By HCR Staff | Nov. 28, 2018
Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel has made it clear to the NFL that he will not win or lose games by being passive. The first-year head coach nearly made the Situational Call of Week 8 when he decided to go for the two-point conversion at the end of the game against the Chargers. With his aggressive playcalling, it was just a matter of time before he’d make a Situational Call. Unfortunately for Vrabel and his Titans, he did not land on the good side of it.
After jumping out to a 10-0 lead Monday night in Houston, the Titans surrendered 14 unanswered points. It looked like they’d seized momentum back when they marched all the way down to the Texans’ 3-yard line. They faced a fourth-and-1 early in the second quarter, and without hesitation Vrabel decided to go for it.
The decision is debatable. Some argue you won’t win kicking 21-yard field goals, but here at HCR we usually favor points, especially for a team on the road. The play call, however, was bewildering.
The Titans lined up in the jumbo package with tight end Luke Stocker in as the fullback and Derrick Henry as the tailback. After they motioned tight end Jonnu Smith to the left, Marcus Mariota took the snap and put the ball in Stocker’s gut as he surged into a mighty Texans wall for no gain. The Titans’ drive stalled. The Texans took the ball, and handed it off to RB Lamar Miller for a 97-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 21-10.
ESPN’s color analysts, Jason Witten and Booger McFarland, roasted Vrabel for his decision to forego giving the ball to Henry, their 247-pound Heisman Trophy-winning back.
After the game, Vrabel defended his decision and play call, claiming video has shown this was a successful play against the Texans in past games. If anyone should know it would be Vrabel, since he was on the Texans defensive staff for the last four years. However, even if film indicated there was a chance of success on that play, it never accounted for Luke Stocker running — since this was Stocker’s first-ever NFL carry. That’s a high-pressure situation against one of the NFL’s best front sevens — not exactly the best time to ask Stocker to make his debut as a ball-carrier. As Witten said, “Stocker is just worried about getting the handoff, the exchange in that moment,” let alone finding the hole where there wasn’t one. The more prudent call would have been to hand the ball off to Henry as the fullback with Dion Lewis as the tailback.
This could have all been avoided if Vrabel decided to kick the field goal to make it 14-13. It’s not a shot of jet fuel, but it would have kept them in a key divisional game and slowed the Texans’ momentum. As McFarland said, the team had to pay the rest of the game for a bad decision. On the other hand, Vrabel doesn’t put blame on this call alone. There were many instances where the Titans kept themselves out of it. However, this call did halt their momentum and cost them valuable points, which is why it is our Situational Call of the Week. The Titans will look to right the ship against the New York Jets on Sunday to resuscitate their playoff hopes.