Given all the resources available to coaches, making smart decisions should be easy. Knowing what they know about their players, their opponents and probabilities, there shouldn’t be situations where a coach is costing his team the chance to win games.
Yet, every week there are examples of coaches blowing it. Week 1 was no exception.
Narrowing this list down to just five gaffes was actually the hardest part. There were numerous examples that could have made the cut, but some didn’t have as big of an impact on their respective games as the following five blunders.
Todd Haley opts for the draw, loses
On 3rd-and-goal from the 5-yard-line trailing 21-11 in the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley called a draw play. Running back DeAngelo Williams was stuffed for a loss of one, then the Steelers kicked a field goal to make it 21-14.
The New England Patriots promptly drove down the field for a touchdown to make it 28-14. With just over nine minutes to play, the Steelers had to try to erase a two-touchdown deficit on the road against the defending Super Bowl champions. That’s simply not going to happen.
It sure seemed like the Steelers played not to lose instead of playing to win. Although Williams had a nice game, he’s not talented enough anymore to maneuver into the end zone on a draw as suspended star running back Le’Veon Bell might have been able to do.
Even if Bell was playing, gaining five yards at the goal line on a draw has minimal odds of success. At least not when compared with a good quarterback throwing in that situation.
Had the Steelers scored a touchdown instead of kicking the short field goal, they would’ve cut the lead to 21-18. Even if the Patriots still went on to score on the following drive, the Steelers would have had nine minutes to erase a 10-point deficit, which would have been doable since there is one less touchdown necessary.
If the Steelers managed to get within 10 points, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may have felt less compelled to throw a deep pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey that was intercepted. The Steelers were almost in field-goal range when that happened, which could have cut the lead to a single touchdown.
They got a touchdown with about three minutes left, but it was too little too late. Had they tried harder to score a touchdown earlier in the game, a comeback would have been within reach.
Sean Payton punts his way to defeat
On 4th-and-6 with less than two minutes left and only two timeouts, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton punted down 24-19 from his own 7-yard line. This is the same head coach that has quarterback Drew Brees at his disposal and yet he opted to let Rob Ryan’s defense try to get him the ball back.
Even in the best-case scenario, the Saints would have got the ball back with less than a minute to play with field position no better than their own 20 and no timeouts, needing a touchdown. If the Saints would have allowed a first down, the game would’ve been over.
If the Cardinals were to return the punt and get into field-goal range, the Saints would’ve needed a touchdown and a two-point conversion in about a minute just to tie the game. The odds of converting on 4th-and-6 should have far outweighed these odds, but for some reason Payton still punted.
According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, the Cardinals odds of winning jumped from 23.5 percent after the punt to 98.6 percent, the single largest jump of the game. That means the Saints would have been in a better position even if they believed they could only convert a 4th-and-6 about two percent of the time inside their own 10.
Similar situations aren’t that common, but there are two examples out there and both teams went for it and got the first down. One of those two teams even won the game.
Quarterback Vince Young once completed a 10-yard pass on 4th-and-4 from his own 7-yard line with 1:56 left in 2009 down 13-17. The Tennessee Titans used their two remaining timeouts and drove down the field before Young hit a receiver in the end zone with six seconds left to win the game. The fourth-down conversion was obviously critical.
Since the Saints got Brees in 2006, they’ve converted 40 percent of the time when needing between six and 10 yards on fourth down. When needing six or fewer yards, the Saints have converted 53 percent of the time on fourth down. Those are pretty good odds.
Why not give the guy with 25 fourth-quarter comebacks and 36 game-winning drives a chance? Come on, Payton!
Tom Coughlin passes on the win
On 3rd-and-1 from the Dallas Cowboys 1-yard line and 1:43 remaining, the New York Giants called a pass play up 23-20. That’s not very smart as it is, but to make matters worse, quarterback Eli Manning threw the ball out of the back of the end zone instead of taking the sack.
That left the Cowboys 1:29 after the Giants kicked a field goal and kicked off to drive down the field for the win. They did just that.
“It’s my fault at the end of the game,” Coughlin said, via NFL.com. “There’s nobody else to blame but me. I take full responsibility for it because the strategy was wrong at the end.”
While that’s true, the outcome would have been different if his quarterback didn’t forget the situation. Prior to the pass on third down, quarterback Eli Manning had told running back Rashad Jennings not to score, believing falsely that the Giants could run off some clock.
“I’ve got to do a better job understanding that if they’re not wide open … that I got to take a sack,” Manning said, via NFL.com. “I have to be smarter in that scenario.”
Everyone involved with that decision needs to be smarter. That was an embarrassing series that ended up costing the Giants a win.
Darrell Bevell has ill-timed attempt at redemption
Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell took heat all offseason for calling a pass play on 2nd-and-goal from the New England Patriots’ 1-yard line in the Super Bowl. That pass, as you may remember, was intercepted by Malcolm Butler to seal the Super Bowl victory for the Patriots.
Why didn’t he give it to running back Marshawn Lynch? That was the question everyone was asking then and now.
On Sunday, Bevell gave it to Lynch on 4th-and-1 from the Rams 42-yard line in overtime. Lynch was stuffed for a loss of one. Game over.
It may seem like he did the right thing, but again he made the wrong choice. The Rams have one of the best defensive lines in football and it was fourth down.
Neither call was particularly horrible given the situation, but both were bad given the opponent and field position. Bevell needs to do a better job of finding the right play calls given the entire set of circumstances.
Norv Turner turns into Andy Reid, takes ball out of Adrian Peterson’s hands
The Minnesota Vikings lost 20-3 on Monday night. Their anemic offense had many issues, but one of the biggest was that running back Adrian Peterson had just 10 carries. That’s it.
This is one of the best running backs to every play the game and he got just 10 carries. Peterson averages nearly 20 attempts per game, so he is used to carrying the load. Sure, he had only 30 yards on 10 carries, but we all know that Peterson is often only one run away from breaking open a game. Just watch what he did to multiple 49ers defenders on a catch and run in the first half, when he literally would not go down.
Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner should know Peterson is a huge weapon in a close game and try to get him the ball as much as possible, especially when the rest of the offense is struggling. Not giving Peterson more carries is a shocking coaching gaffe for a very experienced offensive coordinator.
Without much of a running attack, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater couldn’t get into a rhythm. Long third downs were commonplace and the Vikings were just 1-of-9 in those situations.
It’s not like it was a blowout early and the Vikings were forced to abandon the run. The 49ers didn’t open up a 10-point lead until near the end of the third quarter, and the fact remains that Peterson should have been more involved in the team’s gameplan.