Being a football coach is hard. Really hard. Sometimes though, it’s not actually that hard. Sometimes it doesn’t take a coaching lifer to understand what needs to be done in a certain situation. For years a segment of fans and media begged teams to go for it more often on fourth down, understanding that the reward was massively worth the risk. And then Doug Pederson came along and did it, and won the Super Bowl because of it. The league has never looked back, going for it on 4th and short is the new normal.
This Sunday had several instances where teams shot or attempted to shoot themselves in the foot with terrible decisions that were easily avoidable.
The Bills do not go for two
After spending three quarters sleepwalking against the extremely wounded Giants, the Bills found themselves down 9-7 in the fourth quarter. They finally got their act together with a 12 play, 7 minute touchdown drive to take a 13-9 lead. Sean McDermott then chose to kick the PAT, giving the Bills a 5 point lead rather than attempt a two point conversion and take a 6 point lead. This made absolutely no sense. With 3:48 left in the game, there is no difference between a 4 and 5 point lead. But there is a difference between a 5 and 6 point lead: if the Giants were to score a TD they would have to convert the PAT to win. PATs are almost automatic, but they aren’t actually automatic, teams have made 98% of them this year, and made 95% of them last year. There’s a chance. Or in the extremely unlikely but technically possible outcome of the Giants stall out in FG range but with time to go, kick the FG, then recover an onsides kick, they could kick another FG to win. In either case, being up 5 offers literally no advantage over being up 4. With 6 if things go bad you have a chance, however small, which is quite literally better than no chance.
Giants kick a 29 yard FG on 4th and inches
The Giants got into the red zone four times on Sunday night. In their first trip, in the 1st quarter, they kicked a 29 yard field goal on 4th and 11. Fair enough. Their second trip was the end of the half screw up where Tyrod Taylor checked to a run play with no timeouts. Their fourth was the end of the game that resulted in an incomplete pass on the final play. Their third hurt them just as much. Early in the 4th quarter the Giants faced 4th and inches from the 11. Brian Daboll chose to kick another 29 yard field goal rather than try to advance the ball the length of the ball. The field goal gave the Giants a 9-7 lead with over 10 minutes to play. Playing for FGs on the road as an underdog is a recipe for a loss. They lost.
Bills late game clock management
With 1:41 to go, having just gotten the ball back on the Giants 38 after a Giants failed 4th down attempt, and nursing their 5 point lead, the Bills ran the ball. The Giants called their 1st time out. The Bills called another run, and the Giants again called time out. Buffalo had only gained two yards on this sequence, but had forced the Giants to use two time outs, a worthwhile trade off. On 3rd down the Bills… called a pass play. Josh Allen shorted his throw to Dawson Knox that gave the Giants a free time out. Tyler Bass missed a 53 yard field goal rather than attempt a possibly shorter one, but more importantly the Giants now had a timeout in their pocket. They would use it before a 3rd and 2, which they would convert. With no timeouts, perhaps the Giants rush to the line to get a play off haphazardly. Perhaps they spike the ball and take their chances on 4th down. Whatever they would have done, it would not have been with the aid of a timeout to go over what they wanted to run on 3rd down, and possibly also on 4th down if that didn’t convert. The Bills third down play design wasn’t bad, had Allen thrown a better pass the Bills cruise to a win. But he didn’t, and that outcome was easily avoidable.
Browns late game clock management
Coming out of the 2 minute warning, the Browns were down 17-16 and had the ball on the 49ers 14 yard line and a 1st down. They ran the ball, picking up 2 yards and forcing the 49ers to use their 1st time out. On 2nd down they called a play action bootleg. PJ Walker, who entered the season as the team’s 3rd string QB and had only been on the team for seven weeks, nearly threw an interception. On 3rd down, the Browns ran again, and the 49ers used their 2nd timeout. The Browns would kick a FG to take the lead and go on to win, but the pass play nearly cost them the win. An interception would have obviously been fatal, but giving the 49ers the ball back with a timeout was totally unnecessary and avoidable. Walker’s reaction showed he knew he got away with one. The broadcast rightfully killed the Browns for the decision, another totally avoidable mistake.
Eagles late game clock management
Then there’s the Jalen Hurts interception. It was an inexcusably bad decision by Hurts. It was also another totally needless play call late in a game on Sunday. The Jets were out of time outs. It was 3rd and 9. A run play eats the clock up, and if it doesn’t convert it’s followed by a punt gives the Jets the ball back with just under 1:20 to go. The Eagles defense had given up only one scoring drive in the second half, which took 5 minutes of game time to gain 16 yards. The defense had just shut out the Rams in the second half last week. The Eagles defense was missing some key players, but then so was the Jets offense, who were starting Zach Wilson. Haason Reddick, who has come up with key stops time and again, was having a hell of a game. Trust your defense.
This was amateur hour nonsense by all four teams. No, it’s worse… in these cases, the amateurs know better.