By HCR Staff | January 11, 2021
We were fortunate and got a largely entertaining weekend of playoff football this weekend. As we’ve done all season, big thanks to all the players, coaches and staffers for all their hard work in pulling off the games.
Let’s get to it.
Decisions That Work Against A High HCR Rating. We get asked often about how our algorithm works, and while we’d like to answer, its proprietary, and around here, we observe the law. Let’s just say that’s it’s a mix of qualitative and quantitative elements. But instead of divulging the secret sauce, how about we just give you a few examples of what would be considered unfavorable coaching judgment from this weekend?
Momentum Matters. We happen to think that momentum is important in an NFL game. Good momentum creates positive feelings, adrenaline, confidence – at least that’s our take. Additionally, we think that momentum is particularly important if you’re the visiting team; if you happen to get it, we think it’s important you do what you can to keep it.
In the Colts’ loss to the Bills Saturday, Colts head coach Frank Reich disregarded our momentum variable. The visiting Colts largely played well, but they were playing particularly well early in the game – essentially controlling it. With 1:53 left in the second quarter, the Colts led 10-7, and faced a 4th -and -goal, from the Bills’ four-yard line.
Instead of taking the field goal and a 13-7 lead, Reich opted for a very low percentage fourth down play. The play failed, the Bills took over, marched down the field for a touchdown, and were able to go in at halftime ahead 14-10. Plus, the Bills would get the ball to start the second half.
With the second half kickoff, the Bills took the ball for a second consecutive score – a field goal – and a 17-10. The Bills would continue to control the rest of the game, with the Colts playing catch-up.
Reich’s 4th– & 4 call was the wrong judgment, in our view. He not only gave away momentum – he gave away a growing sense of confidence within his team that they were controlling the game. It’s hard to get positive vibes like this as a visiting team, so when you have them, you’ve got to keep them. Once Reich’s decision failed, not much positive happened for the Colts the rest of the game – they were perpetually in chase mode until the end of the game.
Math Matters. Scoring more points than the other team results in a “W”, so understanding how the points add up is critical to good judgment as an NFL head coach. Sounds simple, right?
Well, in the heat of an NFL game, far too many NFL coaches fail the math test. A good example is Bruce Arians of the Bucs.
While the Bucs won, Arians put his team into a bad spot from an early point in the game.
At 10:03 in the second quarter, the Bucs scored a touchdown to go ahead 15-7. Bucs kicker Ryan Succop earlier had missed a PAT, but we expected Arians to give his kicker another opportunity to gain confidence and rhythm by kicking the point here to take a 16-7 lead.
Plus, if you’re ahead 16-7, you’re ahead by TWO possessions, because 16 minus 7 equals 9 points. See the math?
So kicking the point here should be a no-brainer, right? Because if you go for the 2-point try (which is ridiculous to consider in the 2nd quarter), and it fails, now the Bucs would be ahead 15-7, which is a ONE possession lead. Again, 15 minus 7 equals 8.
Arians disregarded the math, and went for the 2-point try. Since it’s a lower percentage play, it wasn’t surprising it failed. So the Bucs led, 15-7, WFT only trailed by one possession, and still had a strong feeling that they were still in the game. And WFT did a good job of playing off that emotion into pushing the game into doubt all the way to the end.
This is another example of decision-making we don’t favor.
Ravens DC Wink Martindale Outcoaches Titans OC Arthur Smith. One of the best tactical coaching jobs from the weekend was the game plan devised by Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale.
Martindale had the Ravens sell out repeatedly to stop Titans running back Derrick Henry; the thinking clearly was, “if we stop Henry, the play action isn’t effective, and we don’t think Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill can beat us throwing it.”
Martindale’s game plan was proven right. Even though the Ravens repeatedly gave Tannehill looks that favored throwing the ball against man coverage, Tannehill struggled. The Ravens’ game plan resulted in a victory considered by head coach John Harbaugh as his most satisfying victory, ever.
Smith has head coaching interview opportunities with every NFL team that has an opening. Martindale has none. We don’t get this.
Would A Fresh Start For Mike Tomlin & The Steelers Be Good For Both Parties? The Steelers haven’t won a playoff game in five years, and have only three playoff wins since 2011. Given the quality of the roster and ownership, this is significant underachievement, in our view.
Should both parties part ways?
Our verdict is, yes.
Tomlin is one of the better head coaches in the NFL, his winning percentage attests to that. But again, he has benefited from the league’s most stable (and perhaps, best) ownership, and one of its highest quality rosters, year in and year out.
There’s a different kind of pressure to being the Steelers’ head coach; the standard is very, very high. Tomlin may benefit from a refresh with an organization that doesn’t have the Steelers’ history, e.g., the Jaguars.
As for the Steelers, they’ve got plenty of evidence as to Tomlin’s ceiling there. Ownership may feel that they’re positioned to climb greater heights, and they know that every quality head coaching candidate will consider Pittsburgh the best available job opportunity.
The evidence is unmistakable – the Steelers are under-achieving. This might be a situation where a win-win results from a separation.