By HCR Staff | Oct. 2, 2018
While there always is a lot of action between the lines of every NFL game, there’s also interesting action outside the lines when it comes to what head coaches are doing, saying, planning or even (sometimes) joking about regarding their team or a game.
In Week 4, we had two very interesting episodes to discuss and dissect.
The first involves Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone. In Sunday’s victory over the Jets, the Jaguars scored a late TD to take a 31-12 lead with 25 seconds left in the game. According to Marrone, he then consulted his “chart” and it “said to go for two.” Which he did, unsuccessfully.
After some postgame backlash from the Jets, media and fans focusing on poor sportsmanship (i.e., the Jaguars were “disrespecting” the Jets), Marrone later stated, “If I had to do it all over and I knew this was going to happen, yeah, I wish someone would have said something.”
We understand the sportsmanship complaint, but the complaint presumes there should be sportsmanship to begin with. Based on what we’ve seen, there generally is, but it definitely is hit or miss. Frankly, every NFL head coach, in our view, would rather be a winner and poor sportsman than the other way around. After all, these are all grown men being paid a lot of money to win games. In the NFL, there aren’t many relationships that are so valuable that any head coach would be willing to abridge that relationship in order to win a game. Look at Marrone’s own statement – he says “if he knew” there was going to be a backlash, then he would have done something differently, which basically means “my sportsmanship is contingent only on public outcry.”
There is one defense, albeit incredibly weak, for Marrone’s two-point decision, and that is playoff tiebreakers consider total and net points scored. It’s right there on the NFL’s own website. We don’t think they have ever come into play in modern NFL history, but it’s there. Is it possible that Marrone is so forward looking in Week 4 that he felt going for two in that situation might factor into a tiebreaker for a playoff spot? We don’t think so, but if that is what Marrone was thinking, then perhaps all of us should be discussing something else, and it probably isn’t football.
At HCR, what is more interesting is that Marrone consulted a chart in that situation. You’re winning by 19, at home, with the league’s best defense against a rookie quarterback, and 25 seconds remain in the game … and you’re looking at a chart to advise you on what to do. Perhaps this tells us just how much analytics is used in the modern NFL. And if it is used to this extent, why does the head coach even have the power to make the decision in the first place?
As to our second off-the-field item of interest for Week 4, we turn to Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich and his decision to go for a fourth-and-4 from his own 44 with only 27 seconds left in overtime. The Colts had fought back from a 28-10 deficit, and pretty much had a tie in their back pocket if they punted the ball to the Texans, who had no timeouts left.
After Reich went for and failed to make the fourth-down conversion, the Texans converted a short field into a game-winning FG for their first win of the season. After the game, Reich said he would go for it “10 times out of 10.” And he was emphatic about it.
As soon as Reich said that, we knew he a) did not believe that; and b) would never do that. Reich is too good of a coach (and one with a distinguished playing career) and too thoughtful of a person to believe in such absolutes in NFL football.
The objective for every NFL team is to make the playoffs, because that is how you can get to the Super Bowl. No playoffs, no Super Bowl – easy. And the more losses a team has, the less chance to make the playoffs. In fact, if every NFL game ended in a tie, every team would still be in play for the playoffs subject to the NFL tiebreakers. So ties are better than losses, even better than valiant losses. There is no extra credit for “we did the brave thing in going for a win.” There is no extra credit for having an “aggressive mindset.”
We are sure every NFL head coach would take Ws even if every critic expressed that his team had a “non-aggressive” mindset. Finishing 12-4 and being called non-aggressive is much better than 4-12 and being called the most aggressive person in the room.
Reich is doing good things in Indy already, and he will be the best thing to ever happen to QB Andrew Luck. He’s walked in Luck’s shoes and Luck is playing better each week. So we see the arrow pointing up in Indy due to Reich. In the heat of the moment, however, he just made one poor decision is all. He’ll make plenty more good ones soon.