skeptics than believers. -CM

Todd Gurley is just getting started

There was a moment that was captured like a snapshot in Jeff Fisher's mind when Eric Dickerson visited the Rams during their training camp work in Oxnard, California, with the Cowboys. Dickerson's Hall of Fame career was forged with the Los Angeles Rams and Indianapolis Colts.

"I looked over, and Eric was standing next to Todd Gurley," recalled Fisher. "There was a resemblance that was almost eery."

The resemblance that matters now most is what Fisher sees on the football field. While he was once a teammate of Walter Payton with the Chicago Bears, it is Fisher's vast coaching experience as the Tennessee Titans former football boss that he taps into when analyzing the early results from Gurley, who has averaged 144.1 yards rushing per game in his last three starts.

"When I watch Gurley run, it's a blend of Eddie George and Chris Johnson," said Fisher. "Think about it. That's a unique blend. It's the power of Eddie Georgie and the acceleration of Chris Johnson. And the kid is just going to get better."

Fisher says that confidently because Gurley is just 11 months removed from ACL surgery stemming from the injury he suffered at Georgia. Gurley finally shed his knee brace that he has worn as support after undergoing ACL surgery after practicing without it for three weeks. Fisher also believes his young offensive line is starting to jell.

What the Rams are hoping for now is that quarterback Nick Foles and his receivers will take the next step. If and when that happens, the Rams can be a force that will strike fear into those that line up against them on both sides of the football. - CM

Manning a blend of records and concern

There's no figure in football -- not Tom Brady nor Aaron Rodgers nor A.J. Green -- who looms as large in the second half of the season as Denver quarterback Peyton Manning.

As the unbeaten Broncos and unbeaten Packers -- both coming off a bye week -- prepare to play Sunday night in Denver, Manning will be the central figure, celebrated and questioned, if such a combination is even possible.

Manning now has thrown for 71,215 yards and needs only 914 more to break the all-time NFL record that Brett Favre set with 71,838. Should he average the 254 passing yards per game that he has this season, Manning would be on pace to set the all-time passing yards record in Week 11 at Chicago.

Manning also now has 184 wins and needs only three more to break the all-time NFL quarterback win record that Favre holds with 186. Denver's upcoming schedule: the Packers, at the Colts, home versus the Chiefs, at the Bears, home versus the Patriots, at the Chargers, versus for the Raiders and at Pittsburgh before back-to-back home games against Cincinnati and San Diego. But Manning should reach the record at some point in November.

But it also is right about that time when the weather will turn colder, the wind will turn stiffer and it will be even more challenging for Manning to play up to his standards. So far this season he hasn't.

During Denver's last game against Cleveland, Manning had 14 passes that were off target, his most in a game the past 10 seasons. His -3 TD-to-iINT ratio this season -- 7 touchdown passes, 10 interceptions -- is the second worst of any quarterback since 1950 who started and won his team's first six games.

So therein lies the rub. There are those who actually have suggested that the Broncos might be better off benching Manning and turning to Brock Osweiler. But they also forget that, since Manning arrived in Denver prior to the 2012 season, the Broncos have compiled a 44-10 regular-season record. This year's Manning is not as effective or productive as previous years, but he still is winning. He is closing on two of the most hallowed records in all of football. Within the next month, he should own both.

Yet while Manning is making history, he is struggling to make plays. It makes Manning football's most compelling figure, just as he has been for years. This time, though, it is for all kinds of different reasons. - AS

Chiefs show strides in concussion awareness

The healthiest trend as it relates to how concussions are being handled in the NFL is that it appears the message has been received by the injured players and coaches.Chiefs receiver Jeremy Maclin is the latest example.

Maclin cleared his concussion protocol to get a green light for Sunday's game against the Steelers. However, the team's medical staff and coaches sensed, as head coach Andy Reid later explained, that Maclin did not appear to be "quite right" as the game approached. Instead of ignoring the signs, Maclin was sat down and asked if anything was still bothering him. Rather than deceive the coaches, Maclin admitted he woke up with a dull headache.

Reid and the medical staff immediately decided to make Maclin inactive for a game the Chiefs desperately needed. Despite Maclin's absence, the Chiefs won. Progress won, too. - CM

The last of the 2005 receiver class meet on Sunday

When Atlanta hosts Tampa Bay on Sunday, it will be a reunion of wide receivers from the NFL's 2005 draft class. The only two that remain.

Atlanta's Roddy White and Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson are the only two wide receivers remaining from the 30 wide receiver draft class of 2005, and while Jackson could be held out with a nagging injury, that these two are the only ones left is surprising given the makeup of that class.

In a draft filled with talented wide receivers -- Braylon Edwards went third overall to Cleveland, Troy Williamson seventh overall to Minnesota, Mike Williams 10th overall to Detroit, Matt Jones 21st overall to Jacksonville, Mark Clayton 22nd overall to Baltimore and White 27th overall to the Falcons -- only these two are left.

Between White and Jackson came 34 more picks, four of which were wide receivers: Reggie Brown to the Eagles, Mark Bradley to the Bears, Roscoe Parrish to the Bills, Terrence Murphy to the Packers, before the Chargers selected Jackson with the 61st overall selection. Since then, White and Jackson have gone on to produce bigger numbers and longer careers than all the receivers drafted in front of or behind them. With White's play slipping, the two wide receivers might not have many more meetings aside from the two this season. But each has strung together tremendous careers.

White is one of only 10 players from UAB who have been drafted into the NFL, and Jackson is one of only nine players from Northern Colorado who have been drafted in the NFL. Each is the highest pick either school has produced. - AS