Each week, HCR will take a look back at a critical coaching decision that was made during the 2017 season. The HCR staff posts in-depth roundups of every NFL game, looking at the key moments when coaching decisions might have affected the outcome of a game. Examining the in-game situations, what coaching decisions were made at the time and the direct results of those decisions can inform other coaches how they might respond to these situations in the future.
Today’s Critical Decision focuses on the final seconds of New England’s Week 15 win over Pittsburgh.
Home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs would most likely go to the winner of this game (it did), and there were many key coaching decisions that led to a back-and-forth contest. All of the key decisions can be seen in HCR’s game post.
The most critical decision came when the Steelers, trailing 27-24, had a first-and-goal on the Patriots’ 10-yard line with 34 seconds left. Most fans remember what happened on first down: Ben Roethlisberger threw a touchdown pass to TE Jesse James – only to have it ruled a non-catch.
On second down, with no timeouts left, Roethlisberger completed a 3-yard pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey. He was tackled in-bounds, so the clock continued to run. On third down, with nine seconds left, Roethlisberger took the snap, faked a spike, and attempted a pass to WR Eli Rogers, running an inside slant. The pass was deflected and Duron Harmon made a game-clinching interception for the Patriots.
In post-game comments, there was still some confusion as to whether or not Roethlisberger and his coaches were on the same page. The issue here is not to question the play-calling (although there were safer options). The question is: What was discussed during the replay review?
As we noted in the HCR game post:
“We wonder what happened during the lengthy replay review of TE James’ reception. Did the coaches use that time to go over options with Roethlisberger? This is where we felt the game was won or lost. The … lengthy replay review served as an extra time out. It appears that they may not have utilized this time to go over options, or they did, but everyone simply forgot what to do. Roethlisberger is a veteran QB, so to put the game into his hands is reasonable – if the coaches gave him the option of what play to call. If they didn’t, however, and advised him to run an inside slant, then that call is highly questionable. Typically, the better option in this circumstance is to run a fade or corner route – low percentage, but an incompletion could stop the clock and allow the Steelers to kick a game-tying FG. This was a confusing sequence for us to understand what happened with Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin and his staff – a sequence that could cost them a Super Bowl trip.”
Coaches plan for any and all situations. How many coaches have a specific plan in place for a “replay review huddle?” As soon as officials call for a review, the unit on the field (for both teams) should meet with the coaches and map out exactly what they plan to do following the replay review – an either/or scenario based on the outcome of the review. Not taking advantage of that time was a missed opportunity for the Steelers to catch New England off guard.