By HCR Staff | Oct. 24, 2018
The talk of the town Tuesday morning was New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur’s questionable calls in a Monday night loss to the Atlanta Falcons — first his decision to go for two after making it a one-possession game and then his play-calling in the final minute, when two failed quarterback sneaks from the 1-yard line killed off any time the Giants would need for a miracle finish. Unfortunately for Shurmur, these decisions were widely criticized by the ESPN broadcast crew, and they continue to be questioned. Here at Head Coach Ranking, we’d like to point out a different call earlier in the game that perhaps could have changed everything.
The football world is focused on Shurmur’s decision to go for two after Saquon Barkley scored to cut the deficit to 20-12 in the fourth quarter. There’s also plenty of buzz about those two QB sneaks with no timeouts that wasted 40 seconds at the end of the game. But this trend of aggressive play-calling can be traced back to the beginning of the second half.
In his post-game press conference, Shurmur defended his approach by stating he and his team trusted “the math.” He also referenced Doug Pederson’s aggressive strategy against the Minnesota Vikings. Both resulted in losses, but were supported by analytics and their teams.
Analytics have become strongly prevalent in baseball, and now they’re seen in all sports. It’s tough to argue against math and easy to trust a scenario in which you’re told you have a 60 percent chance of success vs. 40 percent. But not all analytics are created equal, and the team still has to execute. Coaches must strike a balance between relying on the data and appropriately using it with their knowledge of personnel and assessment of the game situations.
This week’s Situational Call set off the chain reaction of questionable play-calling for Shurmur. On the Giants’ first drive of the second half, down 10-3, they marched 74 yards to the Atlanta 1-yard line. Considering how mightily the Giants offense had struggled in the first half — and, really, all season — this was a good opportunity to put some points on the board. Problem is, Shurmur opted to be aggressive and go for the touchdown. Eli Manning’s pass fell incomplete and they turned the ball over on downs.
With points being so hard to come by for this team, electing not to kick the field goal in that situation was a mistake. With the defense playing well on the road, trailing 10-6 early in the third quarter would not have been a bad situation.
Without that field goal, the Giants still outscored Atlanta 17-13 in the second half. Add that field goal and it could have been 23-23 at the end of regulation. We can’t assume that would have happened, but the bottom line is that every point matters for this offense. In a tight game on the road, this decision was more critical than the calls that have gotten more attention.